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15 Ways To Stay Focused At Work

15 Ways To Stay Focused At Work

It’s normal.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Final Thoughts

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)

More by this author

Arina Nikitina

The author of "Real Goal Getting guide" and she is on a mission to help people achieve goals, and keep focused and motivated.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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