If you’re looking for some strategies on how to stay focused at work, then you’ll love this article.
Many people struggle with a lack of concentration, making it difficult for them to stay focused and achieve success. The world we live in is rife with distractions and devoting more time to distractions than normal tasks seems normal. The result of this is that we have become less productive and less engaged with our work.
Have you ever created a fire using a magnifying glass? If not here’s how it works. You put some tinder in a certain spot then hold your magnifying glass at an angle that focuses the sunlight on the smallest area possible. With enough concentration the tinder will start to smoke and eventually you have fire.
This is a perfect example of the power of concentration and focus. When you focus you don’t pay attention to anything else and you concentrate all of your energy on the task in hand.
You might have experienced a time when you were intensely focused and engaged in your work. In this focused state you probably found it easy to complete your work to a high standard, you may have even enjoyed it. The key to increasing your productivity is to ensure you are in this focused state and produce better results.
We are not going to look at different strategies to help you get your focus back and increase your level of engagement with your work.
How To Stay Focused At Work
1. Get rid of distractions
Distractions are a normal part of life. There are so many things that can take your attention away from your tasks such as social media, requests from others, adverts, online videos, emails, text messages and so on that it is hardly surprising that we get distracted.
You would probably be surprised if you worked out the amount of time you waste on distractions. Research has found that office distractions can eat up as much as two hours per day, and if you are self-employed this figure can be far higher.
Allowing yourself to be distracted for too long and the distraction becomes your main focus. To be a producer you need to eliminate as many distractions as possible and even if you only eliminate half you will increase your productivity dramatically. Doing this allows you more focus time and you will produce work of a far higher standard.
2. Track how you spend your time
The first step to eliminating distractions is knowing how you spend your time. The majority of us try to work whilst we unknowingly allow distractions to interrupt our focus. We have no idea how much time we have wasted on these distractions. If this sounds like you, you have the power to stop this right now.
3. Create your own distraction free environment
One of the most powerful ways to stop distractions is to create a distraction free environment. I used to use my Smartphone next to my bed as an alarm clock, but I found that I would wake up and immediately check for messages.
When I realized how much time this activity was taking I placed the phone as far away from my bed as I could and went back to using a traditional alarm clock. Making this small change stopped me from checking my messages first thing and meant that I could also start work a lot earlier.
The best way to create a productive environment will all depend on your preferences. One thing you can do is to turn off all notifications on your Smartphone during your working hours, after all it is hard to resist the temptation to read and respond to messages when they first arrive. You will be surprised how much easier it is to focus on your work without the distraction of your mobile phone.
If you have a problem with people interrupting you when you work, make some rules about when you will be available and make sure everyone knows in advance. If you don’t see an improvement you may need to move to a different location. This will be easy if you are self-employed but if you work for someone ask and the boss may let you move offices if it is going to help with your productivity.
4. Time blocks
Using time blocks is another really good way to improve your focus. If you were told to work for a straight five hours you could feel overwhelmed and discouraged. When you know you have to work long hours it is possible that you could intentionally let distractions get in your way so that the time passes quicker. Time blocks are an ideal solution to this situation, if you know you need to focus for the next 45 – 60 minutes it is far easier to focus.
The amount of time you allocate to each block is entirely up to you. Some feel comfortable with one hour blocks whilst others will prefer to focus on half hour blocks then taking a break. If you really have a short attention span (1), start with just 10 minutes. The way to get this right is trying all time options until you find the one that helps you focus best.
5. Say no to multi-tasking
There are an abundance of articles about mastering multi-tasking. There was a time when multi-tasking appeared to be the best way to get things done quickly. However, multi-tasking really is a recipe for disaster.
The most important thing when it comes to being productive is to stay focused and involved in your work. Switching back and forth between tasks actually means that you cannot fully engage in anything.
Studies have shown that when you divide your attention between many tasks you get pumped full of adrenaline and stress hormones, which over time affect the way that your brain functions reducing your attention span. Multi-tasking also uses up your energy really quickly as you are concentrating on a number of things at one time.
Multi-tasking kills your focus and it takes you far longer to finish a task. Experiments have shown that participants in a study lost a large proportion of time switching between tasks. If you want to be more productive eliminate the temptation to work on too many things at once. Focus on one task and when this is finished, start on the next as this gives you the best chance to concentrate on everything at every moment.
