23 Incredibly Good Ways to Stay Focused at Work
A COLLEAGUE MESSAGES YOU on Slack to ask for advice on a project. Three new emails from a client pop up in your inbox. In the background, someone is talking about their kid going to the zoo. Would you still be able to focus while at work?
If you’re often troubled by busy office chatter and find it hard to focus, there’s no way you can perform at your best. And it gets quite annoying, right?
How can some people stay focused all day long while others struggle to get their tasks done?
The answer lies somewhere between long practice and smart tricks that get us through the day. Up next, you’ll find the answer to question “How to stay focused at work?” and will learn 23 incredibly helpful tips to complete work quicker.
1. Get in the “flow”
Before you blame it on others, take a minute to evaluate your productivity. Are you really in the “flow” when working on your tasks?
“Flow” is a state of mind where we feel in total pursuit, execute tasks effortlessly, and achieve the peak of our performance. It was discovered by researchers at the University of Chicago and can be improved by strengthening our ability to concentrate. To get in the flow, try to get more excited about the task at hand and focus all your energy on working on this single thing. One more tactic that’s worked for me is to wait until you’re close to the deadline. The sense of urgency will put your mind to work more efficiently.
Read on: 12 Best Browser Extensions for Higher Productivity
2. Plan ahead
Every day before starting to work on all your tasks, write down 3 most important things you need to accomplish by the end of the day. Find a planning method that works the best for you, be it prioritized to-do lists, hourly work schedule, or a completely different planning method.
Don’t forget to plan your breaks as well. Your brain isn’t capable of working 8 hours straight; it needs some time to recover.
READ MORE: 6 Steps to Increase Productivity at Work (and Finish the Day Earlier)
3. Create an hourly work plan
Try scheduling all your today’s tasks hour by hour. There are multiple benefits to this kind of enhanced planning:
- You know exactly what needs to be done by the end of the day
- You set realistic expectations to your day as you predict how much time it takes to complete each task
- You know what to do next after finishing one task
- You can prioritize your tasks and plan the ones requiring higher energy levels for the morning hours
4. Write down all your ideas
We all get many new ideas while working on a task. Some days, we might become so overwhelmed with new thoughts that we’re unable to continue to focus.
The best way to deal with your spontaneous ideas is to keep a pen and notebook close. Whenever an idea crosses your mind, write it down, let it go for now, and return to it later.
Here’s a great article by Jeff Goins, author of the bestseller The Art of Work, explaining how he stays focused while writing. He suggests that writers don’t edit their text while writing, but return to it later. By letting go and focusing on a single thing at a time, you’ll be able to do it much more efficiently.
5. Keep your to-do list organized
Having an unorganized to-do list with tens of unfinished tasks can have a negative effect on your productivity. That’s because you haven’t planned which tasks need to be tackled first.
When reviewing your huge to-do list, break it into three structured lists: daily, weekly, and monthly work. Next, organize these lists according to priorities, so that you know what needs to be done first. Each time you complete a task, cross it out on your list to see how much you’ve accomplished at the end of the day.
6. Set deadlines
If you feel no pressure to complete a task, you’ll likely procrastinate on it twice as much. Set clear deadlines for all the tasks in your to-do list. By doing so, you create a sense of urgency, making it easier to achieve the state of flow and truly focus on an important task.
Moreover, having set deadlines helps to battle your inner perfectionist. It’s good to work on a task until it’s great but avoid getting stuck on details.
7. Organize your work environment
To organize your thoughts and concentrate your focus on a single task, you need a work environment that supports this kind of clarity. Clean up your desk, organize your computer’s desktop, and remove posters from the wall (if you feel this might help).
You can also place a large monitor between your sight and the rest of the office to keep people flickering by your sight all the time.
For more ideas, check out this article: 21 Tips to Organize Your Office and Get More Done
8. Split time-consuming tasks
Instead of tackling one huge task, break into smaller doable tasks that you can complete in less than one day. This way, you’ll feel more rewarded each time a part of the task gets finished. Moreover, you’ll have a better understanding of what needs to be done next.
For example, if you’re working on a new homepage project, divide it into the planning, framework, and development. Next, divide each of these tasks into 10 smaller ones that seem more realistic.
Read on: The Complete Guide to Winning Project Management Sprints
9. Take small, 15-minute breaks
Nobody’s able to work for 3 hours straight without a single flicker of thought. It’s better to take regular breaks than to feel overwhelmed with multiple ideas and thoughts.
Make your 15-minute breaks a computer-free zone, meaning that you use this time to brew coffee, listen to energizing songs, chat with a colleague, or read a book.
READ MORE: 12 Must-read Books on Productivity to Beat Procrastination for Good
10. Turn off notifications
You can’t fully focus unless you free yourself of the small cunning distractions called notifications. Go to your phone settings and turn off notifications for email, Facebook messages, and other irrelevant apps regularly sending you notifications.
Make a habit out of checking your phone every once in a while to see whether someone’s tried to reach you. But don’t do it 85 times a day for a total of five hours, which according to Noisli blog is the average for some people!
Infographic: Are Your Business Tools Killing Your Productivity?
11. Block distracting websites
We spend the best of your days working with our laptops. Which means that we’re constantly connected to Wi-Fi, able to visit millions of distracting websites.
