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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Stay on Task And Be Laser Focused

How to Stay on Task And Be Laser Focused

Focus is one of the most critical tools in your productivity arsenal. Remaining focused throughout the day will increase your likelihood of staying committed to your priorities. It will reduce the amount of time you waste on distractions and unnecessary priorities. And it will increase your efficiency when working on a task because you’re committing your full cognitive resources to it. The question is, how can you intentionally stay on task with so many distractions in the workplace?

It’s hard to increase your focus through willpower alone, so consider using these habits and strategies to make it easier to focus regularly:

1. Turn Off Notifications

Notifications are stealing your focus — at least, that’s an excellent way to think about them. Whenever you receive a notification, you’re going to look up from your work, even if it’s just for a moment. When this happens, your focus breaks, and it takes time for you to build it back up. In some situations, notifications may pull you entirely away from your work, causing you to shift priorities inefficiently.

You’re better off without them in most contexts, so turn off notifications wherever you can and minimize them wherever you can’t.

2. Disable Access to Distracting Websites

If you’re like most people, there are at least a handful of websites responsible for hours of your time wasted every week. These are probably social media sites, forums, or other sources of content that pull you away from more important projects.

Consider downloading a browser extension or an app that allows you to selectively block these websites or put a limit on the amount of time you can use them. Eventually, you’ll develop much more responsible habits.

3. Delete Your Biggest Time-Wasting Apps

Similarly, you should know which apps on your phone are responsible for your biggest distractions and time waste. Again, these are probably social media sites, games, or other sources of entertaining information, so consider deleting them altogether.

If you truly miss the apps, you can always reinstall them later. Otherwise, you can hide them in a different part of your phone’s interface. This way, you’re less likely to open the app unconsciously.

4. Stop People From Interrupting You

How long do you go without being interrupted? The average knowledge worker spends only 11 minutes on a given project before facing an interruption from another person.[1] This is incredibly frustrating if you’re trying to focus on a heads-down project.

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There are a few ways you can stop people from interrupting you. For example, you can create a physical barrier (e.g., closing a door) or notify them that you’re going to be unavailable to deter them from talking to you. If not, you can completely unplug from the internet to cut down digital conversational requests, albeit temporarily.

5. Get More Sleep

Sleep has a significant impact on your ability to focus. If you miss even one night of good sleep, it’s going to impact your ability to concentrate the next day and possibly for several days to follow. Adults are recommended to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.[2] If you’re struggling to achieve it, consider scheduling sleep as you’d do with any other important activity.

You can also try different tactics like buying a new mattress, keeping your room cooler, and improving your overall lifestyle (meaning, eating healthily and exercising).

6. Consume Caffeine (in Moderation)

Anyone who drinks coffee regularly can tell you that even a small amount of caffeine can make it easier to focus, especially if you’re feeling tired). Try grabbing a mug of coffee or a cup of tea whenever you feel the need for a focus boost.

Just make sure you’re not overindulging, or you can wind up with adverse side effects, such as excessive anxiety or insomnia.

7. Try the ABC Method

One article from the Harvard Business Review suggests using the ABC method, which stands for “Aware, Breathe, and Choose.”[3] The basic idea is to catch yourself when your focus is broken (the “aware” step). Once you do this, take a moment to breathe. Don’t judge yourself, and give yourself a minute to clear your mind.

From there, make a conscious, deliberate decision on what to do next. Do you want to continue being distracted? Or do you want to return to work?

8. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

You can accomplish something similar by practicing mindfulness meditation. This branch of meditation encourages users to spend time improving their awareness of the present moment regularly. You must allow your thoughts to come and go naturally, often with the help of a focal point like a deep breathing exercise or a mantra.

The first several times you do this, you may struggle to notice the results. But over time, you’ll get better at it until you realize that mindfulness meditation is an excellent tool for decluttering your mind and improving your focus.

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9. Stop Multitasking

Too many people falsely believe that they’re the exception to the concept that multitasking doesn’t work. One study found that multitasking makes you 40% less productive.[4] It’s tempting to do some light reading during a boring meeting or try to answer two different employee requests simultaneously. But whenever you try to split your focus between two or more tasks, you end up doing all of them inefficiently.

