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Stay Focused At Work With These 10 Tips

Stay Focused At Work With These 10 Tips

Staying focused at work is a constant challenge. If it’s not a coworker wanting to chat, your phone beeping at you, or a hundred emails filling up your inbox, it’s your own mind’s tendency to wander. Here are ten tips to help you deal with distractions and stay focused on your work.

1. Be honest.

Revolutionary, I know.

But maybe you should try it, as long as you can remember that being honest doesn’t mean being rude. It means simply telling people the truth, in a courteous way. For example, try being honest when the chatty coworker stops by and says, “Got a minute?” Or when you get a text from your drama-loving friend. Or when your mom sends an email wanting your help “real quick!” with booking a hotel for her next visit. To all these requests, you need to speak the truth: “I can’t right now. I’m working.”

Feel free to follow up with an alternative:

  • Try asking so-and-so.
  • Check with me after work.
  • I’ll do this at my next break.
  • Remind me on the weekend.
  • Let’s talk about it next time I see you.

2. Put a mind map right in front of you.

Not any mind map. One that shows a visual progression of you staying focused at work and how that leads to your goals.

What are your goals at work?

To be the mediocre employee who does a half-hearted job? I think not.

Even if this job isn’t your dream job, doing your best at it will open up more opportunities for you, gain you more skills, and lead you to better places. So map it out and then put that map where you can see it and remind yourself that, yes, staying focused really does matter.

3. Make a bet.

Surely some of your co-workers or friends also struggle with staying focused and being productive.

It’s time to make it matter where it hurts: in the wallet.

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Make a friendly bet over who can accomplish more in the day or week. Of course, you don’t even have to bet money. You can bet on who has to clean out the office fridge or be the designated driver next weekend.

4. Wear headphones.

Even if you don’t listen to anything, putting headphones on signals to other people that you are not available.

So bring a pair of those giant headphones, put them on, and get to work. Take them off during breaks or when you’re free for a chat. If you can do your work while listening to music or podcasts, do it. It will help you ignore the ambient noise and background conversations which can so easily break your concentration.

5. Use a timer.

Go to the nearest dollar store and get a cheap kitchen timer. Sure, I know; you could use the one on your phone or computer. But the point is to stay focused, and opening up another app or tab is just going to give you an opportunity to check Facebook real quick, or answer that text, or look up that one thing…

You know where that goes.

Instead, buy a timer that does one thing and one thing only: times you as you work. Put it in front of you at your workspace, set it for 15 minutes, and ask yourself to focus on your work until the timer goes off.

When the timer goes off, you can either take a 2-minute breather, or you can keep plugging away.

Every day, increase your “focus time” by a couple of minutes until you work your way up to focusing for 45 or 50 minutes at a time. Be sure to take a 5-minute break after your longer focus time so your brain can recharge and be ready to go again.

6. Be stupid-simple about what you’re doing.

Here’s where most of us get hung up on focusing at work: we ask ourselves to do some big, hairy, enormous task. Our brains freak out and want to run away, which we do by playing Candy Crush or answering pointless emails.

Your brain needs specific tasks to accomplish, not big, huge, vague, intimidating mountains to climb.

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Start telling yourself what you’re doing in the simplest of terms. Dumb it down until you feel a little silly about it.

  • “I’m going choose one color for this design scheme.”
  • “I’m going to write two sentences of this blog post.”
  • “I’m going to file one paper.”

What this does is give your brain a specific, understandable, and easy starting point.

And once you get started, you can keep going.

7. Use the 5-10-40 rule.

Okay, this isn’t really a rule. It’s just a thing I made up that works.

Feel free to steal and use.

Here’s how it works.

You need that timer. Remember, the one you bought? Right. Set it for five minutes. Now spend five minutes figuring out what it is you need to focus on next.

Next, set the timer for 10 minutes, and spend 10 minutes figuring out exactly what needs to be done in that area you need to focus on. Make a list, brainstorm, create a mind map, check your research or project emails, do whatever you need to and create a guideline of the specific (stupid-simple) tasks that need to be accomplished and in what order.

Next, set your timer for 40 minutes and start working your way through those actions, one at a time. If you only get one accomplished in 40 minutes, that’s okay. Scratch it off, take a five-minute break, and then come back and tackle the next one.

8. Write a single sentence about your day.

For this to work, it’s best to do it at the beginning of the day.

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That’s right. You’re not writing a progress report or a log of your work day. You’re simply taking a couple of minutes, at the beginning of the day, to write a single sentence.

And that single sentence should say exactly what your day will have looked like if you stay focused.

  • “Today I wrote 3,000 words and researched two new articles.”
  • “Today I finished that report and turned it in.”
  • “Today I created a great design mock-up for my biggest client.”
  • “Today I landed two new customers.”

What does your day look like, how much do you accomplish, when you stay focused?

Remind yourself of that possibility at the beginning of the day, and you’re much more likely to do it.

9. Keep a progress meter.

You know those poster board signs with the badly drawn graphics people use when they’re fundraising for some worthy cause?

Make one of those.

It doesn’t have to be on poster board, of course. You can use a Post-It. An index card. The back of your hand. The sketchpad on your phone or tablet. A document in your computer.

Whatever.

Break down your current big project into steps. Then draw that representation of a ladder or gauge or arrow, mark different spots for each step, and fill it in as you accomplish those steps.

There’s something really powerful about seeing your progress toward a goal in a simple, visual way.

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10. Use the index card method.

Sometimes we have so much to do that we simply get too overwhelmed to start.

To help yourself focus on a few important tasks, get an index card. Look at your long, long list and your calendar, and choose three things. The most important three things, the highest priority out of all the stuff you really need to do.

Write them down on your index card.

Now flip the card over, and on that side, write down at least one of the following:

  • a reward of some kind (gourmet coffee, chat with a friend)
  • a work task you really like to do
  • a task which you really feel good about accomplishing, but which isn’t one of the top priorities

Your top three tasks are your focus for the day.

If you do them, you get to flip the card over and get/do whatever is on the other side. (So be sure it’s something you like.)

Here’s the final trick to making this method awesome: save your index cards. That’s right. Don’t throw them away.

Stick them in a drawer, and when you’re feeling distracted or discouraged, pull them out and look at all those scratched-off items. You did that. You. You focused on a few important things, accomplished them, and reaped the rewards.

And you can do it again.

Featured photo credit: hang_in_there via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems.

In this article, you will learn why it isn’t easy to build new habits, and how to change habits.

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

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Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

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Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

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2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

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6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

More About Changing Habits

Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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