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How to Focus Like a Laser at Work

How to Focus Like a Laser at Work

Being focused at work is something we all aim to be. It seems simple in concept, to just do a task until it gets done, so why is it so hard for us to focus sometimes? I’ve been putting into practice a few tips that I wanted to share.

Work on One Thing at a Time

Being able to focus at work is much easier when you’re only working on one thing at a time. Sure, this is easier to say than it is to actually do, because many of us have a lot of things that need to get done, but for us to really focus we need to do one thing at a time.

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We shouldn’t try to multitask to try and get more done. Computers are great at multitasking; people are not. We should be working on a single thing at a time, and when it’s complete, move onto the next task. Work out what you should be working on right now, and work on that. Perhaps it’s the quickest task to do, or maybe it’s the most urgent or the highest profile task. Either way, pick a task and work on just that task. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to remain focused when you’re only thinking about that one task.

Eliminate Distractions

Our lives are filled with distractions. There are distractions at work, such as people around you, conversations, and all kinds of noises. There are also distractions on your computer, including email, Internet, and other applications. To be able to be totally focused, we need to be able to eliminate these distractions. If we’re drawn away from our work by other things, then we’re not really focused on what we’re doing.

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A lot of the distractions can’t really be helped. You can’t really get up and ask everyone to be quiet because you need to work—that would seem to be selfish. Working with the background noise may just be something you need to do.

There are, however, some distractions that you can get rid of. Almost all of the distractions that are present on your computer can be eliminated. We don’t realise how they can affect us, but once they are off, they make a big difference. Some of the changes you could make are:

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  • Email notifications. Many email clients often have a popup or notification of incoming email. This option can be turned off. Try turning it off if you need to focus, or even closing down your email program altogether.
  • Silent phone. Your phone may be constantly making noises for incoming email, messages, and other notifications. If you have it set on silent mode, this noise is eliminated. Sure, you might still need to use it to take calls, but these should still display on the screen for you to see.
  • Internet browsing. The temptation to browse the Internet at work is high for many of us. It can be easy to “just check that one website again” or “quickly check Facebook”. The ability to not get distracted by Internet browsing is hard and is more of a mental restraint than actually closing an application, but I suggest that you give it a try. You could even remove shortcuts to application to make it harder than just a single click.

Get Plenty of Rest

I’ve written on my site about the importance of getting enough rest, and the relationship it has to being effective at work. You should be aware of how much sleep your body needs to function at its peak, but most experts recommend around 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night. I’m sitting here, writing this article, feeling like a million dollars because I had a great 8-hour sleep last night.

It really helps your ability to focus when you get a good sleep. You feel refreshed and energised, and you don’t have the desire to fall asleep at your desk. Getting into a regular sleeping pattern is important, and keeping up with the right amount of sleep will do wonders for your ability to focus at work.

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More by this author

Ben Brumm

Ben is a business analyst and software developer. He shares career advice on Lifehack.

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Published on November 12, 2020

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

What’s the most draining, miserable job you’ve ever had? Maybe you had a supervisor with unrealistic demands about your work output and schedule. Or perhaps, you worked under a bullying boss who frequently lost his temper with you and your colleagues, creating a toxic work environment.

Chances are, though, your terrible job experience was more all-encompassing than a negative experience with just one person. That’s because, in general, toxicity at work breeds an entire culture. Research shows abusive behavior by leaders can and often quickly spread through an entire organization.[1]

Unfortunately, working in a toxic environment doesn’t just make it miserable to show up to the office (or a Zoom meeting). This type of culture can have lasting negative effects, taking a toll on mental and physical health and even affecting workers’ personal lives and relationships.[2]

While it’s often all-encompassing, toxic culture isn’t always as blatant or clear-cut as abuse. Some of the evidence is more subtle—but it still warrants concern and action.

Have a feeling that your workplace is a toxic environment? Here are 5 surefire signs to look for.

1. People Often Say (or Imply) “That’s Not My Job”

When I first launched my company, I had a very small team. And back then, we all wore a lot of hats, simply because we had to. My colleagues and I worked tirelessly together to build, troubleshoot, and market our product, and nobody complained (at least most of the time).

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Because we were all in it together, with the same shared vision in mind, cooperation mattered so much more than job titles. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way.

In some workplaces, people adhere to their job descriptions to a fault:

  • Need help with an accounting problem? Sorry, that’s not my job.
  • Oh, you spilled your coffee in the break room? Too bad, I’m working.
  • Can’t figure out the new software? Ask IT.

