I've always had trouble staying focused. In grade school, I'd have to read over the same sentence five times before I could comprehend it. Math equations could take an entire afternoon and most of what I learned in a day, I forgot by the next. I never really had a system in place. The night before a test I would binge on study materials, and by the time I received my grade I had unlearned everything I was tested on. I knew this lack of structure and attention deficit disorder would follow me to college and into the job force. But I was in denial once I got there.
At my first adult desk job, I worked as a junior editor at an indie book publishing imprint. I'll just get to read and write all day, I told myself. It won't be the same. I imagined myself nested in the corner of a couch reading and editing all day while relaxing music played. Start up companies weren't like school, they catered to people like me who had trouble learning and performing in a traditional environment.
Well, that's what I thought. And maybe that's true in some places, but certainly not all. Yes, I was reading and editing all day, but I was doing from a computer under a florescent light. The manuscripts were not little books I could take to the couch, they were files that forced me in a swivel chair for nine hours a day. I had to write reports on what I was reading, I had to edit as I read and catch mistakes that even I would make. And I had to remember every word I read and report about it in a meeting at the end of the day. It was exactly like high school but the stakes were much, much higher. And I had someone else's career in my hands five days a week. I had to adjust and I had to do it quickly before I became more of a wrecking ball than an asset. I did some research, asked around and made a list of things I can do each day that will keep me focused. It's not fool proof, it still takes a lot of mental commitment but here are seven things that help me focus at work:
Rationalize Your Job
Maybe you don't love your job. Maybe you have a hard time motivating yourself to pay attention because you can't really stand behind the company. If this is the case, leave your job if you can. If you can't, commit to being there and find a reason to help you stay. Maybe it's just for the money, and that's fine. Maybe it's just for the experience, so make the most of it. Whatever it is, keep your eye on the prize and remind yourself of it every single morning before you walk through the doors.
Get Up Early, Dress For Success
It takes you longer to focus than most people, so you need to wake up earlier to get your mind going. Get up early enough that you don't have to rush to work, eat a full and healthy breakfast, get your caffeine, put on an outfit that is comfortable and not distracting in anyway, and head to work. Try not to be the last one in every day.
All the time. Even if you don't want to listen to music, wear headphones. They'll help cancel out the noise of the room, they'll keep people from chatting with you and distracting you and it will make it a tad more difficult for you to let your social butterfly flag fly. You need to rein that beast in until happy hour.
Keep your computer clean. If you're easily distracted you need to make sure that all of your surfaces are organized and contained. Your desk should be neat, with a clear organizational system in place. It can be with piles, files, or folders. The desktop of your computer should be clean and clutter-free.
It sounds so obvious but it's so important. Every morning you should make a to do list for yourself at your desk. Tasks left over from the day before, emails you need to respond to, people you need to reach out to, and each of your tasks from the day. Prioritize your tasks and be sure to check them off when you're done. And be sure to take notes in your notebook too. Always have your notebook with you on phone calls and in meetings. You'll be so grateful to have the minutes when you need them.
Make Social Media Rules
There's no point in trying to abstain from phone usage, you're going to be on your phone. That said, try to make some rules about it. Give yourself five minutes once an hour or every two hours on your phone. Give yourself at least two hours a day where you don't check your phone at all. Whatever you look at will distract your focus long after you put your phone away so the less you look at it, the less your mind has to work on refocusing.
Take A Walk
If it's hard for you to focus at work, you need to schedule some time to clear your mind too. Give it a break even if you don't think you need it. Give yourself five to 10 minutes at least twice a day to get up and walk around. Maybe you walk up and down the hall ways listening to music, maybe you walk around the block or maybe you sit outside and just take in some fresh air. Just make sure that you treat your break time with the same importance that you treat your work time. It will be so much easier to focus after you've given yourself a few moments to step out and come back with a fresh disposition.