11 Proven Ways to Stay Focused at Work
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How do you stay productive at work without sacrificing your own well-being?
The sad fact is that it has become increasingly difficult to stay focused on your tasks because of the modern work environment.
One reason is due to the fact that work interruptions are inevitable. From phone calls and emergency meetings to coworkers who want to have a chat and the latest time-sink that is social media, being interrupted at work has become part of the job.
Meanwhile, a UC Irvine study has shown that when interruptions at work happen, it can take approximately 23 minutes for employees to regain their focus. The study also showed that although these employees still manage to get things done even with constant interruptions, it comes at a cost. The employees are compelled to hurry when finishing their interrupted work, raising their stress levels and increasing their risk for burnout.
In addition to experiencing stress and burnout, less productive employees also run the risk of losing their jobs.
But with all of these possible interruptions, how can you stay focused at work and get things done?
The infographic below gives you an overview of how you can be productive at work, despite the ever-present distractions.
Today, we will be exploring some of the above suggestions more deeply to show you how to stay focused at work while avoiding stress and burnout.
First, let’s see where the pitfalls lie on our path to productivity.
Why Many People Lose Focus at Work
By identifying the common distractions at work, we can better prepare ourselves to avoid them in order to maintain our focus.
Constantly checking phones.
Americans check their phones an average of 80 times every day. Phone users compulsively check to see if they have text messages, notifications, or missed calls that they didn’t hear. Even if you’re conscientious about ignoring your phone’s buzz, researchers have found that simply hearing the notification can derail you because it often prompts thoughts that are irrelevant to the task at hand.
It’s a hard balance to maintain. Most people consider their smartphones to be a lifeline to their life outside of work when they're in the office. People want to be able to be reached if there is an emergency, but with that may come a constant stream of notifications.
Logging on to social media.
Along with constant phone checking, another common work distraction is the use of social media. How often have you hopped onto a social media site to briefly check your notifications, and 45 minutes later you've found yourself looking through pictures of people you hardly know?
Or worse, you get caught up in a link that looks interesting, which then leads you to click on three more related links. Social media can quickly rob you of your time.
Lack of sleep.
Lack of sleep negatively affects your short-term memory and your ability to pay attention. Sleep is important for focus because if your mind doesn't get an opportunity to restore itself (even for just one night), your thinking can slow down and your ability to concentrate declines. You may even become confused and find it difficult to perform tasks that require a lot of thought.
Inadequate sleep also impacts your memory, speed of thinking, and accuracy, which are all critical parts of focusing. This lowered ability to focus may become normal for you if you are chronically missing out on quality sleep, which may negatively impact your personal and professional growth.
Maybe you are dealing with a problem at home that is making you have a negative attitude. Co-workers can also contribute to negativity when you hear them vent their frustrations. Negativity sustains itself and causes you to feel dissatisfied, while also cluttering your mind. When your mind is full of negativity, it is hard to focus.
If you are holding onto anger or negativity regarding issues that are irrelevant to your work, you have to try to accept the things that can’t be changed and focus on the present. You can make the decision that negativity will not influence your day.
Not enough hydration.
Your concentration tends to dwindle when you’re dehydrated. (If this sounds like you, then here is a detailed article on how to increase your water intake.)
Studies have shown that people have decreased attention, reduced motor skills, and a more difficult time with goal-oriented thinking when they haven't had enough water to hydrate their bodies. You can become dehydrated surprisingly quickly, so it is important to keep drinking throughout the day. Drinking enough water is one of the easiest and most basic steps you can take to help maintain your focus.
Rather than helping you get things done in the least possible amount of time, multitasking is actually harmful to your ability to concentrate. Instead of giving all of your attention to one task and doing it well, you're not giving your full attention to anything, so nothing is truly getting accomplished.
Your brain only has the capacity to focus on one or two things at a time, so trying to do any more than that while giving everything your attention isn't possible.
People who procrastinate tend to delay doing their work until it’s too close to the deadline, causing them to rush to get things done. They often turn in less-than-stellar work.
