Whether it’s the telephone ringing non-stop across the hall, the commotion of new construction next door, or the ping, ping of message notifications, staying focused on your job responsibilities can be challenging. Add worry about keeping the family healthy, the time constraints of juggling hectic schedules, and the always-present concerns about finances, and the amount of concentration left to funnel toward work tasks can quickly come up short.
A shortage in the focus department will invite a host of negatives into the workday, with seriously hampered productivity and mounting frustration topping the list. But you don’t have to surrender to these less-than-desirable working conditions. Instead, fight back with these tips for zeroing in on the tasks at hand.
1. Get in the “flow”
“‘Flow’ is a state of mind where we feel in total pursuit, execute tasks effortlessly, and achieve the peak of our performance,” says Karola Karlson. While this “flow” can be impacted either good or bad by outside forces, it requires a conscious effort—a purposeful gathering of energy and concentration and directing those resources toward the task at hand. Injecting a bit of excitement into the mix helps as well.
2. Set deadlines
A sense of urgency will engage your mind to work more efficiently. Because unfortunately, if there is no pressure to complete a task, procrastination will knock at the door twice as insistently. So, set clear, realistic deadlines for both the minor and major items on your daily to-do list. It will help you stay in the “flow,” focused on completing the day’s work.
3. Keep mind and body fueled
Few of us drink enough water, yet this vital nutrient is known to improve concentration and cognition, balance mood and emotions, and maintain memory function. Keep water within arm’s reach to avoid the distractions waiting to trap you on the way to the break room. The same goes for snacks, preferably the healthy kind, that won’t leave your mind and body sluggish. If your job permits, stash some favorites nearby for easy reach.
4. Banish known distractions
Most of us cannot resist checking out a notification beep or vibration from our phones. But too often, that brief moment of “checking” morphs into more checking that leads to the urge to respond or reminds us of another thing to look up, another message to send, or call to make.
Silence the phone and put it out of sight. The same goes for social media platforms minimized on your computer. The temptation to pop in for just a minute will be too strong. And that minute will turn into multiple minutes that not only take up time but wreak havoc with the “flow” you’ve tried so hard to get into. Sign out of everything.
“Start to notice when and how you get distracted,” suggests Shawn Radcliffe in “Seven Ways to Stay Focused at Work.” “What thoughts happen just before that? Are you tired, hungry, or bored? As you learn what triggers your distractions, you can head them off before you slip into an hour-long IM chat.”
5. Schedule regular breaks
While a plan to work diligently for eight hours straight is admirable, it’s not very practical or effective. Over time our alertness tends to diminish, increasing the lure of distractions. Studies have found people work best in sixty to ninety-minute blocks, followed by a break. Knowing a scheduled break awaits improves concentration and the drive to meet a goal. So, set a timer and take a break at the end of each session. Stretch, take a walk, unwind by listening to music for a few minutes, or head out for lunch.
6. Get enough sleep
While the other tips focused on strategies to utilize on the job, during work hours, a genuine attempt to improve one’s concentration on the job has to begin at home, the night before. But not just the night before the big presentation or the yearly review. Routinely getting enough sleep is a critical factor in consistently maintaining job focus. An overly tired mind and body will not perform at their best.