You’re determined to finish the task at hand when suddenly something comes up – a ping! – from your email notifications, a hunger pang, or even a coworker popping their head in with a quick office tidbit.
When you can finally refocus, five minutes, fifteen minutes, or maybe even an hour passed. You cannot find where you left off or why you got sidetracked. You just want to increase your focus and get things done!
Luckily, you are not alone in struggling with this. There are many tips available on how to help you stay focused at work. Here we will show you how to easily apply the most effective tips.
22 Ways on How to Stay Focused on Work
Being strategic in your approach to easily focusing at work requires you to identify what causes your inability to concentrate in the first place.
Some questions to consider is whether the cause is minor, such as you are having a bad day, or are you having a hard time focusing at will due to a more serious underlying issue?
Here are some common reasons people may not be able focus at work:
- Lack of sleep
- Stressful lifestyle
There are a variety of reasons for you losing focus at work. However, don’t worry if you can’t exactly pinpoint what’s causing your lack of concentration on any task at hand.
Taking time to reflect on what is possibly causing your lack of focus can help you address underlying issues. Once you do so, the decision to stay focused at work is in your hands.
When you are aware of what is causing your inability to focus on work, it becomes about finding the right techniques and effectively applying them.
Here are 22 ways on how to focus at work:
1. Know Your Triggers
The likelihood of being distracted is directly related to the amount of pull something has on our attention. Increased self-observation and deep introspection helps you identify where your boundaries lie.
There are three cues that you need to either set boundaries for or to raise your awareness when your boundaries slip:
You can’t always avoid every single distraction, but if you’re aware of your weaknesses, you have a better chance of putting the right systems in place to greatly reduce exposure to distractions.
The first step in setting boundaries is knowing your triggers and limits – are they mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual?
Once you identify your triggers, you can set healthy boundaries to give you the room to do what you want to focus on. Boundaries serve as the framework to focus your efforts and harness your energy so that you can do your best work.
Keep in mind that your limits are your own, so it’s likely to be different than the limits of others.
Our inability to set boundaries results from our fear of offending those around us. However, you have little to no obligation beyond your own guilt to be immediately available to everyone all the time. Once you set boundaries, stand by them.
2. Communicate Your Boundaries
Ask co-workers (kindly) not to distract you while working.
Once you set up your personal working system where you work at your best, make sure to make others aware of it. This will increase the chances of your colleagues leaving you to focus on work during the hours you set aside for important tasks.
On the flip side, when others at work know you’re on your “free time”, they will pose questions and talk during these periods.
3. Eliminate Digital Distractions
If you’re like most workers, you don’t spend all of your hours at work doing actual work. Be honest.
During those perceived lulls at work, the temptation to surf the internet or double check your notifications can be strong.
Start eliminating these digital distractions with the following:
- Use site-blocking apps to access the internet at set intervals.
- Develop the willpower to not check your phone every 10 minutes. Get used to selecting the ‘do not disturb’ mode on your smartphone or keep it face down.
- Minimize your notifications – you can do this by managing your settings in your device of concern.
- Unapologetically screen your phone calls – set boundaries to accept only very important calls during work hours.
4. Make Your Computer Distraction-Free
This is very important for people who always work on their computers. Continued distractions on your work computer will wane your ability to focus at will.
How can you make your computer distraction free?
- Put all files related to each project or task in one folder.
- Ensure your computer is always virus-free to save you the hassle of checks and repairs.
- Remove digital clutter (unneeded open tabs, half-finished documents on your desktop).
5. Rethink Your Email Usage
Emails can be extremely distracting. Keeping your email open allows us to think we are connected to others more. However, checking our emails often is unnecessary. If there is an urgent matter, email would not be the first method of contact for you. People will call you instead.
What can you do to resist constantly checking your email?
- Disable email notifications.
- Assign an email checking time: either in the morning, just before lunch, or in the middle of the afternoon. The rest of your time is for working.