While everyone has their own skillset—and time is often at a premium—cooperation is important in any workplace. An “it’s not my job” attitude is a sign of a toxic environment because it’s inherently selfish. It implies “I only care about me and what I have to get done” and that people aren’t concerned about the collective good or overall vision.[3] That type of perspective is not only bound to drain individual relationships; it also drains overall morale and productivity.

2. There’s a Lack of Diversity

Diversity is a vital part of a healthy work environment. We need the opinions and ideas of people who don’t see the world like us to move ahead. So, when leaders don’t prioritize diversity—or worse, they actively avoid it—I’m always suspicious about their character and values.

Limiting your workforce to one type of person is bound to prevent organizations from growing healthily. But even if your work environment is diverse in general, the management might prevent diverse individuals from rising to leadership positions, which only misses the point of having a diverse work environment in the first place.

Look around you. Who’s in leadership at your company? Who gets promotions and rewards most often? If the same type of people gets ahead while other individuals consistently get left behind, you might be working in a toxic environment.

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However it manifests in your workplace, keep in mind that a lack of diversity is a tell-tale sign that “bias is rampant and the wrong things are valued.”[4]

3. Feedback Isn’t Allowed

Just as individual growth hinges on being open to criticism, an organization’s well-being depends on workers’ ability to air their concerns and ideas. If management actively stifles feedback from employees, you’re probably working in a toxic environment.

But that definitely doesn’t mean nobody will air their feelings. One of the telltale signs of toxic leadership is when employees vent on the sidelines, out of management’s earshot. When I worked in a toxic environment, coworkers would often complain about higher-ups and company policies during work in private chats or after work hours.

It’s normal to get frustrated at work. That’s just a part of having a job. What isn’t normal is when dissent isn’t a part of or discouraged in the workplace. A workplace culture that suppresses constructive feedback will not be successful in the long run. It’s a sign that leadership isn’t open to new ideas, and that they’re more concerned about their own well-being than the health of the organization as a whole.

4. Quantifiable Measures Take Priority

Sales numbers, timelines, bottom lines—these metrics are, of course, important signs of how things are going in any business. But great leaders know that true success isn’t always measurable or quantifiable. More meaningful factors like workplace satisfaction, teamwork, and personal growth all contribute to and sustain these metrics.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and they shouldn’t be the only concern. Measure-taking should always take a backseat to meaning-making—working together to contribute to a vision that improves people’s lives. If your workplace zones in on quantifiable measures of success, it’s probably not prioritizing what truly matters. And it’s probably also instilling a fear of failure among employees, which paralyzes employees instead of motivating them.

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5. The Policies and Rules Are Inconsistent

Every organization has its own set of unique policies and procedures. But often, unhealthy workplaces have inconsistent, unspoken “rules” that apply differently to different people. When one person gets in trouble for the same type of behavior that promotes another person, workers will feel like management plays favorites—which isn’t just unethical but also a quick way to drain morale and fuel tension in the office.[5] It only shows how incompetent the leadership is and indicates a toxic workplace.

For example, maybe there’s no “set” rule about work hours, but your manager expects certain people or departments to show up at 8 am while other individuals tend to roll in at 9 or 10 am with no real consequences. If that’s the case, then it’s likely that your organization’s leadership is more concerned with controlling people and exerting power rather than the overall good of their employees.

How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

The first thing to know if you’re stuck in a toxic work environment is that you’re not stuck. While it’s ultimately the company’s responsibility to make positive changes that prevent harmful actions to employees, you also have an opportunity to speak up about your concerns—or, if necessary, depart the role altogether.

If you suspect that you’re working in a toxic environment, think about how you can advocate for yourself. Start by raising your grievances about the culture in an appropriate setting, like a scheduled, one-on-one meeting with your supervisor.

Can’t imagine sitting down with your supervisor to air those problems on your own? Form some solidarity with like-minded colleagues. Approaching management might feel less overwhelming when you have a “team” who shares your views.

It doesn’t have to be an overtly confrontational discussion. Do your best to frame your concerns in a positive way by sharing with your supervisor that you want to be more productive at work, but certain problems sometimes get in the way.

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Final Thoughts

If your supervisor truly cares about the well-being of the organization, they will take your concerns seriously and actively take part in changing the toxic work environment into something more conducive to productivity.

If not, then it might be time to consider the cost of the job on your well-being and personal life. Is it worth staying just for your resume’s sake? Or could you consider a “bridge” job that allows you to exhale for a bit, even if it doesn’t “move you ahead” the way you planned?

It might not be the ideal situation, but your mental health and well-being are too important to ignore. And when you have the opportunity to refuel, you’ll be a far more valuable asset at whatever amazing job you land next.

More Tips on Dealing With a Toxic Work Environment

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

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