Published on January 19, 2021

Why Can’t I Focus? 8 Reasons and Possible Solutions

Why Can’t I Focus? 8 Reasons and Possible Solutions

Information once came at a premium. The Internet and smartphone changed all that and leveled the playing field. What separates those uber achievers from the average person is their ability to use that information. The Elon Musks and Steve Jobs of the world have figured out that one thing is the key component of success in a world inundated with knowledge: focus. What we need to be asking ourselves as we start off 2021 is “Why can’t I focus?”

In dealing with clients in different industries with all different backgrounds, I can say that many people know what they should be doing, but there is a big difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Moreover, many people make the mistake of thinking they are using their time most effectively when they really aren’t.

People have difficulty gauging time accurately. People tend to overestimate how much time they are actually being productive. In his book The Compound Effect, bestselling author Darren Hardy talks about the day when he actually decided to calculate how much time he spent selling in front of his clients when he was young. He assumed it was a few hours when, actually, the number was closer to 20 minutes.

Focus is not something we can see or feel, making us guesstimate a lot of what we do. Even the best of us is derailed by obstacles that prevent us from focusing.

So, the million-dollar question is why can’t we focus?

Our once silent world has been replaced by constant buzzes from emails, messages, notifications, and reminders. Statistically, it has been said we get distracted on average every four minutes. The problem with that is it takes 23 minutes to regain focus[1].

Essentially, we are, by and large, never in a state of focus. Instead, we are moving between one task and another. To fix this we must first understand where the roadblocks are. Once we know where we are falling short, we need to implement shields to keep the noise out and allow us to focus on the tasks at hand.


One of the points on the list below is likely the reason you can’t focus. If it resonates with you, we have possible solutions to help.

1. Your Smartphone

Our greatest tool is also our greatest enemy when it comes to productivity. Like any tool, the smartphone can be used for good or evil. For every person that uses their smartphone to listen to personal development material, there are 100 that will listen to their favorite jams or play video games.

Every successful person I have met understands the dangers that come with their smartphone and adjust accordingly.

Possible solution: Turn your smartphone into a smart business tool by only installing absolutely necessary apps.

2. Notifications

This goes hand in hand with reason number one. We are connected to everyone via email, social media, and SNS through our smartphones. That results in hundreds of notifications a day. Every like, response to your post, email, chat message, app notification, and news update results in a buzz.

Possible solution: You are not a doctor. Turn off all unnecessary notifications.

3. Lack of Motivation

2020 was one for the ages. COVID-19, masks, and lockdowns hit many businesses hard. It’s been well documented by news outlets, but what is not talked about as much is the incredible effects the lockdowns are having on our mental health, specifically our motivation.


Suicides and anxiety are skyrocketing as a result, but we won’t know the true tally for some time. In dark times, it’s easy to lose motivation, to ask ourselves why bother?

But in the grand scheme of things, it’s nowhere near the Spanish flu or the Black Plague. We survived those at a time when medicine was nowhere near what it is today. With vaccines being introduced, things will get better, and we need to be ready for the opportunities when they do.

Possible solution: The best way to fight a lack of motivation is brute force. Grab yourself a copy of Zig Ziglar’s How to Stay Motivated or listen to the master motivator himself Tony Robbins with his Get the Edge or Personal Power audio programs. Shove them on your smartphone and then listen to them over and over.

4. Multitasking

People love to think they can do two things at the same time, but that’s the exact opposite of focus. It’s tempting to want to move onto another task when we get struck doing another.

When it gets hard, we look for easy solutions, but moving onto another task will inevitably leave you with two unfinished tasks. Single-minded focus is about working on one until it’s done, or a predetermined time is met.

Possible solutions: Avoid the temptation to do more; instead, single-task everything. It might seem like you’d do less, but single-minded focus gets tasks done in less than half the time.

5. Health Issues

There’s no getting around the fact that poor health will affect your ability to focus. Having sciatica personally, I can say that pain is a serious impediment to focus. That’s why I like to say, “The better you feel, the better you do.”


As an added bonus of making health a priority in life, you’ll save yourself tens of hours spent out of bed or visiting clinics.

Possible solution: It’s pretty much everything we know we should do: eat better, exercise regularly, and stay away from alcohol and caffeine. The best advice is to tackle this one step at a time. Cold turkey is not the answer.

First, introduce a very light stretching routine. Slowly reduce your Starbucks visits. Most of us can’t handle change overnight, but by doing it slowly we can achieve incredible results over time.

6. Poor Sleep

Sleep is often the first thing to go for people who want to get ahead or enjoy their lives more. The logic is that they can manage on five or six hours of sleep a night, so those extra two hours can be out to better use.

While I understand there are times we need to burn the midnight oil, sleep is when our body and mind get to recharge. Chemical imbalances, stress, anxiety and more can often be tracked back to poor sleeping habits. Running on less than six hours for most people will result in a lack of focus and lower productivity. When our brain is tired, errors increase, which can lead to lengthy corrections.

Possible solution: Make sleep a priority. Schedule it into your daily routine. For those days when we have to cut our sleep short at night due to a big project or presentation, try and grab a nap sometime during the next day.

Lebron James, one of the elite athletes in the world today, gets eight hours of sleep a night and takes naps when he feels he needs a little more rest. Let that sink in.


7. Screens

Sadly, we live in the Information Age. I am typing this article on my iPad. Most people today spend between eight and ten hours a day looking at one screen or another. If it’s not their smartphone, it’s their tablet or TV. Pick your poison, but our eyes suffer because of it. There’s no getting around needing screens.

Possible solution: Use the KitKat strategy and have a break. We need to constantly remind ourselves that screens are not real life. Just as we must schedule sleep, we must schedule our breaks as well. I once heard someone say that an optometrist told him 20-20-20 was the key to dealing with screens. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 meters away for 20 seconds.

You can also try blue light glasses. Modern screens are seriously bright. They take color to the next level, but that’s not good news for everyone. Some people get headaches and eye-strain from sitting in front of screens for too long. If that’s you, a $50 investment into blue light glasses could be the answer you’re looking for.

8. Social Media

I personally don’t use social media to keep in touch with friends and followers, but more as a business tool. I share information with clients, offer services, and gather new ideas for articles or presentations.

That’s not what most people do. They get sucked in spending hours upon hours going through their Twitter feed.

Possible solution: Set a time limit to spend. It’s amazing how little time you really need to do everything you want on social media if you try.

The Bottom Line

If you find yourself asking, “Why can’t I focus?” it’s time to do some self-reflection and figure out what may be causing your lack of focus. At least one of the above probably struck a nerve, so try to tackle that one first. You may find that one change is all you needed to be productive again.

More on Regaining Focus

Featured photo credit: via


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Adrian Shepherd

Adrian is a productivity consultant and the CEO of iSucceed

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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.


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.


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.


    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.


    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


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