So you want to learn how to focus on work.
Easier said than done, right?
But here’s the thing:
Being unable to concentrate or focus at work usually has less to do with you and more to do with external factors.
You know what I mean:
The constant emails, the various dings and chimes ringing in your ear, and the dreaded: “Hey, you got a minute?”
This is the modern context in which most of us work.
But the distractions themselves aren’t even the biggest issue. Instead, the real problem is the amount of time it takes to get back on task. Research has found that it takes 23 minutes to refocus after getting distracted.
Since that’s the case, it’s smart to understand your brain’s limitations and how to work around them.
So how do you stay focused at work – especially when you know you need to get down to business?
Step 1. Prioritize Prioritization
Learning how to stay focused and productive at work all starts with what you do the night before:
Write your to-do lists in advance.
Here’s the deal:
Life’s too busy to get distracted by all the little things. Your job is where other people demand the most of your time, so it isn’t the best place to write your to-do list.
People start talking to you, the phone starts ringing, and the emails start coming in. These things alone can make work stressful.
So at night, try writing down your top three most important tasks that you’ll want to focus on the next day.
Someone once told me:
If you wait until you wake up to start thinking about everything you need to do – you’re already late.
How powerful is that?
But, why a top three? Why not 5 or 10?
Because when it comes to getting stuff done, one thing is true:
Being productive isn’t about fitting in as much as you possibly can. Learning how to focus on work requires a less-is-more approach. Focus on the things that matter the most.
Many successful people use a technique called ‘eating the frog‘. This theory was first made popular from this book.
In the book, Brian Tracy talks about why focusing on the most difficult task first (aka the “frog”) is crucial to staying focused and productive.
By crossing off the “frog” first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will flow easily in comparison. Plus, that positive momentum you start your day with will follow you.
2. Use the Pomodoro Technique
Research shows that taking breaks actually improves your concentration and focus.
This is why I love the Pomodoro Technique.
It’s a time management strategy made popular by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. This strategy uses a timer to break work down into intervals. These intervals are usually about 25 minutes long, separated by short breaks.
The 25-minute intervals are known as “pomodoros.”
The goal is to focus on one task for 25 minutes, then have a 5-minute break afterward. After you’ve finished four pomodoros, then you take a longer break between 15 and 30 minutes.
This technique teaches you how to focus on work while avoiding the pitfalls of multitasking.
And there’s research to back this up:
A New York University study concluded that it actually does boost memory and recall.
“Concentration is like a muscle: It needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked,” says writer Julia Gifford.
She further explains, “Otherwise, it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things.”
And don’t skip out on your lunch break.
You might think you’re focusing more on work by eating lunch in front of your computer, but that’s not true. Taking a proper lunch break is not just about fueling up with food – your brain needs that time to reset, too.
3. Identify the Time Hogs
Aka, your productivity killers. The stuff that makes you feel like you’re not productive at work. For many people, it’s email, notifications, and social media.
Here are several things that worked for me:
Put your phone out of sight.
How often do you check your phone throughout the day?
Dr. Sally Andrews found that the average person checks their smartphone around 85 times a day. This adds up to about 5 hours.
While our phones can be helpful tools, they can also be our biggest distractions.
Silence Your Notifications
You can’t fully concentrate until you free yourself of those tempting distractions called notifications.
Because even when your phone is out of sight, but you can still hear the dings, it kinda defeats the purpose. I’ve become a fan of ‘silent’ mode and ‘Do Not Disturb’
Check your phone during your breaks to see if anything important has come up. Just try not to do it 85 times a day.
Schedule Times to Check Email
Someone is always wanting something.
But 9 times out of 10, they can wait. If you’re a slave to your email, nothing else will get done. So start scheduling specific times to read and respond to emails.
People tend to be the most productive in the first two hours of their day. So don’t waste that precious productivity primetime on emails.
Those emails will still be there when you get back.
And if you’re really serious about learning how to focus on work, try the Stay Focusd Google Chrome extension.
If you struggle with online distractions, Stay Focusd lets you set time restrictions on the websites of your choice.
Once your time gets used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the rest of the day. (And once they’re blocked for the day, you can’t change it)
4. Use a “Work” Browser
A great way to instantly improve your focus is to use two separate Internet browsers:
One for work, and one for home.
