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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

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 will negativity and politics. It’s unpleasant and can lead to stress, anxiety, and gloom.

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 were working in, if you focus on doing your best work every day, and avoided getting caught up in the politics, you would 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.

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Here are seven lessons I learned from experiencing two years of working in a highly toxic workplace 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 bars’ 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 an excuse to attack you.

2. Become a Beacon of Positivity

Often a toxic work environment is caused by attacks on your colleagues or a specific individual. When you see this happening, become a rock of support for the person or people experiencing these attacks. 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. Saying things like “Don’t let it get you down” never helps. Instead, be a good listener, offer support, and take your attacked colleague out for lunch and give them the space to talk things through.

In toxic work environments, having a non-judgmental colleague who offers support, an ear to listen, and kindness applies an antidote to the stress, upset, and fear[1].

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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.

    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.

    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. Go there.

    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 from 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.

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    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].

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

    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 headphone, 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.

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    In a toxic workplace, wearing headphones achieves the same result. When we see someone with a pair pf 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. One thing I learned is that the people causing the toxic environment do not last long in a company. They either move on by their 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 difficult job environment, but the harm to your health and wellbeing is not worth it. If you need the income, then start looking for a new job. 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

    Reference

    More by this author

    Carl Pullein

    Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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    Last Updated on January 27, 2021

    8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

    8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

    What were you doing when this article caught your eye? Chances are, you were having trouble concentrating on another project.

    Even before COVID-19, balancing your work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge. These days, it can seem downright impossible.

    Don’t let a little bad news—or good fun—break your focus. Here are eight reasons why you might have trouble concentrating, each with its own solution for getting back on track:

    1. Digital Distractions

    Right now, do a little experiment. Pull up your browser history, hit Ctrl+H, and see where you’ve been all day. Frightening, right?

    You jumped in and out of email. You bounced from social media to digital publication and back again. Oh, and look at those half-dozen retail sites you scrolled through looking for a new pair of shoes.

    Then, there’s your smartphone. Every few seconds, you get a new notification from Twitter, Instagram, or CNN. Each time, your eyes dart from your computer screen to your phone. You’d hate to miss something, right?

    The Fix: Schedule Your Day

    Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, you can put together a daily schedule to help when you have trouble focusing. While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside blocks of time for tasks you know you’ll need to complete.

    Schedule time to:

    • Read and respond to work emails
    • Make headway on your top two or three work projects
    • Engage in professional development
    • Do household chores
    • Help the kids with homework
    • Run that Zoom tutorial with your partner again

    Leave short gaps in between as buffer times in case something goes over the intended time. Everyone needs to unwind with a good distraction now and again. The key is controlling when you do so, rather than letting it control you.

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    2. Daydreams and Memories

    Remember that little café where your spouse proposed to you 15 years ago? Wouldn’t your dining room look great with the same little tables and subway tile on the floor?

    Everyone loses themselves in daydreams and memories sometimes. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than the spreadsheet you’re struggling to fill out. This causes you to have trouble concentrating on what you need to focus on.

    Nonetheless, you have a deadline to meet, so how can you keep yourself focused when you have trouble concentrating?

    The Fix: Stay in the Present

    Daydreaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagination can provide a spark of creative genius or visualization of what you want in life. You just need to do it when it makes sense, not when you should be focusing on work.

    Stay in the present by keeping your daily to-do list on your desk. When your mind starts to drift, pull yourself back to what’s right in front of you. Ground yourself by focusing on something real, like your breath, before turning your attention back to the task at hand.

    With that said, make time to let your mind wander on occasion. Allow yourself the luxury of dreaming when it’s not pulling you away from something you need to get done.

    3. Headaches

    Nearly everyone has had a headache at some point during their lives. While you might be able to power through a mild one, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating.

    Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, lack of sleep, diet, eyestrain, and medications[1]. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding.

    The Fix: Use Your Head

    Like that bottle of hand sanitizer, keep your headache and migraine medications on hand at all times. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge these days, migraine services like Nurx can diagnose you and deliver medication to your door.

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    If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. Some people find relief simply from drinking water, applying a cold compress, or inhaling essential oils.

    4. Racing Thoughts

    When is that project due? I’ve got to get something for Jane’s baby shower. I’m almost out of shampoo. I need those audit figures. What do I make for dinner tonight?

