WORK SMARTER AND FIND YOUR FLOW WITH THESE TIPS ON HOW TO STAY FOCUSED AT WORK.
You’re at work, typing away. Maybe even bopping your head to the rhythm of the clicks. And you know what? You’re feeling pretty darn proud of yourself. Accomplished, driven and mighty fine. You finally got it figured out: how to stay focused at work and be the productivity queen everyone secretly envies.
Until you get distracted.
Those hunger pains cramping your style, a conversation from across the room, that fly on the window.
Or perhaps the only distraction is that you just don’t wanna do one. single. thing. Not for work anyway. The truth is, you’d rather be doing anything but work.
Your heart and mind just isn’t in it.
And the fact that you’ve been staring at the computer screen for hours (okay, 30 minutes) has you convinced that you’re suffering from computer vision syndrome.
I’m there. At times (probably more often than I’d like to admit), I find myself looking deep into the monitor and silently repeating “focus.” Each time holding out the vowels just a hair longer in an attempt to pull myself together.
Losing your focus at work is frustrating, troublesome and just plain hard to recover from sometimes. But the last thing you want is a lack of focus to affect your work quality or output, and put your job (or mental wellness) at risk.
Reboot your mindset and find your flow. Here’s 14 tips to get you there and supercharge your productivity at work.
How to stay focused at work and power through distractions
1. Be in tune with how you do your best work
This might be the very first step: Knowing and really understanding how you get things done. Once you’re in tune with yourself and know how you do your best work, keep doing it.
If you absolutely need quiet, for instance, find a space you know will give you that or invest in noise-cancelling headphones. If you’re most productive in the morning hours, tackle must-do or hard-to-do tasks first thing.
If you’re not entirely aware of how you do your best work, pay attention to when you get the most done and fall into a slump, or what type of environment suits you best. Take mental (or better yet, actual) notes so that you can pinpoint patterns and make adjustments to your routine for maximum output at a fraction of the effort.
2. Set a timer
Using a timer to stay focused at work helps you stay committed to the task at hand. When you give yourself a set amount of time to work on something, you’re better able to get in the zone and give that ONE task your undivided attention.
Try the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method that uses a timer to break your work into 25-minute intervals (called “pomodoros”). Each interval is spaced out by short breaks. Work for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break. Do that 4 times and you’ve earned yourself a longer 15 to 30-minute break.
Need an online timer? One of these might be just what you’re looking for.
3. Knock out tasks you’ve been avoiding—first thing in the AM
Putting off dreaded tasks is easy to do. And even when you have a job you love, you’ll still have those to-dos you hope will disappear if you ignore them long enough, whether it’s writing a difficult email, putting together that “run down” for your boss’ boss or finally tackling your least favorite weekly task.
Whatever it is, get it done first thing in the morning.
Block off your calendar, close your door, set a reminder—do whatever it takes to cross it off your list ASAP.
You’ll feel so much better once it isn’t hanging over your head. Plus, productivity early in the AM can spark a feeling of accomplishment and can help you continue the trend throughout the entire day.
4. Detach from your phone
Silence your phone or put it away—in another room, your purse or a drawer. Outta sight, outta mind. At least that’s what we’re aiming for.
It’s tempting to keep up with your social feed, latest likes, favorite Youtubers and everything in between, but browsing your phone (even if for a minute) is a big interruption. Not only can one minute easily turn into many minutes, but you might be picking up your phone way more than you realize.
If you want to know how often your phone steals your focus, download a usage tracking app or check your phone settings, which may have a screen time section thats gives insight into your usage patterns.
5. Go for a walk
The American Heart Association says office workers spend over 89% of their time sitting. All of this sitting comes at a price. On top of the health risks associated with this lack of movement throughout the day (day after day), focus can also take a beating.
Creativity? Nosedive. Concentration? Out the window.
Take a walk! Even a short 5-minute walk is good for your mind and body. Walking breaks get your heart pumping and oxygen flowing, and can help you feel happier overall. Indoors or out, the benefits are almost the same, so if going outdoors isn’t possible, do a few indoor laps at the very least.
In my personal experience, a walk helps me regain my focus at work about 95% of the time. And because I write for my day job, even breaking away from the computer to do something as simple as refill my water usually helps me overcome a tiny case of writer’s block.
6. Plan your entire day
Without a daily to-do list or schedule, I’m kind of a mess. I have no idea what I should check off my list first, or what tasks are on my list in the first place.
One of the best ways to start your day? With a plan, simple as that.
You can do this every morning when you start your work day, however, I find planning my day ahead of time (for instance, the afternoon prior) gives me the best results and helps me feel collected vs. scatterbrained the morning of.