Set up the work browser with all your important company information. Things like email, logins, and bookmarks should go on the work browser.
Add your personal information to your home browser. Things like social media accounts, personal email, and personal bookmarks.
When you’re focused on work, use your work browser. When you’re not working, use your personal browser. This separation of work life and personal life is powerful. It will subconsciously help you concentrate more.
5. Have an Organized Space
Where you work affects how you work.
This means too much stuff within arms reach can be distracting.
And if you’re like me, you spend the majority of your time sitting in front of a computer screen. But even though our work revolves around a computer, it doesn’t mean our work environment shouldn’t be maximized to promote productivity.
A well-organized office has huge benefits.
Firstly, it gives you a sense of control and competence. Secondly, the very fact that it’s organized helps to fight against distractions.
So position yourself for success by organizing your space.
6. Get Comfortable
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a hundred people rave about these types of desks.
I haven’t tried that desk yet, but I’m definitely putting it on my list this year.
Why? Because there’s a link between productivity and feeling comfortable. Who knew that learning how to focus on work came down to being more comfortable?
Here’s the thing:
Have you ever felt exhausted after sitting all day? Or had an uncomfortable chair that led to backaches?
With desks like these and chairs like this becoming all the rage, more people are prioritizing comfort.
And more people are realizing they can actually focus better and get more stuff done if they feel good while doing it. (I know – what a concept!) After all, can you really focus on the task at hand when your body is physically tired from discomfort?
70% of American workers say they hate sitting at work, but we do it all day every day. So find a comfortable chair or desk, and regularly take breaks to stretch and walk around.
Your body will thank you.
7. Know Your Deadlines
If you feel no pressure to finish a project, you’re twice as likely to procrastinate.
So focus on what’s most important on your to-do list. Then set deadlines to hold yourself accountable. Then when distractions do appear, you’ll be better able to keep your eye on the prize.
And if you battle with perfectionism, the deadlines will help you avoid getting caught up in unnecessary details.
You work to get things done, so don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. If perfection prevents you from getting tasks completed on time or even at all – then it defeats the purpose.
8. Automate Tasks
- Schedule alerts for important deadlines and appointments
- Set up autopay for things you pay often
- Auto-send invoices
- Use ringtones for different people. You’ll automatically know when you don’t have to answer your phone.
Technology makes an awesome admin assistant. Use it as a stepping stone to help you learn how to focus on work.
9. Get Plenty of Sleep
When you think of “healthy,” what comes to mind?
You probably thought about drinking water, eating fruits and vegetables, and exercising more. But how often do you remember to factor sleep into that equation?
Forget the coffee. I’m here to tell you that one of the best research-backed strategies for improving focus is to sleep.
As it turns out, scientist and researchers have a lot to say about sleep:
Why you need it, how much of it you should get, and what it has to do with your (lack of) productivity.
Here are the recommended sleep ranges:
- Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep 14-17 hours each day
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-3 years): Sleep 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (4-5): Sleep 10-13 hours
- School-age children (6-13): Sleep 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep 8-10 hours
- Adults (18-64): Sleep 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep 7-8 hours
There have been many studies done about how lack of sleep is a nightmare for productivity. So do yourself a favor and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
10. Release What’s Beyond Your Control
You’re never going to have complete control over every single aspect of your day. You may plan ahead, set deadlines, and take breaks as needed – but things are still bound to pop up.
And that’s okay.
If the distraction can wait, great. If it can’t, then deal with it and keep moving forward. Part of the process of learning how to focus on work means accepting the things you can’t control.
Final Thoughts: Know When to Clock Out
Work is work, regardless of what you do, how much needs to get done, or how much you enjoy it. Stuff needs to get done. But, you also need a personal life.
Can you focus on work when you’re constantly thinking about what’s going on at home? When you’re home, can you truly enjoy your leisure time if you’re thinking about work?
You have to know when to draw the line. Work-life balance comes first.
This is why you should plan ahead and have a predetermined set of work hours. You’ll maximize your ability to get stuff done and create a deadline for yourself.
I once heard someone say they wash their face and hands when they leave the office because it serves as a powerful metaphor of ‘cleaning the slate.’
That was powerful to me. I hope it is for you too.
Let us know in the comments, what tips do you have for learning how to stay focused and productive at work?
Thanks for reading.