You’re much better off focusing on one thing at a time, even if it feels less productive at the moment. Plus, the more you do this, the easier it will be to focus on singular tasks.

10. Turn Up the Thermostat

One study found that people were almost twice as productive in a room of 77 degrees as they were in a place with a room temperature of 68 degrees.[5] There are a few possible explanations for this, including the idea that we are simply more comfortable in 77-degree air than 68-degree air. It can also be that people are more active in the former temperature.

But whatever the case is, this effect seems to be scientifically valid.

Just take it with a grain of salt. Different people have different climate preferences, so you may end up focusing better in other conditions, too.

11. Invest in Better Lighting

Almost universally, people find it easier to focus when they’re surrounded by bright, high-quality light. The best option here is to allow more natural sunlight into your workspace. However, if this isn’t possible, invest in high-quality LEDs that can replicate sunlight.

You’ll feel less tired when surrounded by this light, and you’ll find it easier to concentrate on the papers and screens in front of you.

12. Work and Relax in Different Areas

If you’re working from home or have any flexibility in where you work, make sure you work and relax in different areas. Our minds tend to acclimate to different environments based on their purpose. Thus, if you use your bed for general lounging throughout the day, you may not associate it with sleep (and may have difficulty sleeping as a result).

If you enjoy movies and video games on your living room couch, and you try to work on that same couch with a laptop, you’re naturally going to feel distracted. Improve your focus by setting up a specific workstation.

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13. Stare at Something Red

This is a strange tip, but consider staring at something red when you’re feeling distracted. One study found that after staring at the color red, workers were more likely to stay focused on tasks and showed improvements in memory, performance, and even attention to detail.[6]

These results were not found in participants who stared at the color blue. So, there’s no harm in keeping a red flag or sheet of paper nearby in case you need a quick concentration boost.

14. Exercise Every Day

Make time every day to exercise, even if you can’t fit in a full-body workout. The physical exertion releases endorphins and dopamine, giving you a burst of energy and helping you focus throughout the day. It’s also a great way to relieve stress, so there’s no reason not to try it.[7]

The next time you find your focus drifting, go for a brisk walk, or do some pushups and sit-ups near your desk. You might be surprised at how much easier it is to focus afterward.

15. Break Things Down

When a task seems intimidating or complicated, people tend to have difficulty focusing. You can make everything more manageable and easier to focus on by breaking these monster tasks down. Split each major project into several smaller pieces.

Instead of scheduling hours of your day continuously, block off time in 15-minute intervals. It’s much easier to stay focused for 15 minutes at a time than to try and focus for two hours straight.

16. Take a Break

Taking a break is the only real way to “recharge” in the middle of a heavy work session.[8] It’s a way for you to declutter your mind and an opportunity to reevaluate your priorities and your approach to work.

Try to take a break for at least a few minutes every hour or two and walk away from the screen if you can. When you return, you’ll likely find it much easier to focus on your tasks.

17. Establish Visual Reminders

When our focus falters, it doesn’t usually happen all at once. Instead, it starts to drift without us being aware of it. Before we realize what’s happening, we’re already paying attention to something entirely new.

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You can fight back against this by establishing visual reminders for yourself. For example, writing the phrase “Are you focused?” on a brightly colored sticky note and sticking it next to your screen can force you to challenge your current attention levels.

Whenever your attention drifts away from your main project, you’ll see this phrase and ask yourself the question. Hopefully, it will return your attention to where it belongs. Just make sure to change these visuals from time to time so that you don’t get used to them.

18. Turn on a White Noise Machine

If you’re the type of person who’s consistently distracted by environmental noise, consider finding a way to introduce gentle background noise to your environment. If you play low-volume ambient music or turn on a white noise machine, you’ll likely drown out whatever micro-noises that usually distract you (e.g., footsteps, chitchat, or construction sounds). Experiment with different types of noise to see what helps you focus best.

19. Stay Focused in Other Areas of Your Life

Focus is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it’s going to become. If you’re not focused in any areas of your life, you’re not going to become and remain focused at work. For example, if you can’t get through watching a movie without looking at your smartphone 20 times, it’s a sign you have a bigger focus problem.

Work on keeping your focus as much as possible in other areas of your life — not just at work. You’ll notice a significant difference in as little as a few weeks.

