It's impossible to get anything truly substantive done without being able to focus your attention on it. The best of our creative power is only available when we're fully engaged. Unfortunately, getting to that point is extremely difficult; even more so when we have instant access to distractions and no practice with focusing ourselves. There's been a lot of ink spilled on this topic recently, but I think the key is for us to realize that during the course of living our lives we ought to try protecting our attention and focus so that we can use them when we need them.
To that end, I'm taking on some new projects this year. First and foremost, Lauren and I have committed to sitting and practicing mindfulness meditation for at least 10 minutes each day; I've increased my Beeminder goal accordingly. I've also looked at commitment devices for eliminating the phone as a source of distractions. Between the app Forest and a little box that locks itself until a timer goes off I feel I have a good start.
To set the stage, I'm looking at ways to build a set of mental "warm up" routine to help get myself in the right mindset for challenging problems. Similarly to how athletes prepare themselves for competition, such a routine should help create a mental state where attention can be maintained for an extended period. I'm not sure what this will look like just yet. My original ideas included some sort of yoga or short meditation practice, though these are sometimes hard to do in an office environment. (Labmate: "why are you doing yoga at your desk, Nick?" Me: "I need to work on my thesis!")
Another, more workable, idea may be to begin with an explicit preparation of the space for working. Clearing away unnecessary clutter on the desk, closing non-work applications, turning on a specific playlist and preparing tea, performed in a specific order and combined with a short meditation could form the basis for a good focusing ritual.