If you procrastinate, by the time you start working on the project, you will be so concerned about how quickly you have to get it done that you won't be able to give it your full attention. You can focus on your work better if you spread it out over a period of time and do it in stages.
This three-minute video shows what goes on in our brains when we are chronic procrastinators. It also shows the effects of chronic procrastination on people’s careers and studies, and offers a quick suggestion on how to overcome chronic procrastination.
Now that you know some factors that may be causing you to lose focus, let's look at what you can do to get your focus back and maintain your attention and concentration.
How to Stay Focused
1. Put your phone on silent mode and keep it out of sight.
Your phone is a distraction that you are not likely to ignore if you notice it wants your attention. Put your phone out of sight until you’ve completed your tasks.
Try devoting a specific time during the day to checking and answering your emails, texts, and personal calls. As a good workplace habit, it is also best to avoid using other distractions such as social media or playing computer games during working hours. It may be a good idea to tie this time into another natural break in the day, such as first thing in the morning before you get started with your work, or maybe right after lunch.
Don't allow yourself to be faced with the decision of whether or not you should tend to your vibrating phone. Eliminate this distraction and other mindless tasks that are usually just wasting your time.
2. Get enough sleep the night before.
To be in top form during your working hours, you must develop the habit of being in bed before midnight. Just as important as eating healthy food and keeping your body hydrated is getting a sufficient amount of high-quality sleep. Doing so will fulfill one of the basic requirements for proper brain function.
Get at least seven hours of sleep every night, but be careful to not overdo it. If you sleep too much, you may start to have trouble falling asleep at night, which can disrupt your healthy sleep cycle. The best way to get enough sleep on a regular basis is to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Once you do this for a while and your body gets into the routine, it will be easy for you to fall asleep and wake up naturally without using an alarm clock because your mind will be used to the regimen.
3. Consciously be more positive in the workplace.
Bring in more positivity to counteract the negative attitudes of some co-workers. If you can make your work more positive, you will be able to give more focus to your tasks. Before you start a task, think about why you are doing it. This will encourage you to think about the output that you want from your work, and it will add value to whatever you're doing.
Find positive ways for your tasks to become fun, such as incorporating some imagination or creativity into the process. If you keep yourself open to fun ideas, you will be bringing a new, positive vibe to your workplace. Once you make something that is unique that you are able to call your own, you will increase your chances of staying focused on it.
4. Avoid negative people.
Sometimes the best way to keep your focus is by not participating when co-workers vent about the issues they have with the company or your boss. Listening to these comments may negatively influence how you feel about your own work, even though you might typically enjoy it. Negative people can easily bring you down with them, which can be difficult to bounce back from and regain your motivation. Put on your headphones to signal that you’re busy and don’t want to be disturbed.
Researchers have actually found that a coworker who is constantly negative can influence your work and focus up to seven times more than a coworker who only brings positivity into the office. This translates into lost hours of productivity. Negative people can quickly monopolize your time and drain your energy, so if you notice that there are people in your office who tend to have a negative attitude, try to avoid them as much as possible.
5. Stay hydrated.
Increase your daily water intake to stay alert and healthy. Your brain depends on sufficient hydration to function at its best. Your brain cells need to have a delicate balance of water and other elements to work well, and when you don't have enough water, the balance becomes disrupted and your brain cells lose the ability to work efficiently.
Research has shown that when your body is not adequately hydrated, you lose the ability to focus. Dehydration can disrupt the function of both your short and long-term memory. Further, your ability to do math in your head becomes compromised when your fluids are low.
Remember, when you sleep for seven hours without having anything to drink, your body becomes dehydrated even though you aren't usually sweating. Your body loses water through breathing, which adds up over night and dries you out. Start your day with a big glass of water, and continue to drink while you're working at your desk.
6. Apply some time-management strategies.
The Pomodoro technique is an effective way to get things done by breaking up your workload and accomplishing each task within 25-minute time blocks. If you can give yourself focused blocks of time where you pay full attention to your work without trying to multitask, you can stay in that focused zone until the timer goes off.