Making Iterative Improvements

If you struggle to stay on task, you may be disappointed to learn that no shortcut can make you instantly and permanently more attentive. However, you shouldn’t be discouraged. Make iterative improvements, gradually tweaking your habits and approaches so that you can evolve.

Rotate through the strategies we’ve listed above, and figure out a combination of approaches that works for you!

More Tips to Help You Stay Focused

Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Jayson DeMers

Entrepreneur and Productivity Expert

Why Am I Lazy? 15 Ways to Stop Being Lazy and Unmotivated How to Be Committed to Your Goals Even During Hard Times 13 Visualization Techniques to Help You Reach Your Goals How to Stay on Task And Be Laser Focused How to Use Time Blocking for Productivity (A Complete Guide)

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Last Updated on March 4, 2021

7 Ways to Concentrate Better in a Toxic Work Environment

7 Ways to Concentrate Better in a Toxic Work Environment

Many of us have had the misfortune of working in a toxic work environment, where the atmosphere in the workplace is filled with negativity and politics. It’s unpleasant and can lead to stress, anxiety, and a more negative outlook on life.

Many years ago, I found myself working in a small country house hotel and restaurant with a team of great front-of-house people who worked well together, but with a newly installed kitchen team that saw front-of-house employees as the enemy. They wanted to create conflict where there previously was none.

The kitchen team was led by a highly respected head chef who was a minor celebrity TV chef, and when he joined our hotel, he insisted on bringing in his own team. This meant the existing kitchen team was fired, almost without notice, and overnight we were dealing with a team of strangers.

At first managing this negative work culture was easy; we just stayed out of the kitchen as much as possible. But then one day, the general manager of the hotel left, and he was replaced by the head chef. From then on, it felt like open warfare.

In less than a week, a workplace that was a pleasure to go to turned into a nightmare. I remember driving to work with a feeling of dread, bordering on fear. I wasn’t sleeping well, I smoked a lot more, and I had this constant, horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, even on days when I was not working.

I remember one evening after we had finished a shift, and all the customers and kitchen team had gone home, sitting down with a colleague to talk about the situation. I was fortunate as my colleague was a little older and wiser than I, and he had a forward-looking, philosophical attitude to life. He taught me that no matter the environment you are working in, if you focus on doing your best work every day, and avoid getting caught up in the politics, you can rise above it.

Looking back now, I am glad I experienced this culture. I learned a lot about how to deal with negativity in a toxic work environment, and the lessons I learned then still help me today.

What Causes a Toxic Work Environment?

A toxic work environment can come about in many ways, but poor communication is often at the root of it. This may include a lack of communication between the boss and the employees regarding roles and expectations, or a lack of communication between coworkers that leads to misunderstandings and resentment.

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Poor leadership is another common culprit. If a workplace lacks a good leader, it can lead to a chaotic workplace or one where everyone looks out for only themselves instead of working together. In my case, the head chef favored one set of employees, making it difficult for the other set to enjoy their work.

If a workplace has little opportunity for growth or learning, it can also turn toxic. When workers feel stagnant, they can experience the effects of burnout and boredom, which can cause other coworkers to feel less motivated to do their work well.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage your mindset in a toxic work environment.

How to Concentrate in a Toxic Work Environment

Here are seven lessons I learned from experiencing two years of working in a highly toxic work environment.

1. Don’t Get Sucked in

We are faced with a choice in a toxic work environment. You can react to the negativity and become part of the problem, or you can rise above it. Rising above it involves not being provoked. Allow the negativity to pass over you.

Instead, focus on doing the best work you can. When you arrive at work, start your day.

If you are in sales, focus on being the best sales person. If you are in administration, focus on making sure you do your work accurately and in a timely way. If you are a bar manager (as I was), make sure your bar is clean, stocked, and open for business when the first customer comes in.

Don’t give the negative influences and passive aggressive coworkers an excuse to attack you. When you see negative energy coming your way, pause, identify the emotions that are surfacing, and let them pass.

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This, of course, can be easier said than done. For a little extra help, check out Lifehack’s free guide: End Distraction And Find Your Focus.

2. Become a Beacon of Positivity

Often a toxic work environment is caused by workplace bullying. When you see this happening, become a rock of support for the person or people experiencing these attacks to help them feel safe and heard. Be nice, attentive, and understanding. If you see your colleague make a mistake, quietly fix the mistake or gently point it out.

