Focus is one of the most critical tools in your productivity arsenal. Remaining focused throughout the day will increase your likelihood of staying committed to your priorities. It will reduce the amount of time you waste on distractions and unnecessary priorities. And it will increase your efficiency when working on a task because you’re committing your full cognitive resources to it. The question is, how can you intentionally stay on task with so many distractions in the workplace?
It’s hard to increase your focus through willpower alone, so consider using these habits and strategies to make it easier to focus regularly:
1. Turn Off Notifications
Notifications are stealing your focus — at least, that’s an excellent way to think about them. Whenever you receive a notification, you’re going to look up from your work, even if it’s just for a moment. When this happens, your focus breaks, and it takes time for you to build it back up. In some situations, notifications may pull you entirely away from your work, causing you to shift priorities inefficiently.
You’re better off without them in most contexts, so turn off notifications wherever you can and minimize them wherever you can’t.
2. Disable Access to Distracting Websites
If you’re like most people, there are at least a handful of websites responsible for hours of your time wasted every week. These are probably social media sites, forums, or other sources of content that pull you away from more important projects.
Consider downloading a browser extension or an app that allows you to selectively block these websites or put a limit on the amount of time you can use them. Eventually, you’ll develop much more responsible habits.
3. Delete Your Biggest Time-Wasting Apps
Similarly, you should know which apps on your phone are responsible for your biggest distractions and time waste. Again, these are probably social media sites, games, or other sources of entertaining information, so consider deleting them altogether.
If you truly miss the apps, you can always reinstall them later. Otherwise, you can hide them in a different part of your phone’s interface. This way, you’re less likely to open the app unconsciously.
4. Stop People From Interrupting You
How long do you go without being interrupted? The average knowledge worker spends only 11 minutes on a given project before facing an interruption from another person.((ICS: The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress)) This is incredibly frustrating if you’re trying to focus on a heads-down project.
There are a few ways you can stop people from interrupting you. For example, you can create a physical barrier (e.g., closing a door) or notify them that you’re going to be unavailable to deter them from talking to you. If not, you can completely unplug from the internet to cut down digital conversational requests, albeit temporarily.
5. Get More Sleep
Sleep has a significant impact on your ability to focus. If you miss even one night of good sleep, it’s going to impact your ability to concentrate the next day and possibly for several days to follow. Adults are recommended to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.((Sleep Foundation: How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?)) If you’re struggling to achieve it, consider scheduling sleep as you’d do with any other important activity.
You can also try different tactics like buying a new mattress, keeping your room cooler, and improving your overall lifestyle (meaning, eating healthily and exercising).
6. Consume Caffeine (in Moderation)
Anyone who drinks coffee regularly can tell you that even a small amount of caffeine can make it easier to focus, especially if you’re feeling tired). Try grabbing a mug of coffee or a cup of tea whenever you feel the need for a focus boost.
Just make sure you’re not overindulging, or you can wind up with adverse side effects, such as excessive anxiety or insomnia.
7. Try the ABC Method
One article from the Harvard Business Review suggests using the ABC method, which stands for “Aware, Breathe, and Choose.”((Harvard Business Review: Train Your Brain to Focus)) The basic idea is to catch yourself when your focus is broken (the “aware” step). Once you do this, take a moment to breathe. Don’t judge yourself, and give yourself a minute to clear your mind.
From there, make a conscious, deliberate decision on what to do next. Do you want to continue being distracted? Or do you want to return to work?
8. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
You can accomplish something similar by practicing mindfulness meditation. This branch of meditation encourages users to spend time improving their awareness of the present moment regularly. You must allow your thoughts to come and go naturally, often with the help of a focal point like a deep breathing exercise or a mantra.
The first several times you do this, you may struggle to notice the results. But over time, you’ll get better at it until you realize that mindfulness meditation is an excellent tool for decluttering your mind and improving your focus.
9. Stop Multitasking
Too many people falsely believe that they’re the exception to the concept that multitasking doesn’t work. One study found that multitasking makes you 40% less productive.((Email Analytics: 51 Productivity Statistics to Improve Your Team’s Performance)) It’s tempting to do some light reading during a boring meeting or try to answer two different employee requests simultaneously. But whenever you try to split your focus between two or more tasks, you end up doing all of them inefficiently.
You’re much better off focusing on one thing at a time, even if it feels less productive at the moment. Plus, the more you do this, the easier it will be to focus on singular tasks.
10. Turn Up the Thermostat
One study found that people were almost twice as productive in a room of 77 degrees as they were in a place with a room temperature of 68 degrees.((Psychology Today: Want More Productive Workers? Adjust Your Thermostat)) There are a few possible explanations for this, including the idea that we are simply more comfortable in 77-degree air than 68-degree air. It can also be that people are more active in the former temperature.