- Keep emails to five sentences or less. You’ll spend less time with emails and free up time for more important tasks.
Organize Your Emails
Depending on which company you work for and your specific role, there’s a strong possibility you’ll receive a steady stream of company emails daily.
Let’s face it: you get a lot. Likely a heavy mix of personal and work correspondence, promos and updates from your sites, and undoubtedly, 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.
Another email strategy you could apply is the polarizing Inbox Zero method.
Originally coined by Merlin Mann, owner of 43 Folders, Inbox Zero will help you to dedicate specific chunks of time to reading and answering emails so that they don’t take over your day.
Here are some tenants of Mann’s original view of Inbox Zero:
- Keep your email application closed for the majority of the day.
- When processing emails, follow the principle of Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer or Do.
- Respond immediately to messages which can be answered in two minutes or less.
6. Reimagine Your Phone Use
Not all calls are about your apartment being burglarized or a loved one in a precarious situation. So turn off your mobile phone or put it on silent mode during hours when you really need all your attention on your work. You can also opt to activate the voicemail service.
You could also request your workmates to inform your callers you will get back to them later 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.
You can also set your instant messaging status to indicate you are “busy” or stay “invisible” while you work to remain focused on a task. If you still get IMs, then just turn the notification or program off. Turn it on later when your current task is not as pressing.
7. Stay Away From Social Media
There’s a strong tendency to 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.
Discipline yourself to log in only when you have extra minutes free. This will help you efficiently use your time to focus on work.
8. Methodically Schedule Each Day
Meticulously planning each day is the best way to approach deep work and one of the best strategies on how to stay focused at work. It imposes time limits, creating a healthy “pressure on time.”
One of the main reasons why most people lose focus during a workday is because of a lack of a structured plan or schedule.
When you schedule each workday, you’ll have more time control because you’ll know exactly what you want to accomplish and when.
The time-blocking (or time boxing) approach holds you accountable by allocating specific periods for specific types of work.
There are different time-boxing methods, such as day-theming. Day-theming is dedicating each day of the week to a specific theme instead of switching between different types of work or areas of responsibility throughout the day. This strategy is not about scheduling a perfect day. It’s really about giving structure to your workday by forcing you to be more intentional with your time.
9. Make a Daily “To-Do” List and Keep It Nearby
It’s always helpful when you have your list of tasks beside your computer, at any conspicuous place in the work area, or in an accessible app. Here you can learn “The Right Way to Make a To Do List and Get Things Done.”
Cross out the “done” tasks when you’ve completed them, and you will have a sense of accomplishment and feel satisfied.
10. Focus in Short Bursts
The tried and true “Pomodoro technique” is a key strategy to improve how you focus at work. It understands that focusing on difficult tasks is both efficient, but tiring. You can break it down like this ((NIH: The Pomodoro Technique: An Effective Time Management Tool))
- Choose your assignment/work to do
- Set the timer to 25 minutes
- Work until the timer rings
- Take a five-minute break
- Take longer breaks (15 to 30 minutes) for every four Pomodoro intervals
11. Prioritize Tasks
The first hour at work is when most people are productive. This is because all energies are yet to be spent. So to be more productive, never do this to start your morning.
One of the ultimate tips on how to focus at work is to put the taxing and difficult task on your agenda during the first hour. This will allow you to use focus to do the most pressing tasks.
Follow these with the less pressing work, and then end with those routine tasks that you find boring.
How can you get started with prioritizing your tasks?
- Make a list of all the things you need to do.
- Ask, if you could only do one activity here, what would it be?
- After you’ve compiled a short list of activities, aim to focus most of your energy there.
12. Make a Procrastination List
With your most important tasks prioritized, it’s helpful to make a list of less important tasks you can still complete while you put off the most important task. Follow these easy steps:
- Make a list of tasks.
- Prioritize them on a scale of one to five (one being the most important).
