9 Ways to Stay Focused at Work

FT Contributor  | 

Everyone gets distracted at work. While this can happen occasionally, if it’s a regular occurrence it can seriously affect your productivity, efficiency, and overall drive. Gone unchecked, regular distractions can eventually lead to termination. If you find that you’re plagued by distractions — either in an office or while working remotely — it’s wise to take steps to address the situation.

Common Distractions in the Workplace

There are many different factors that can impact your ability to focus. Concerns about your personal life, a poor office layout, or a chatty coworker can all contribute to the issue. If you’re struggling to focus while on the job, here are a few tips and tricks to help you reign in your attention and maintain concentration throughout the day.

1. Plan Ahead

Well-laid plans are a bedrock of the focused employee. If you know what tasks lie ahead of you on any particular day, week, or month, you’re going to find it much easier to keep yourself on track as you work towards your goals.

Consider creating a calendar specifically dedicated to your work. Along with that, look for any company calendars or schedules and ask for a copy. Integrating your bosses’ plans into your own can help you manage expectations and prevent any due dates from sneaking up on you.

Be aware that planning ahead does not mean everything will necessarily go, well, as planned. The benefit of planning doesn’t come from a rigid devotion to your schedule. It helps you remain aware of what’s currently on the docket. If you also strive to maintain a reasonable level of flexibility, this will allow you to use your planning to the greatest effect.

2. Get Organized

The unorganized worker is going to be distracted. It’s simply a fact. An occasional search for a pen is one thing, but a dozen incidences of disorganization in an hour can be detrimental to your focus. A few ways to maintain organization include:

  • Making sure everything in your workspace has its place — this goes for work both at home and abroad.
  • Planning out your daily schedule ahead of time — knowing how your day is going to go is a critical component of good organization.
  • Keeping your desk clear — a clear desk can help you keep an organized mental state as you work.
  • Keeping your digital life organized and tidy — consider using an app like Trello or Evernote.

3. Take on One Task at a Time

If you try to take on everything at once, you’re going to get overwhelmed in no time. If you take the time to stay organized, though, you should be able to take on one task at a time without worrying about something slipping through the cracks. There are several ways to approach choosing what to work on first, and each one depends on your own temperament.

  • Choose the most urgent or important item on your list first and go from there.
  • Choose the easiest and quickest items first, get them done quickly, and build momentum on this snowball effect.
  • Choose the most difficult tasks first and save the easy stuff for later in the day.

However you choose to go about it, take on one task at a time and get it done. Only then should you consider moving on to the next item on your list.

4. Put Away Unnecessary Electronics

Electronics have countless positive uses in the modern workplace — but they can also be a huge distraction. If you’re feeling tempted to check in on social media, search for miscellanea on Google, or respond to non-time-sensitive texts every quarter of an hour, you may want to consider putting away those unnecessary electronics.

Consider using a time-limiting tool like Apple’s App Limits feature, or try to keep your devices off of your desk while you work. You may even want to remove your phone or tablet from your workspace entirely while you’re trying to focus.

5. Make a Daily To-Do List

Sometimes getting a handle on your schedule and staying organized isn’t quite enough to keep you focused. If you find you’re still struggling, consider creating a good old-fashioned to-do list.

There are many different apps that can help with this task. If you’re trying to keep your phone out of sight while you work, you can access many of these via a desktop computer as well, or even ditch the electronics entirely and go for a pen and paper.

6. Take Small Breaks

It may sound contradictory, but taking breaks is a key element to getting things done. If you power through your workday without a stop you’re likely to suffer from things like decision fatigue, damaged eyes, and an inability to focus.

However, there is a right and a wrong way to take a break. Your goal should be to temporarily disconnect from your goals (typically a 10 to 15 minute period will suffice) in order to give your brain a break. Then re-engage with your work once you’re refreshed and refocused. A few of the best ways to do this include:

  • Going on a walk.
  • Spending time meditating or praying.
  • Working out.
  • Taking a power nap.

7. Block Out Noise

Noise can be a huge distraction, especially if you work in an office with a bullpen. If you find that you’re struggling to tune out the noise, the popular solution is to plug in some headphones and listen to instrumental music. If this isn’t an option, though, there are several other ways you can address the issue:

  • Ask for permission to wear noise-canceling headphones or earplugs.
  • Communicate with your boss about the possibility of creating a quiet time during the day.
  • Request to relocate your workstation to a quieter area of the office.

8. Toughest Task First

We already touched on the idea of creating a to-do list and then tackling your tasks in the correct order. While there are several ways to go about doing this, taking on the toughest task first is one of the best methods. Even if you go about your workday thoughtfully and you take proper breaks, it’s still very hard to remain steadily focused for eight straight hours.

The most productive time of the day is often the beginning. Sure, you may need a little time to get your coffee and settle in, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to do some of your best work while you’re fresh. This is the best time to take on the most challenging tasks, get them done quickly and effectively, and then cruise through the rest of the day with the hard part in the rearview mirror.

9. Get Plenty of Sleep

While many of the suggestions on this list are specific to the workplace, they are difficult to implement if you’re not getting enough rest when you’re off the clock. A chronic lack of sleep can be debilitating to your focus as you go about your day. Productivity and efficiency will also suffer, and it can seriously affect the quality of your work as well. Getting a good night’s sleep can:

  • Improve your memory.
  • Promote creativity.
  • Boost your ability to pay attention.
  • Lower your stress levels.
  • Ease depression.

If you’re struggling to focus, one of the best places to start isn’t when you’re on the clock, but rather when you’re in bed. Make sure that you:

  • Don’t consume caffeine or alcohol too late in the day.
  • Avoid blue light before bed.
  • Keep yourself on a sleep schedule.
  • Don’t nap too long or too close to bedtime.
  • Optimize your bedroom for sleep and avoid using it for things like work or play.

If you can take the time to improve your sleep quality, you’ll find that you boost your functioning and focus during the workday.


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