But whatever the case is, this effect seems to be scientifically valid.
Just take it with a grain of salt. Different people have different climate preferences, so you may end up focusing better in other conditions, too.
11. Invest in Better Lighting
Almost universally, people find it easier to focus when they’re surrounded by bright, high-quality light. The best option here is to allow more natural sunlight into your workspace. However, if this isn’t possible, invest in high-quality LEDs that can replicate sunlight.
You’ll feel less tired when surrounded by this light, and you’ll find it easier to concentrate on the papers and screens in front of you.
12. Work and Relax in Different Areas
If you’re working from home or have any flexibility in where you work, make sure you work and relax in different areas. Our minds tend to acclimate to different environments based on their purpose. Thus, if you use your bed for general lounging throughout the day, you may not associate it with sleep (and may have difficulty sleeping as a result).
If you enjoy movies and video games on your living room couch, and you try to work on that same couch with a laptop, you’re naturally going to feel distracted. Improve your focus by setting up a specific workstation.
13. Stare at Something Red
This is a strange tip, but consider staring at something red when you’re feeling distracted. One study found that after staring at the color red, workers were more likely to stay focused on tasks and showed improvements in memory, performance, and even attention to detail.((AAAS: Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances))
These results were not found in participants who stared at the color blue. So, there’s no harm in keeping a red flag or sheet of paper nearby in case you need a quick concentration boost.
14. Exercise Every Day
Make time every day to exercise, even if you can’t fit in a full-body workout. The physical exertion releases endorphins and dopamine, giving you a burst of energy and helping you focus throughout the day. It’s also a great way to relieve stress, so there’s no reason not to try it.((Email Analytics: 21 Stress Management Techniques To Help You Relax Fast))
The next time you find your focus drifting, go for a brisk walk, or do some pushups and sit-ups near your desk. You might be surprised at how much easier it is to focus afterward.
15. Break Things Down
When a task seems intimidating or complicated, people tend to have difficulty focusing. You can make everything more manageable and easier to focus on by breaking these monster tasks down. Split each major project into several smaller pieces.
Instead of scheduling hours of your day continuously, block off time in 15-minute intervals. It’s much easier to stay focused for 15 minutes at a time than to try and focus for two hours straight.
16. Take a Break
Taking a break is the only real way to “recharge” in the middle of a heavy work session.((The Entrepreneur Cast: 12 Signs You’re Burned Out, and How to Recharge)) It’s a way for you to declutter your mind and an opportunity to reevaluate your priorities and your approach to work.
Try to take a break for at least a few minutes every hour or two and walk away from the screen if you can. When you return, you’ll likely find it much easier to focus on your tasks.
17. Establish Visual Reminders
When our focus falters, it doesn’t usually happen all at once. Instead, it starts to drift without us being aware of it. Before we realize what’s happening, we’re already paying attention to something entirely new.
You can fight back against this by establishing visual reminders for yourself. For example, writing the phrase “Are you focused?” on a brightly colored sticky note and sticking it next to your screen can force you to challenge your current attention levels.
Whenever your attention drifts away from your main project, you’ll see this phrase and ask yourself the question. Hopefully, it will return your attention to where it belongs. Just make sure to change these visuals from time to time so that you don’t get used to them.
18. Turn on a White Noise Machine
If you’re the type of person who’s consistently distracted by environmental noise, consider finding a way to introduce gentle background noise to your environment. If you play low-volume ambient music or turn on a white noise machine, you’ll likely drown out whatever micro-noises that usually distract you (e.g., footsteps, chitchat, or construction sounds). Experiment with different types of noise to see what helps you focus best.
19. Stay Focused in Other Areas of Your Life
Focus is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it’s going to become. If you’re not focused in any areas of your life, you’re not going to become and remain focused at work. For example, if you can’t get through watching a movie without looking at your smartphone 20 times, it’s a sign you have a bigger focus problem.
Work on keeping your focus as much as possible in other areas of your life — not just at work. You’ll notice a significant difference in as little as a few weeks.
Making Iterative Improvements
If you struggle to stay on task, you may be disappointed to learn that no shortcut can make you instantly and permanently more attentive. However, you shouldn’t be discouraged. Make iterative improvements, gradually tweaking your habits and approaches so that you can evolve.
Rotate through the strategies we’ve listed above, and figure out a combination of approaches that works for you!
More Tips to Help You Stay Focused
- 15 Quick Ways To Focus on Work Easily
- How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)
- How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus
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