This time management strategy (along with many others) is an effective way to allocate your time so you get your important work done without being tempted by distractions. The better you are at managing your time and maintaining focus, the more work you will be able to get accomplished. Not only does effective time management give you better results at work, it also helps you deal with stress and live a more satisfying life outside of work.
7. Do tasks according to priority.
The Eisenhower Matrix is an effective decision-making tool for identifying which tasks need urgent attention. Write down your priority tasks that you have to do on a list, and update it regularly throughout the day. Revisit your list to add new items as they come up.
Make sure that your priority list gives you an overview of everything that needs to get accomplished that day so you will be able to allocate your time effectively to complete all of your tasks. If you have a task that is at the end of the list because it isn't a high priority and you have to push it off, it shouldn't impact your overall work.
The first hour at work is usually your most productive because your energy has not yet been spent. Put all of your difficult or challenging tasks on your priority list for your first hour at work. Follow your priority tasks with your less pressing work, and then plan to finish up your day with routine tasks. This will help you stay focused throughout the day and not waste time on unimportant tasks.
Each night, make your to-do list for the next day. Spend the end of your workday carefully considering what tasks need to be your priorities for the following day. This way, your work is still fresh in your mind for the day, so you can easily determine what is a priority for the next day.
8. Change your mindset about the work.
When you think of your work as drudgery, you will spend most of the workday trying to escape it. Change how you think about your work by asking yourself why you’re doing a specific task. Inject a sense of purpose into what you do to inspire yourself to get it done.
Think positively about your work so you will actually want to do it and enjoy the process. If you are just working for the end goal of having a paycheck, you are likely to lose focus while you're working because your inspiration will be low.
In the following 15-minute video, Christina Bengtsson, a Swedish military officer and world champion precision shooter, defines what focus is and explains its value and importance in achieving success in life.
She also enumerates the three main factors contributing to why people today lack focus, and gives insightful suggestions on how we can achieve focus to steer our lives in the right direction.
9. Organize your work station.
Get rid of the clutter and distractions from your workstation. Keep only the necessary items related to the task at hand on your desk. Having too many things within reach or in your way when you are trying to work can be very distracting. Put everything that you don't need away in a desk drawer or on your shelves. Make sure that you organize your workspace so there is a place for everything that you use during the day.
Do keep the things you often need within reach (such as your water bottle or a binder that you need to refer to on a regular basis) so you can grab them without losing focus on the task at hand. Staying organized will not only help you stay focused, it will also save you time.
10. Play inspiring music.
Choose background music that enhances your focus and inspires you throughout the day. The point of listening to music while you’re working is to ease your mind and give you some inspiration. For some people, listening to music increases their adrenaline and energy, making it easier to work.
However, not all kinds of music are suitable for everyone or every mood. Organize your music library to suit your work mode. There’s nothing more distracting than suddenly hearing loud, jolting music directly after a relaxing jazz piece.
11. Celebrate your victories.
No matter how small they might be, your accomplishments in getting things done at work merit a celebration. Rewarding yourself for a job done is a way to keep motivated to stay on the right track.
The key to success is recognizing that your big goals won't happen overnight, or even in a short amount of time. If you only focus on the end goal and ignore the small but significant steps you take to get there, you will lose your motivation and inspiration to stay focused.
If you diminish your motivation by failing to acknowledge your small wins, you won't be able to stay on the right path to finish the job. Demotivation often comes when you don't know how much longer you have to work until you reach your goals. People sometimes assume that their goals are far away when they might actually be just around the corner.
In this post, we’ve discussed the average American working hours, the amount of time it takes to regain our focus after a work distraction, what prevents us from focusing on the tasks at hand, and tips on how to stay focused at work. Why not try the suggestions for a month and see the improvement in your productivity?
Here at Develop Good Habits, we support you in your chosen careers. Check out this post for another effective strategy that boosts your productivity in the workplace.
Finally, feel free to share your thoughts and experiences about staying focused in the comments below. We’d love to hear about them.