Never attack or be negative. Instead, be a good listener, offer support, and take your attacked colleague out for lunch and give them the space to talk things through.

If there are signs of a toxic workplace, having a non-judgmental colleague who offers support, an ear to listen, and kindness applies an antidote to the stress, upset, and fear[1].

Surviving a toxic work environment

    3. Have a Plan

    The best way to stay away from the negativity is to have a plan for the day. How will you start the day? What tasks will you accomplish by the end of the day?

    Having a plan for the day takes your focus away from the toxicity around you and puts your focus on doing your work.

    For me, I made sure the first task I did when I arrived at work was to clean my bar and make sure my fridges were stocked. I did not want to give an excuse to the unpleasant members of the team to attack me. My purpose every morning was to set an example, to be ready for when the diners came in. And when the diners did come in, I gave them my full, undivided attention.

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    This focus on my plan for the day kept me away from the politics. It gave me a positive purpose and enabled me to stay above what was going on around me.

    If you’ve lost your motivation while working in a toxic environment, you can check out this Lifehack Fast-Track Class to get back on track: Activate Your Motivation

    4. Stay Away From the Toxic People

    This is often easier said than done. Sometimes, the toxic people in your organization are your bosses and are unavoidable. However, in most workplaces today, there are quiet corners where you can get on with your work when you see the red flags of a hostile workplace.

    Working in an open-plan office can leave us at the mercy of disruptive colleagues and bosses, but if you can find yourself a quiet corner where you can get your head down and do you work, you will, for the most part, stay away from the negative forces working around you.

    When you “hang out” with the toxic people, they will drag you into their toxicity. Quietly and calmly explaining you have a lot of work to get on with and moving to a different place leaves you less vulnerable to their negative influence.

    5. Talk to Your HR Department

    This is one where you need to be careful. You do not want to make accusations or get involved in a blame game when you’re in a toxic work environment. Instead, you want to explain to your HR department that you find it difficult working with a particular person or team[2], and that it’s beginning to negatively affect your personal life.

    Where possible, make it out that this is your fault, not theirs—you do not want to make things worse for yourself. Explain that for you to do your work, you need to be moved somewhere else so you can concentrate and be more focused.

    In a toxic work environment, you will find your HR team is likely fully aware of the problem and will understand your request and do whatever they can to accommodate you.

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    The worst thing you can do is ignore the problem. If the situation is preventing you from doing your work, you need to have that conversation with HR, or if you do not have an HR department, your boss.

    You can learn more about when to go to HR or your boss here.

    6. Listen to Music

    Buy yourself some headphones, not earphones. This is a trick I use on airplanes. Sometimes I want to be left alone to think, read, or just be left with my thoughts. Having my headphones on stops my fellow passengers from interrupting me with questions about what I do, where I’m from, and where I’m going.

    In a toxic work environment, wearing headphones achieves the same result. When we see someone with a pair of headphones on, we automatically leave them alone unless we urgently need to ask them something.

    Whether you actually listen to music or not is less important. The wearing of headphones prevents interruptions and allows you to quietly get on with your work.

    7. Work From Home

    With the current global pandemic, the ability to work from home is more accessible than ever before. Being able to stay outside your toxic work environment will allow you to focus on your work and not on what is going on around you.

    If you do have the option to work from home, then do so for your mental and physical health. One thing I learned is that the people causing the toxic environment do not last long in a company, and the turnover rate is quite high. They either move on by their own accord or are fired or moved to another position where they can cause less harm.

    Final Thoughts

    I have intentionally not suggested that you leave your job, but if you do find yourself feeling stressed and fearful, then the best advice would be to find another company. Nobody should work in a toxic work environment, and if you have taken all the necessary steps to resolve the issue with your company and nothing changes, then you should take steps to leave.

    I understand this can be very difficult, particularly with a complicated job environment and toxic employees around you, but the harm to your health and wellbeing is not worth it. If you need the income, then start looking for a new job and work life. The good news is most companies do not have toxic work cultures, and with a little effort, you should be able to find a new job.

    More on Dealing With a Negative Workplace

    Featured photo credit: Siavash Ghanbari via unsplash.com

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