6. Manage your willpower
Willpower is what you need to focus and engage with your work. Willpower is the ability to direct
yourself to take action and focus on this action consistently. If you don’t have the willpower to stay on track it is far too easy to procrastinate. When you have willpower you are able to operate on a different level. You will find that you have a much easier time concentrating, a greater attention span and are able to solve problems decisively. Disciplining yourself is far less effort, this is the beauty of willpower.
Is willpower limited?
You can increase your willpower however you need to understand that willpower is a limited resource.
There have been many studies conducted on willpower. In the late 90s Roy Baumeister conducted an exercise where he placed a plate of warm cookies next to a plate of radishes. Some of the participants were allowed to eat the cookies whereas the rest were only to eat the radishes. At the end of this willpower test, all participants had half an hour to solve an unsolvable puzzle.
Those who had used their willpower by eating just the radishes gave up on the puzzle after just 8 minutes. The cookie eaters lasted 20 minutes. These results show us that those tasked with resisting the cookies has used up most of their willpower and so when it came to the puzzle they were too tired to exert more effort.
How though are these findings relevant to you? As you can see willpower is a finite resource. If you use it to do one thing you will have less available for something else. You will also find that your willpower will deplete even faster if you do any of the following:
Completing a large task – this is something that requires more focus and attention than other tasks. The more self-control needed to complete the task the more willpower you will need to use and this will leave you with less energy.
Forming a difficult or new habit – when you form a new habit your willpower depletes in the same way as it does when you are completing a large task. The more self-control required to master the habit the more willpower you will use.
Multi-tasking – think of your willpower as a battery for your laptop. The more windows you run at once the quicker your battery will run out, exactly the same thing happens to your willpower.
Increase your willpower
It is possible to replenish your willpower when it has been depleted and only you can manage your willpower (2) and replenish it when it has gone. It may be necessary for you to change your lifestyle in order to become a high achiever.
The following tips can help you to increase your willpower and also help you to manage it effectively:
Eat healthy foods – eating the right foods can replenish your energy therefore it is important to eat healthy foods during the day.
Do important tasks first thing – your brain power is at its highest in the morning therefore it makes sense to use the beginning of your day for the most important things on your priority list.
Take breaks – studies have shown taking breaks during work helps replenish willpower. When you work your daily schedule, be sure to allocate plenty of break times.
Reduce stress – when you are stressed you cannot work efficiently as your brain is focused on the stress in your life. This energy is what you want to be using for your most important tasks. Try meditation or other stress reducing practices.
Your resourceful state
Your internal state will affect your productivity. The majority of people spend their time on one of two states, these being:
- Resourceful state
- Paralyzing state
When you are in a resourceful state, everything will flow because you are centered and focused. In contrast being in a paralyzed state is confusing and makes it very difficult to engage with your work and as such causes you a great deal of frustration. However it doesn’t matter which state you are currently in because it is possible for you to transition from a paralyzed state to a resourceful one by using the following exercises.
Change your state of mind
Change the pictures that you have in your mind as your inner state is affected by how you see things in your mind. Successful people look at things in a way that empowers them to produce results whereas unsuccessful people allow their circumstances to direct their thinking.
Next time you have a big project, before you start working on it close your eyes and think about a time when you were in a resourceful state and everything flowed. What pictures do you see? What were you thinking about? Take note of how you feel, try to keep this feeling for as long as you can, then open your eyes and you should feel more alert and focused. You should now find that you are in a resourceful state which will help you to keep focused and engaged with the work in hand.
All in the posture
There is a lot of research which links body language and posture with your internal state. Sitting up straight has been proven to conjure up positive thoughts and memories. Open, expansive posture has also been linked with increased feelings of power and an appetite for risk. Therefore it stands to reason that you need to really check your posture. Try to sit up straight and stand tall in order to ensure that your posture is not constricted.
When you consistently follow these points they will become habits. Once ingrained in your mind, you will be able to automatically tap into a resourceful state leaving you to be far more productive.
Distractions kill your focus and take up a lot of your time. As soon as you stop them you will become more productive
Multi-tasking is a bad strategy, you will do more and get better results when you focus on one thing at a time
Your willpower has limited resources. It is up to you to manage things so that you have enough to tackle your most challenging tasks
I want to thank you for taking the time to read my article about how to stay focused at work. I sincerely hope its contents have been a good help to you.