The easiest way to resist the temptation of browsing the web instead of working is to turn off Wi-Fi. But if you occasionally need the internet connection for work, there’s another option.
Use productivity tools like SelfControl or Cold Turkey to create a blacklist of distracting websites and block your access for several hours.
12. Create a 3-hour working zone
Working on full steam requires some planning. Schedule a 3-hour working zone each day and add it to your calendar. During this time, find a quiet place and tell other team members you’re not to be bothered with any requests. Explain nicely that you need those 3 hours to completely focus on your projects.
By planning ahead, you get into the habit of being super productive for at least 3 hours each day.
13. Block out the noise
It’s impossible for everybody in the office to work in complete silence. It’s only natural that people need to discuss some important matters with each other. But all this babble can become tiresome pretty quickly.
The easiest way to block out distracting sounds is to listen to backgrounds sounds. For example, Noisli offers a great set of natural sounds that you can listen to while focusing. You can also try listening to music, but it might become just another distraction.
14. Use noise-cancelling headphones
If you find it hard to work with any background noise, invest in noise-cancelling headphones. Earplugs will also do the job, but there’s an additional benefit to wearing headphones. It delivers the message that you wish to be undistracted, making others give you more personal space.
15. Check email every three hours
We already talked about the importance of turning off notifications. However, giving up noisy notifications makes us more inclined to check our email as we’d like to know when new messages pop in the inbox
The New York Times conducted a research finding that checking email less often is healthy for us. The article suggests that making the effort to close the gap between necessity and compulsion is well worth the effort.
Learn to let go. Check your email every 3 hours instead of every 15 minutes. You can batch multiple emails and write responses at once, saving hours of time each week.
16. Stay away from social media
While working on a demanding task, our minds tend to get tired. That’s when you’re tempted to check your email and social media accounts – to give your brain a rest. But don’t let yourself be fooled; that’s not how it works. Checking social media drains your brain of energy as it has to process lots of information.
According to Technori, mindlessly browsing social media can cost you up to $1000 per hour. Turn Facebook into a reward, allowing yourself to have a peek every time you finish a task or work for 90 minutes straight.
If you’re hopelessly unfocused due to social media, add these sites to your list of blocked websites to resist the temptation.
17. Keep your phone out of sight
You’re twice less likely to check your phone when it’s out of your sight. If you prefer keeping it on the table, place it behind your computer or under a notebook to reach it when needed.
18. Use productivity tools
See this list of 12 helpful productivity tools that help you stay focused throughout the day. Some of our favorites include Pocket, RescueTime, and IFTTT.
There’s a thin line between using productivity tools to your favor and being distracted by the constant need to deal with them.
19. Use browser extensions
Similar to productivity tools, there are browser extensions that can help you improve your focus. Here’s a list of 10 browser extensions for greater productivity. Add your favorite extensions to your web browser to access them more quickly.
20. Find a comfortable chair
While it might seem like a small change, a comfortable chair makes a huge difference in your work performance. Sitting in a chair that doesn’t support your back will result in backaches, and you’ll get tired sooner.
The right office chair supports your lower back, promotes good posture, and helps to alleviate back pain.
21. Less coffee, more water
It might seem counterintuitive to limit your coffee intake while working. After all, it’s supposed to equip you with extra energy. But there’s another side to the story – too much coffee can tire you out. Drinking too much caffeine may lead to dizziness and insomnia, making it even more difficult to focus.
Try replacing some of your daily coffee cups with water to keep your body hydrated and healthy.
22. Find inspiration
Why are you working on this task? Is it just because your boss told you to or because it has a positive effect on your career?
We tend to start procrastinating when working without a purpose. That’s why it’s important to be excited about every single task you take up. Being constantly inspired in your work will also make you more optimistic about the outcome, making it easier to stay focused throughout the day.
Before you start to work on a difficult task, imagine what would improve after you’ve completed it. Maybe you can simply reduce your workload and stop stressing about the task. Or maybe there are far long-reaching benefits to tackling the task.
23. Be healthy
To focus, your brain and body need to be in their best shape. Exercise regularly by going on a 30-minute jog or hitting the gym. In addition to numerous health benefits, exercise makes you smarter, happier, improves sleep, increases libido and makes you feel better about your body.
Here’s a great article on improving your life by doing 10 things every day. You guessed it! Exercise is the number two factor in the list.
To increase productivity at work and avoid afternoon drowsiness, you need to choose the right lunch. Stick to protein based lunches for increased productivity and alertness in the afternoon.
Let’s have a quick recap and see all the ways how you can stay focused at work:
- Create the sense of flow
- Plan ahead
- Create an hourly work plan
- Write down all your ideas
- Organize your to-do list
- Set deadlines
- Organize your work environment
- Split time-consuming tasks
- Take 15-minute breaks
- Turn off notifications
- Block distracting websites
- Create a 3-hour working zone
- Block out the noise
- Use noise-cancelling headphones
- Check email every 3 hours
- Ignore social media
- Keep your phone out of sight
- Use productivity tools
- Use browser extensions
- Find a comfortable chair
- Drink less coffee and more water
- Find inspiration
- Stay healthy
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