- When you find yourself procrastinating, start doing the second most important task on your list.
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.”
Focus on One Task
When we try focusing on more than one thing, we tend to do both of them poorly. It leads to more mistakes, and as a result, we need to correct ourselves more often.
How can you start monotasking?
- Practice being more mindful while completing the activities.
- Simply monotask rather than multitask. By limiting your mind to a single topic, you create a laser-like ability to cut through it.
14. Chunking Tasks
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 simultaneously and keep control of our cars—driving has become internalized.
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.
15. Set 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.
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.
16. Put on Headphones
In most offices, various sources of sounds can prove distracting, like the floor polisher, the mail cart, workmates talking, phones ringing, and sounds of things dropping on the floor. So why not block out distracting stuff?
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.
Choose Suitable Music
The point of having music in the background while you’re working is to provide ease and inspiration so you can stay focused at work. 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. This tip on how to focus at work recommends organizing your music library accordingly.
Apart from helping you stay focused at work, no distractions should occur. There’s nothing more jarring than suddenly hearing loud, heavy metal screaming after some relaxing jazz music.
If you want some ideas for the kind of music to listen to, check out this Productivity Music for Focus (Recommended Playlists) .
17. Cultivate Your Best Workspace
Many people find working physically strenuous even if it’s done seated most of the time.
One of the best tips in how to focus at work is to not lose precious time and be distracted by 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.
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 and 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.
Take a look at these 15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done for inspiration.
18. Switch Things Up
Even with eliminating all those pesky distractions and making yourself as comfortable as possible, sometimes you just get stuck. It’s at moments like that we need a change of scenery. It’s no use beating a dead horse.
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 anything else completely different from what you usually do can work. It’s amazing how, by simply switching things up, we can increase our focus.
Going for a short walk encourages a relaxed mindset and increases the chance of us returning to the issue at hand and thinking of new ways to approach it.
Additionally, much research reminds us of the consequences of sitting down too much. A recent article cites sedentary behavior as an emerging health concern ((Atlantis Press: Proceedings of the International Joint Conference on Arts and Humanities 2021 (IJCAH 2021)
Here are some tips to get you moving:
- During short breaks and lunchtimes, move away from the desk and go outside.
- Have lunch outside.
- Change location completely and work in a public garden.
19. Be Kind to Yourself
You probably noticed yourself being extremely critical of small things. They occupy our mind and make us less likely to try again because they’re very easy to believe.
If we’re kinder to ourselves, we’ll spend less time criticizing ourselves over simple mistakes.
20. Always Find the Fun in What You Do
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 open for new, fun ideas.
When you make something you can call your own, you’re more likely to stay focused at work.
Meditation helps you engage with tasks quicker and with greater consistency. Taking a quick two minutes to meditate can work wonders. It keeps you calm and relaxed, and in many ways, energizes you when you feel mentally and physically depleted.
How can you do this?
- Sit (or lie down) in a comfortable but alert position.
- Set a timer for 2 minutes.
- Focus on your breathing.
22. Keep Food and Drink Close to You
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!
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 will not expose you to unrelated activities.
Also, make sure your snacks within arm’s reach are healthy so you can stay energetic: 25 Healthy Snacks for Work: Decrease Hunger and Increase Productivity.
The Bottom Line
Just remember — you are surrounded by events and people at work that could cut off your momentum and affect your ability to concentrate. You can help keep these at bay with the above 22 effective ways to focus at work.
Don't have time for the full article? Read this.
Know your triggers: Increased self-observation and deep introspection help you identify where your boundaries lie.
Eliminate distractions on your phone and computer.
Meticulously plan your day: The time-blocking (or time boxing) approach holds you accountable by allocating specific periods for specific types of work.
Monotask or “chunk” tasks together and make sure to take breaks (meditate, get outside).
Cultivate your best workspace
Be kind to yourself and remember why you do what you do!
Featured photo credit: ROOM via unsplash.com
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