You’re bent on finishing the work at hand, and suddenly something comes up. You don’t give thought to how pressing any distraction is — you just give it attention.
Five minutes, ten minutes. Sometimes it goes to over an hour.
When you get back to work — boom — you’ve no idea where you left off or why you couldn’t get your mind and heart into it. You can’t stay focused at work anymore and are becoming less productive. There goes your valuable time and effort. There goes your momentum and peak of creativity.
Because there’s no chance of shutting out the world while you’re busy, the decision to stay focused at work is in your hands. It’s about finding the right techniques, knowing your priorities, and sticking to them.
Stuck for ideas? Well, here are 15 ways to stay focused at work:
1. Always find what you do inspiring and fun
Any meaningful task or routine takes a large part of one’s focus. Before starting anything, ask yourself why you should do it. With your answer, there will be that output you so desire — and so you value the task. Then find ways for the task to become fun, like allowing your creativity and imagination to play in the process. Don’t stick within borders of “approved” output; have your options opened for new, fun ideas.
When you make something you can call your own, you’re more likely to stay focused at work.
2. Choose a great chair-and-table combo
Many people find working physically strenuous even if it’s done seated most of the time.
Don’t lose precious time and be distracted with discomfort. Get a really good chair with great back support; make sure your desk or worktable is well-structured as well. That way you can work for many hours and not find your body and eyes getting strained.
3. Get your work station organized
Too much stuff within arms’ reach or atop your desk can prove to be really distracting. To stay focused at work, only have the things you need neatly piled on your desk — put the rest away properly, like in a desk drawer or shelves. Have an area for food and drinks, your bag or purse, and other personal items.
But have them within reach so you can just grab a drink without losing focus on what you’re doing.
4. Make your computer distraction-free
This is very important for people who use PC for work: Have shortcuts for all routinely used programs.
Put in just one folder all files related to each project or task. Then ensure your PC is always virus-free to saved you the hassle of checks and repairs. Instances such as these cause stress and will wane your interest to finish the tasks.
5. Have enough water nearby
Drinking water isn’t only healthy, it refreshes you as well. Once you feel the first sign of fatigue or hunger, a glass of water can push them away. Then you can finish what you’re doing and rest at a later time. Besides, not all stomach rumblings are signs of hunger, and drinking a glass of water usually deals with it.
Just make sure you have water within arms’ reach. That way you stay focused at work instead of walking to the water station — and becoming prey to distractions!
6. Bring in the snacks
Like having water close by, the food that could settle a grumbling stomach must always be at hand. For the same reason of having 90% of your attention at work, eating within your workspace area will not expose you to unrelated activities. So make sure your snacks are within arms reach too!
7. Make a daily “to-do” list and keep it nearby
It’s always helpful when you have your list of tasks beside your PC (or at any conspicuous place in the work area). Having it in your PC or mobile phones often opens doors to checking other trivial tabs or windows, or responding to unimportant SMS messages.
So put your “to-do today” list where you can always see it, and cross out the “done” tasks. That way, you won’t be digging through your bag or finding that page where you wrote them.
8. Prioritize the tasks
The first hour at work is where most people are productive. This is because all energies are yet to be spent. So put all the taxing, difficult and challenging tasks on your agenda during the first hour. Follow these with the less pressing work, and then end with those routine tasks that you find boring.
Such methods makes you stay focused at work, without spending precious time on doing tasks you don’t like. Do this and you won’t be stressed with important projects at the end of the workday.
9. Let others know of your strict personal policies
If you’re bent on making your personal working system work, let others know it. Chances are, you’d be left alone on the hours where you’re focused on the really big, important work. When people at work know you’re on your “free time”, they will pose questions and talk during such periods. Unless there’s a very urgent matter at hand, they’ll leave you at work.
After all, they want the same.
10. Put on the headphones
In most offices, there are various sources of sounds that can prove distracting — like the floor polisher, the mail cart, workmates talking, phones ringing, and sounds of things dropped on the floor. Protect yourself with headphones so you can stay focused at work. The headphones will ward off surprising sounds — and those that get your mind wandering.
11. Be unreachable, busy, away…or “invisible”
Not all calls are about your apartment being burglarized, or a loved one being in precarious situation. So turn off your mobile phone to silent mode during hours where you really need all attention on your work. You can also opt to activate the voicemail service.
As for instant messaging, set the status to indicate you’re “busy” or stay “invisible” while you work. If you still get IMs, then just turn the program off and turn it on later when your current task isn’t as pressing.
12. Stay away from social networking sites
These sites aren’t meant to be checked all the time. So discipline yourself to log in only when you have extra minutes free.
There’s a strong tendency that you’ll stay much longer than planned because something new, interesting and perky always comes with most social networking sites. Not only will it defeat your purpose of staying focused at work, but there’s plenty of information there that could get your mind unnecessarily perturbed — like a friend’s status about her heartbreak, or someone from work getting a raise.
13. Organize your emails
Another really stressful and distracting activity is email. Let’s face it: You get a lot. Likely a heavy mix of personal and work correspondence, promos and updates from your sites, and 9undoubtedly) spam.
One good way to avoid this is to have a separate email address for work and one for your personal email. Have them both powered to filter all emails. Once you have free time on hand, check emails again and unsubscribe from senders who you could live without. Then, organize the emails you’d attend to later. Delete the rest.
Finally, check your emails only when you’re done with the most important task of the day. Make sure you limit your email time as well.
14. Redesign your phone use
Phones are meant for important concerns, chats about the previous night’s date are meant for long lunch breaks. Observing such rule would help you stay focused at work. You could also request your workmates to inform your callers you’d get back to them at a later time instead of always tapping your back or shouting out that you’ve got a call at any time. Once you’re done with work, call back the earlier callers and explain your situation briefly. In the next two minutes, ask about their concern, note it down and tell them you’d call them back for their needed action. Prepare and write all their needed details, bearing in mind their possible follow-up thoughts on the matter. Then call them back and always limit the phone conversation to less than three minutes.
15. Choose suitable music
The point of having music in the background while you’re working is to provide ease and inspiration. For some, listening to music pumps up their adrenaline so they can work with greater energy.
But not all kinds of music are pleasant for everyone — and some are not suited for one’s mood. So organize your music library accordingly. Apart from helping you stay focused at work, no distractions should take place. There’s nothing more jarring than suddenly hearing loud, heavy metal screaming after some relaxing jazz music.
Just remember — you are surrounded by events and people at work that could cut off your momentum. You can help keep these at bay and stay focused at work with any of the 15 great ways mentioned above.
Do you have any other ways you stay focused at work? Share them in the comments below.
(Photo credit: Low-key portrait via Shutterstock)