- Grab your notebook or planner.
- Brain dump! Write down everything you need to accomplish that day (or the next).
- Differentiate between tasks you need to do and would like to do.
- Prioritize, group and schedule tasks in a way that makes most sense for you.
7. Set deadlines
When last-minute projects land on your desk, do you find yourself working extra hard? In other words, are you more driven with short deadlines (or when you’ve procrastinated so much that you only have a short window left to complete a project)?
Use this mindset to your advantage and make deadlines your friend. First, map out how long it might take you to realistically finish a project. Then set a final deadline, taking into consideration potential blockers, like waiting for an approval, unplanned meetings and interruptions.
Set mini deadlines, too. Mini deadlines along the way help prevent procrastination and reduce overwhelm.
8. Wear noise-cancelling headphones
Many offices these days are moving towards open office environments. Minimal walls, no doors and potential for lots of unwelcome noise. But you don’t have to work in an open office to lose focus because of noise—it’s bound to happen in any type of space.
Regular headphones generally don’t cut it when trying to block out much more than your coworker’s typing, so invest in some noise-cancelling headphones to help block out sounds, conversations and anything else you want to drown out.
9. Stop multitasking
Multitasking: once known as a good skill to have, now believed to be a productivity killer. Essentially, multitasking means you’re jumping around from this task to that project, and not focusing 100% on any one thing.
Improve your focus at work by sticking to one task at a time. Dedicate a certain amount of time for it and avoid working on anything else.
Say you need to design a promotional flyer for an upcoming event, for instance, and you’re already behind schedule. Dedicate 1 hour to this project alone. No replying to emails or checking the status of a pending order. No quick 2-minute to-do that was just added to your plate. Nada, zip. Nothing unless it’s genuinely urgent or time sensitive.
10. Make it a game
For any task you’re having trouble focusing on, approach it like a game to get in the zone. Pretend you’re competing. Who’s the competition? Yourself.
I love this approach and do it quite often. It’s especially helpful if you don’t have a strict deadline to complete a task. Just imagine you have to get whatever you’re doing done—and quick. Act like you’re up against the clock and are literally running out of time.
When I think of work this way, it’s like a switch goes off—I’m re-energized. Instantly I perk up, sit taller in my chair, find my focus and work faster.
11. Change your environment
A change of location is a great way to refresh your mind, much like how variety in your workout routine can help you overcome a plateau.
When you’re in one spot hour after hour, day after day, you’re more likely to become disengaged and less stimulated.
To help keep new ideas flowing and unlock creative innovation, try:
- Working from your favorite coffee shop
- Finding a quiet spot outdoors
- Slipping into a cozy nook in your office
12. Battle hunger with healthy snacks
Hunger pains can be a huge distraction, and sometimes, there’s no telling when they’ll sneak up and strike.
Which is exactly why it’s a good idea to have a plan when they do. Having healthy snacks on hand like apples and peanut butter, carrots, nuts or a green (like snap peas) can hold you over until it’s lunch time—or quittin’ time.
Tip: Healthy fats have been known to make you feel full, longer. Opt for something like nut or seed butter (e.g., almond, cashew, sunflower), avocado, cheese, walnuts or a hard-boiled egg.
As an added perk, munching on a healthy snack adds a little variety in your day. Gives you something to do. You know, besides work.
13. Make yourself unavailable
A chatty coworker and constant influx of phone messages breaking your focus? Or instead of finally being able to concentrate on completing that long overdue task (that one you really want to check off your list), you’re answering to anyone with a question or comment that walks by your desk.
There are at least a few ways to make yourself unavailable, and some will work better depending on your job or office environment.
For uninterrupted work, you can:
- Close your door for at least 30 minutes
- Silence your phone
- Block off your calendar
- Tell your coworkers you’re in do-not-disturb mode
14. Don’t wait for inspiration
Waiting for inspiration—for that moment when you feel like doing work—is one of my biggest struggles. The unsurprising truth is, not many of us actually want to be working. And if we only did work when we felt truly inspired or motivated, there’s a good chance we’d all be out of a job.
Maybe the work is boring. Maybe your manager frustrates you to no end. Maybe you’ve kicked butt for so long, but because your efforts continually go unnoticed, you feel undervalued—you’ve given up.
In times like these, shift your mindset.
Use every task, project and experience to shape you for the better. In other words, keep kicking butt! Everything you do will today help you grow as a person and a professional. Even if you leave your job in the near future, your experiences and the skills you develop are your own. Take them with you.
How do you stay focused at work when you’ve lost your groove? What are your go-to tactics to break out of a productivity slump?