    Does that sound familiar? Racing thoughts are common, especially among busy people, but they aren’t conducive to keeping your brain on track and focused and often cause you to have trouble concentrating.

    The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful

    If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time, causing concentration problems.[2] Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter and focus on the present.

    The good news is that meditating is easy. Simply sit somewhere comfortable, take off your shoes, and set a timer for ten minutes. Then, just focus on your breathing. Don’t try to control it; simply notice your inhales and exhales, and let thoughts pass unjudged.

    Mindfulness meditation, described above, is just one type. Mantra and movement meditations are also popular. Figure out what works for you, and keep those racing thoughts at bay.

    5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments

    Life is messy, and if you’re like me, one of the greatest concentration-killers is unresolved disputes.

    Maybe you argued with your partner last night. Perhaps you both went to bed angry, and it’s been bothering you all morning. Or maybe you’re fed up with a co-worker who always talks louder than is necessary because they want everyone to hear about their latest date.

    Your anger and annoyance won’t solve these issues, but they will distract you from your job.

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    The Fix: Get Some Closure

    Instead of leaving an argument up in the air, try to solve it. Stick to the point, stay calm, listen, and bring the disagreement to some sort of resolution.

    If a co-worker does something to irritate you enough to interfere with your ability to concentrate, pull them aside and tell them. Be rational—not angry—and try to understand what might motivate their actions. Otherwise, nothing is going to change, including the fact that you’re having trouble concentrating.

    6. Lack of Sleep

    Poor sleep isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during the waking hours. There are medical reasons for poor sleep, like diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders. For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.

    For most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about finances, kids, parents, or maybe that job change you’ve been considering. You have a lot on your mind, and this causes you to have trouble concentrating.

    The Fix: Have Some Sweet Dreams

    Losing as few as 16 minutes of sleep can throw you off your game the next day. Getting to sleep might be as easy as changing your mattress or your pillow, but the bigger culprit may be your routine. Key steps include:

    • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
    • Control your exposure to light at night, including smartphones and computer screens. Use that time to confront those weighty things on your mind by making a list of concerns or updating your to-do list.
    • Avoid overeating. Large meals close to bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
    • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine. Both substances interrupt your natural sleep cycle.
    • When you do lie down, turn off the lights and close your eyes. Take some deep breaths, and drift into dreamland.

    7. Lack of Exercise

    For many people, exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list. When they run out of time, they skip it—at the cost of their concentration.

    Even moderate, regular physical activity benefits your physical health, improves your sleep, lessens anxiety, and increases mental acuity. If you aren’t making time for exercise during the day, you’re hurting your ability to stay focused.

    The Fix: Get Moving

    Not everyone is an athlete, and not everyone wants to work out under the scrutiny of their fellow gym-goers. At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability. Rather than launch into that soon-to-fail New Year’s resolution approach to exercise, start with literal small steps, like walking the dog or taking the stairs.

    If it only takes you five minutes to eat that protein bar at your desk, use the rest of your lunch break to take a walk. Even if it’s around the block, you’ll come back feeling refreshed.

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    8. Boredom

    If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll have trouble concentrating on it. If you’re bored with life in general, you’ll find it difficult to focus on much of anything.

    Boredom leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to fatigue, which leads to scrolling through your Facebook feed for hours, killing your ability to focus. Depression and boredom are tightly linked.

    The Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective

    The pandemic has put a stranglehold on our social lives. Despite the restrictions on seeing other people and going out in public, you need to find a way to put the “social” back in your life. Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.

    Even if you’re not comfortable with eating at a restaurant or visiting Grandma, there are things you can do. Zoom and Facetime are good options, but you might also think about having a couple of friends over on your patio while maintaining social distance. Keep it short so no one even has to use your bathroom.

    And about that boring work project? Tweak your attitude by thinking about how it will benefit your client. Find a way to make it fun, perhaps by discussing it with colleagues who make you laugh. You can check out more ways to make boring work interesting in the following video:

    If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.

    The Bottom Line

    Concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. That’s why most people have trouble concentrating. When there are all sorts of sounds, lights, and people competing for your attention, that combination can be elusive.

    Do your best to remove distractions, clear your mind, and take care of yourself. Those work projects will practically check themselves off once you get into a groove.

    More to Help You Concentrate

    Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Health Publishing: Headache: When to worry, what to do
    [2] Columbia University: How Meditation Can Help You Focus

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