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Published on February 23, 2021

How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks

How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks

Knowledge was what once separated the rich and successful from the rest of the pack. The internet combined with the iPhone leveled the playing field. Then came along social media and put people in touch from all corners of the world. Now, Clubhouse is rewriting all the rules again. While our knowledge grows exponentially, sadly, our focus doesn’t. We must learn—as Warren Buffet does—to “say no to almost everything”. The key to success isn’t how to learn more, but how to increase focus.

The working-from-home model (WFH) wasn’t something many companies embraced just a short time ago. Today, Covid-19 has made WFH ubiquitous. With it, all sorts of challenges have arisen and companies and individuals alike are still adjusting to the new normal.

Pre-Covid, people had to deal with distractions at the office from walk-ins, colleagues asking for assistance, office gossip, and the likes. Today’s environment, for many people, is completely different. Isolated at home, a lack of focus can’t be blamed on your micromanaging boss, obnoxious coworkers, or persistent customers. At home, your focus is entirely in your hands now. So, what can you do about it?

Here are 12 different ways you can increase your focus.

1. Exercise

Get your day started right by getting the blood flowing. In Japanese, companies used to have their employees start their mornings with some light exercise. Stretching, yoga, or easy calisthenics are all that’s needed. Exercise does so much good for our bodies and mind.

According to the Harvard Medical School, exercise “reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”[1]

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2. Monotask

Multitasking was a cute catchphrase that sounded as if you were able to get more done in less time. Science says that’s dead wrong. By jumping from one task to another, our brain needs time to restart.

According to psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life,

“multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls.”

Therefore, to increase focus, simply monotask. By limiting your mind to a single topic, you create a laser-like ability to cut through it.

3. Chunking

While we might not be able to multitask, we can do two activities simultaneously if they use different parts of our brain. That’s why we can drive and listen to podcasts at the same time and keep control of our cars—driving has become internalized. Watching TV while doing your exercise routine is another prime example.

While chunking doesn’t qualify as something that will increase focus, what it does is free up time that we can use for other tasks. Good time management means having the ability to do more. When we have so much on our plate, getting through it all can be daunting. But by chunking activities, we kill two birds with one stone.

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4. Music

You might not think music can increase our focus, but you’d be wrong. A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, done in 2007, states that music, specifically classical music, can help your brain absorb and interpret new information more easily.[2] If you’re looking for an easy way on how to increase focus, Mozart or Beethoven have got you covered.

5. Nature

David Strayer is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention. He’s also an avid backpacker, and he talks about something called the “3-day effect.” He demonstrated with a group of Outward Bound participants that after three days of a wilderness backpacking adventure, they performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks.[3]

According to him, “on the third day, my senses recalibrate – I smell things and hear things I didn’t hear before.” So, if you’ve been cramped up in your house during the lockdowns, a trip to the Great Outdoors might be just what the doctor ordered.

6. Mingle

The effects the lockdowns have had on our mental health have been severe. Isolating people isn’t good for us. We’re social animals. We need to get out and mingle. While we often view chit-chat as a mindless, time-wasting activity, it does have its benefits. Talking to different people exposes our minds to new and fresh ideas as well as alleviate stress. The less stress we have, the more we can focus.

7. Sleep

The simplest and easiest way to increase focus is having good old-fashioned sleep. Too many of us have gotten accustomed to cutting hours off our sleep to be able to watch another episode of Game of Thrones or get to the next level in the Spiderman: Miles Morales on the PlayStation 5.

None of us can operate at optimum levels for long periods of time without a good night’s rest. Short term, we might be able to get away with it, but over time the effects add up. In essence, by denying yourself sleep, you are denying your body the rest it needs to realign itself.

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8. Diet

The food we eat is the fuel for our bodies. A Ferrari can only perform its best with quality gasoline. The same can be said for our bodies, yet it seems too many people don’t connect the two.

While the vegetarian diet is certainly healthy, I prefer to take a more balanced approach. Fish, meat, and pork all provide us with amino acids essential for health. I compliment my proteins with a variety of vegetables and carbohydrates. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. Ever since I focused on creating a more balanced diet, I have not lost a day of work.

9. Cooking Timers

It sounds rather silly until you’ve tried it, but force yourself to work on one task for a solid 30 minutes—no interruptions of any kind. You’ll be amazed at how hard it is for us to do that. We have gotten so used to jumping from one browser tab to another. We happily bounce around on the internet whenever we see something that catches our eye. It’s amazing how much time we flutter away without knowing it. A cooking timer is your commitment to give a single task your undivided attention.

10. Switch Things Up

While I have spoken about focus, monotasking, and timers, we have to understand that there are times when we just get stuck. It’s at moments like that we need a change of scenery. It’s no use beating a dead horse.

There are days when our creative juices just aren’t flowing. At times like this, it’s better to just get your mind completely off what you’re doing. Clear your mind by doing something completely different. That breather will give your mind time to reboot itself. Playing a video game, reading a book, or doing something completely different from what you usually do can work. It’s amazing how, by simply switching things up, we can increase our focus.

11. Go for a Walk

Something as simple as going for a walk can be just what the doctor ordered. In fact, under the current circumstances of work-from-home, it’s something we all need to do more of.

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There were days when my wife didn’t go outside for days on end. She’d start going stir crazy. Going for a walk—away from technology—and breathing in the fresh air can make a world of difference to someone stuck at home.

12. Deadlines

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted. Put simply, we adjust our work to the time available for its completion.

Say you’re told to finish a project by next Tuesday. Most people will get it done by next Tuesday. Unlike school where we have the eager beavers, as adults, we have so much on our plate so we put off things that do not need our immediate attention. So, if you want to increase focus, simply bring in the time frame.

Don’t allow yourself to put things off and instead, attack them head-on. Combined with the other techniques and strategies outlined in this article, you’ll be able to rip right through things.

Conclusion

Focus, not knowledge, is the key to success in today’s world. Unfortunately, so many things are competing for our focus and attention. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and the new kid on the block—Clubhouse—are all vying for your attention, not to mention our friends, family, and colleagues.

It’s a battle for your mind, and you are in the driver’s seat. Armed with these 12 brain hacks, you’ll be able to win more wars than you lose.

More Tips on How to Increase Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Chase Clark via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Exercising to relax
[2] Stanford Medicine: Study shows different brains have similar responses to music
[3] National Geographic: This Is Your Brain on Nature

More by this author

Adrian Shepherd

Adrian is a productivity consultant and the CEO of iSucceed

How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks Why Can’t I Focus? 8 Reasons and Possible Solutions How To Increase Your Efficiency At Work (14 Simple Ways)

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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

    Reference

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