The Definitive Guide to Staying Focused at Work

Distractions are everywhere and seem impossibly hard to ignore, especially when you’re at work. When you can’t finish your projects, the stress piles on. We know that staying focused can be challenging. So what can you do to maintain laser focus? Here’s a definitive guide to staying focused at work.

Catch Your ZzZzZ’s

When you are sleep-deprived, your focus suffers. You’re also more likely to be moody and unattentive. That’s just a few reasons why getting a good night’s rest is so important. Set yourself up for success by making sure you are well-rested before a day of work. Establish a bedtime ritual to help you sleep tight at night. If you’re still feeling low on energy, taking a nap is a good way to refresh. A power nap has been shown to increase alertness and memory. Whether you nap or not, the most important thing to remember is that you need energy to produce great work.

Make a Daily To-Do List

To-do lists have been around since the turn of the century but are still underutilized in most organizations. Creating your own to-do list is a powerful way to get motivated. You can use this incredibly valuable tool to visualize your day and organize important tasks. There are many apps that will digitize your to-do list like Wunderlist. But old fashioned pen and paper is a simple, reliable option too. Try bullet journaling or the Strikethru method for a more nuanced version of paper and pen.

A few tips for successful to-do lists:

  • Make sure the tasks are specific.
  • Prioritize tasks.
  • Review your to-do list periodically.

Being able to cross off an accomplished task is a wonderful feeling!

Group Up Your Tasks

Narrow your focus even further by grouping up tasks. Create 3 to 4 groups and allow yourself to only think about one group at a time. After finishing a group, reward yourself with a change in routine or environment. If you were sitting down, try standing for the next group. If you were in your office, maybe move over to the conference room. This strategy is inspired by the “Workstation Popcorn” method from Impossible HQ. In his methodology, he moves to a completely new cafe or restaurant after finishing a group. You may not be able to completely move locations, but using groups to organize tasks is very helpful for your brain to process tasks. Treat each group as a big milestone and reward yourself with a change in environment for renewed focus.

Solve the Difficult Problems First

In order to focus your energy more efficiently, tackle difficult or creative tasks at the beginning of your day. Your brain is not an endless well. Smaller tasks done in the morning will zap up the energy and attention you need for those harder problems. It may be intimidating to start your day with a difficult problem but think of how much better you’ll feel once that task is out of the way.

Put Out a Digital Do Not Disturb Sign

In the age of notifications, it’s hard to disconnect. The buzz from your phone or a ping on your laptop can pull you away almost instantly – even if you don’t follow through on the notification. When you really need to focus, it’s time to put out the do not disturb sign. Place your phone out of reach and log out of your social media accounts. Don’t trust yourself? Use apps like Freedom or Anti-Social that block distracting sites for you until your allotted time or tasks are complete.

Stay Hydrated

The brain needs water to function at it’s full potential. In fact, studies have shown that those who are only 1% dehydrated lose 5% of cognitive function. Mood swings, inability to focus, and fatigue are also linked to dehydration. Yet most people still don’t drink their recommended 8 glasses a day. Hungry or tired? Try a glass of water; you could just be thirsty. Give your brain the fuel it needs to work and watch your productivity increase. Drinking water is essential to keeping body and mind happy.  

Schedule Distraction Time

It’s okay to take breaks at work – in fact, you should. The hard part about taking breaks is bringing yourself back to do work. A good way to combat that (and give yourself something to look forward to) is scheduling out your “distraction” time. It doesn’t have to be a strict schedule, just make sure to plan it out. It can be 10 minutes to scroll on Facebook or 10 minutes to take a walk with a co-worker. Getting up and engaging a physical activity is highly recommended for renewed energy. This scheduled time can happen after a certain task or at a specific time as long as you have an alarm set to remind you to go back to work. Reward yourself for doing very focused work with a break.

Train Your Brain – Meditate

Meditation’s many proven benefits include boosting productivity at work. Take a break from the screen and set aside time to meditate. It doesn’t have to be long – in fact, all you need is 2 minutes to turn meditation into a habit. On top of improving mood, relieving stress, and re-focusing energy, meditation also trains your brain to concentrate. The more you practice, the stronger your ability to concentrate will be. Find a dark, secluded area and use a guided meditation (like Spire’s free Boosts) to start. At the end of a meditation, you might just find your mind a little clearer than before!

Let “EOD” Really Mean the End of the Day

Laptops and mobile phones have made it really easy to take work home, making balancing life and work very hard. Commit to leaving your work behind at your scheduled end of day. Consider it a deadline. Use the end of day as a motivator to stay really focused on what you need to do. Make plans for happy hour with friends, to cook dinner with family, or treat yourself to a movie so that you’re obliged to leave. Then concentrate on completing your tasks to get to the fun part.

Finding focus at work means you can work smarter, not harder. As your productivity increases, so will your feeling of accomplishment. What other tactics would you recommend for staying focused at work? Leave them in the comments below.

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Body & Mind, Sleep, Stress

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