It's not unusual to find ourselves losing concentration when working on tasks throughout the day and simply feeling incapable of staying focused at work. Today, there are so many distractions that seem to come up at every turn, especially given our addictions to our phones and social media, and our inherent desire to stay connected to our friends and family at any give moment of the day. You know how it goes — you get a text, so you stop what you're doing, reply, and then end up on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and everything in between. Before you know it, you've lost 15 minutes of valuable work time... or maybe even more. We've all been there.
But, sometimes, we just can't afford to be distracted. Maybe our workload is creeping up on us, or perhaps we have seemingly a million things to do before the end of a given day or week and we just don't know how we'll accomplish it all. The key to overcoming our daily distractions is pinpointing what, exactly, is distracting us — and moving ahead full force in tackling it.
While there are countless things that come up to derail us from focusing, here are eight of the biggest offenders, and some clarity around how to overcome them.
1. Your Cell Phone
It’s hard to imagine a time when our cell phones weren’t literally within inches of us at all times of the day and night. I, for one, now sleep with my phone right next to my head (that can’t be good for me, right?). Between constantly waiting for text from friends and significant others, and scanning — sometimes mindlessly — through our various apps and checking our email, we’re a generation that's obsessed with our phones.
Sure, we’ve considered the more obvious troubles associated with not being able to get off our phones (the potential of texting and driving accidents, possible negative side effects of cell phone radiation, etc.), but have many of us haven’t considered what our phones are doing to our ability to concentrate? Having our phones regularly going off with calls, texts and alerts poses an immediate distraction to whatever task we have at hand. It pulls us away, even if only for a moment, and sometimes it takes us a while to mentally get back to where we were.
A good way we can overcome this is by silencing our phones (when possible, of course) as we’re trying to complete a task. This allows us to use our full brain to focus. Then, we can devote a specific time later to listening to voicemails and returning calls, texts and emails.
2. A Negative Mental Attitude
Having a negative attitude affects your day in so many ways, including prohibiting your ability to focus. If your mind is wrapped up in worrying about how your life isn’t going as planned, or why things are so awful at home, you’re not going to be able to concentrate to your best ability on things that need to get done right in front of you.
There is an easy way to temporarily overcome this, though: Take a few minutes to chat with someone you trust about why you’re feeling down. Being able to vent helps get the feeling out in the open and off your chest. Even if your problems aren’t resolved, you’ll at least be able to breathe a bit easier.
3. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Are you ever nearly falling asleep at your desk in the middle of a weekday morning thinking, “How am I possibly going to get through the rest of this day?” You’re not the only one. Lack of sleep often leads to a treacherous day at work. One of the primary downsides of not sleeping enough is that impairs attention and short-term memory, according to WebMD, making it not only difficult to get through the day, but nearly impossible to focus on and complete a given task.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, so sleep really needs to be a priority. It’s easy to feel the urge to stay up late — perhaps you’re wrapped up in binge-watching your favorite series on Netflix and just can’t tear yourself away — but think of how happy and productive you’ll be the next day if you go to sleep now.
For those who aren’t drinking enough water — stop what you’re doing ASAP and go grab a tall glass of it! It’s so very important for many reasons, including its role in how well you are able to concentrate throughout the day.
In order to help with energy levels and brain function, you should strive to drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water per day, according to Authority Nutrition.
Being able to successfully multitask can leave you feeling super accomplished. But, the reality is, not a lot of people are really able to do it in stride, no matter how much you might try to convince yourself otherwise. According to a study discussed in Business Insider, only two percent of people are effective multitaskers. For the remaining 98 percent, multitasking is doing more harm than good. And, those odds are not good.
So stop trying to beat the odds, and focus on one thing at a time. If you’ve become so accustomed to multitasking that you aren’t sure how to make it a day without doing so, try this exercise: Give yourself one task for a set amount of time, and only allow yourself to work on that. During the allotted time, when something comes up that you would normally work on simultaneously, stop and write it down. After the time is up, look at your list. Let it help you determine what things are truly most time sensitive, how to prioritize, and a good plan for your time management. You’ll soon find your ability to focus improving.
6. Pure Boredom
Sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it — we’ve given tasks to work on that are really just… so boring. These dull tasks cause our ability to focus to sink lower and lower. We’ll find ourselves looking around for any and every other thing possible to do, just so we won’t have to work on the boring assignment in front of us.
It’s difficult to make these boring tasks suddenly interesting, but we can trick ourselves into focusing to complete them. Try setting up mini rewards for yourself to push you along. Let’s say you’re required to read and summarized a dull case study for your boss. Promise yourself a trip to Starbucks to get your favorite drink once it’s complete. It won’t make the case study any more compelling, but it will get you to the finish line.
7. Social Media
For those of us who are active on social media, we know how time consuming these channels can be. We are also aware of how easy it is to get distracted from whatever we’re doing simply by getting a notification from a friend. A friend tagging us in something on Instagram can somehow turn into a half hour of scanning through various accounts looking at memes, and we find ourselves like, “Wait, how did I even get to this random Instagram page of Yorkie puppies?”
This also ends with us getting completely distracted from our work, and often it’s difficult to regain your train of thought and get back on track. This is super simple to avoid, however. To prevent social media distraction, repeat after me, “Log. Off. Your. Accounts.” It might seem difficult, but you’ll be so thankful when it’s 5 p.m. on a Friday and you’re not stuck at your office finishing projects because you were so distracted that afternoon on Facebook.
8. StressThe overwhelming feeling of having way too much on your plate at once is, in itself, a huge distraction. Sometimes we’re just so swamped that we don’t even know where to begin. What’s more, in addition to completely distracting us from prioritizing what we need to accomplish first, being too stressed like this also has a ton of other downsides, like causing chronic headaches and heart problems down the line, according to WebMD.
The easiest way to prevent distraction caused by stress is to make yourself a strict to-do list. Outline not only what needs to be done first, second, etc., but also try giving yourself deadlines for each task. They might take a little longer than you expected, but at least you’ll give yourself that sense of urgency that helps keep you ultra-focused.
While it’s really very common to find an endless amount of distractions in our everyday lives, especially with the amount of technology we’re constantly surrounded with, these distractions don’t have to destroy our focus. By addressing the cause(s) of what’s distracting you, you can come up with an attack plan, and get your tasks done timely and efficiently.