Improving your focus at work is essential to meeting deadlines and completing tasks correctly. Unfortunately, with the invention of mobile technology and on-demand information, our attention spans are dwindling.
According to a 2015 Microsoft study, the average human has an eight-second attention span. This number has decreased due to our increasing reliance on digital technology, so it’s unlikely to get any better. At work, being focused is essential to performance and task completion.
There are also factors like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that affect concentration. If you suffer from ADHD, you have a limited attention span and are often restless and easily distracted than most of your coworkers.
Regardless of why you’re unable to focus on the job, there are some tricks that can help. In fact, building your focus works a lot like building a muscle: the more you cultivate and rely on it, the better your focus becomes.
With the above in mind, here are some helpful tips and tricks for reducing work distractions and focusing on the important stuff.
Get your mind and body ready
To focus effectively, your brain should be prepared to receive information and your body should be relaxed. Before starting a task, take a moment to sit comfortably and breathe deeply. If you’re a fan of meditation, meditate at the start of your workday. When you allow the body and mind to quieten before work, you’re better able to concentrate.
Managers may want to consider implementing morning meditation sessions for all employees before work begins. Meditation in the workplace boosts clarity and focus, increases employee loyalty, decreases absenteeism due to illness and stress, and improves communication and productivity. With so many benefits to a company meditation session, there’s no reason not to devote five or 10 minutes to it each day.
Create a comfortable, welcoming environment
Companies that ban photographs and other personal items on employee desks are just setting themselves up for failure. Employees work best when they’re comfortable in their work environment. With ergonomic seats, calming pictures of nature scenes, and soft instrumental music or nature sounds, an individual can shut out distractions and better focus on the task at hand.
Just make sure that any “white noise” you’re using doesn’t distract your neighbors, especially if you work in an open-office environment. Managers may want to ask the entire office how they feel about non-distracting rain or ocean sounds and then test it out for a day or two to see how everyone’s focus and productivity was affected.
Don’t have breakfast too early
When you’re in a rush to get to work, you might grab a breakfast bar or run through the drive-thru for a breakfast sandwich, but you’re not doing your focus any favors. Eating breakfast too early can make you feel sluggish and affect your concentration. It’s generally a better idea to drink coffee in the morning and skip breakfast, breaking your fast closer to the noontime meal.
If you can’t or don’t want to skip breakfast, try putting it off until you’ve put in an hour or two of work. You’ll probably get more done in the time leading up to breakfast than you will after.
Improve your focus at work by tackling the big jobs first. Since you’ll be more burned out later in the day, get the big tasks out of the way first, leaving the simple ones for when you aren’t as focused.
For example, your priority list might include tasks with impending deadlines. After that, catch up on projects that need to be finished by next week. After all that, reply to non-urgent emails and address other loose ends.
Unplug for 30 minutes
When our jobs depend on staying connected via email, social media, and other digital outlets, it’s easy to get distracted. Set aside at least 30 minutes each day to unplug from the digital world while completing a task. Log out of your email completely, if it helps, and set your phone on silent so you won’t receive any audible alerts.
When you refuse to read emails or check your social media profile for a set amount of time, you allow yourself to focus on the project at hand without distractions.
An even better option is to designate specific times during the day for checking email and updating company social media accounts. Every other minute should be devoted to working on more important tasks.
Fuel up on caffeine
That morning cup of coffee doesn’t just wake you up; it helps you focus for the rest of the day. Whenever you’re feeling sluggish and easily distracted, grab another cup of joe or your favorite caffeinated beverage.
Caffeine won’t improve your memory or learning performance, but it does increase physical awareness, so take advantage of it!
Take short breaks
The worst thing you can do is work on a project for hours on end. Instead, stand up and take short breaks every hour. According to a study from the University of Illinois, workers who were given these short breaks performed better than those who worked straight through for 50 minutes.
You might try standing up and stretching 15 or 20 minutes into a task, taking a bathroom break 40 minutes in, and walking outside for some fresh air at the one-hour mark. If you’re a manager, encourage your employees to take these kinds of breaks. Each break may only last a couple of minutes, but it’s a valuable way to reenergize the brain.
Set a timer
When you set a timer for certain intervals, such as a short break every 15 minutes, you’re less likely to get distracted. Knowing that the timer is set allows your mind to focus on the task in front of you without worrying about time slipping away. It helps you stay on task and reminds you when you need to get up and stretch.
You can also use a timer to increase your attention span. For instance, if you set it for 10-minute intervals the first week, shoot for 12 the next week. Keep going until you’ve found your ideal productivity time.
As a manager, you may have found yourself in the position of holding a staff meeting and looking over to find an employee doodling through your announcements. Rather than view this as an act of disrespect or boredom, consider that doodling improves your recollection and cognitive performance.
Employees who doodle stay awake and are more likely to recall what was said in a meeting. Whether you’re in a meeting, on an important phone call, or brainstorming for your next project, try doodling to improve your focus.
Adjust the thermostat
When a work environment is too hot or too cold, the temperature impacts focus. A study from Cornell University discovered that employees make fewer errors in offices that are between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. A similar study by Helsinki University showed that 71 degrees is the optimal temperature.
As an employee, you probably don’t have access to the thermostat, but you can show your manager information on the benefits of controlling the work environment. If that doesn’t work, bring a fan or sweater to work and use as needed.
Declutter your work desk
Few things are as distracting as a cluttered desk. When your desk is neat and clean, both your focus and organization improve. Just be sure to organize your desk in such a way that you don’t forget where certain items are.
If you’re prone to distractions, you’re more likely to forget what was said at the least team meeting or client phone conversation. Taking notes helps you recall items later not only because you have the information on paper, but your brain also saw the information visually, allowing you to process information in another modality.
Stick to a routine
It’s easy to lose focus when we aren’t in a reliable routine. If you always feel behind and scatter-brained, try sticking to a daily routine at the office. Your brain gets into the habit of performing tasks in a certain order, which will make it easier to concentrate.
Drink plenty of water
Few people realize the importance of drinking water at work. Dehydration can make your feel tired, slow, and irritable, and when our brains aren’t hydrated, they can’t operate at peak performance. Include getting water in your frequent break routine to boost your focus even more.
Naturally, everyone is different and won’t respond to the same tips. Try out a few for a week to see which ones work best to improve your focus.
Feeling overwhelmed? Get more out of your to-do list by working smarter, rather than harder.