Everyone has trouble focusing from time to time, but it especially seems to be the worst at work. Even though, in reality, it shouldn't be that hard. I mean, just sit at your desk and get some stuff done, right? And yet, staying focused at work feels so difficult.
This is probably because there are a million factors at play. Maybe you don't like your job, your coworkers are loud, you forgot to grab a morning coffee — all of these things can be quite distracting, to say the least.
But before you diagnose yourself with ADHD (although, it could be worth getting checked out) know that you are definitely not alone when it comes to not focusing at work. In fact, as Laura Schwecherl noted on Greatist.com, "In the office, nearly 50 percent of American employees say they work for only 15 minutes before becoming distracted, while 53 percent report wasting an hour or more a day because of disruptions." That's a lot of people staring out the window, taking countless trips to the bathroom, and whiling the morning away on their phone.
Does this found familiar? If so, then here are some ways to improve your focus at work, and finally get something done.
1. Make Sure You Have A Comfy Desk Setup
If you're popping up every few minutes to crack your back or stretch your legs, then it may be a sign that desk of yours is not working out. Being uncomfortable all day is bound to be distracting, so look into improving your work situation, ASAP. As Arina Nikitina noted on Lifehack.org, "Get a really good chair with great back support; make sure your desk or worktable is well-structured as well. That way you can work for many hours and not find your body and eyes getting strained."
You may also want to consider a standing desk, which obviously eliminates the possibility of an uncomfy chair. Who knows? It could be your ticket to productivity.
2. Keep Your Work Area Free Of Clutter
Sure, sometimes a little clutter gets those creative wheels turning. But too many visual distractions can make focusing pretty darn difficult difficult, especially if it's just plain old mess.
Straighten up your space, and only keep what you absolutely need on your work surface. "Having a neat, clean work space can help improve organization and focus, but be aware that moving items around on your desk can be a double-edged sword," Amanda Gardner noted on Health. "When cleaning your desk suddenly becomes a priority even with other deadlines looming, that could mean trouble." So set up your workspace for ultimate success, and then let it be.
3. Work Early & Prioritize Your Tasks
You know you spend that first hour at work perusing the internet and chitchatting with coworkers. It's definitely fun, and was easier than starting work. But consider this — the first hour of work is when people can be most productive, according to Nikitina. "This is because all energies are yet to be spent. So put all the taxing, difficult and challenging tasks on your agenda during the first hour. Follow these with the less pressing work, and then end with those routine tasks that you find boring," she said.
Basically, take adverting of your morning freshness to focus on the most important things on you to-do list. That way, when 4PM rolls around and you just can't go on, it's OK. You'll have already accomplished a lot.
4. Set Aside Chunks Of Time To Read Your Email
Even the most focused of us all can be taken down by the pull of email. And yes, I know most of us have to respond to requests and whatnot in a timely fashion. "But if a person is already prone to distraction, these incoming signals can derail the whole day," Gardner said. So rather than reading your emails as they come rolling in, set aside specific times during the day to send our responses. "If it's not your scheduled email checking time, then it needs to be ignored," she added. You'll get so much of your other work done as a result.
5. Choose The Same Place To Work Every Day
If you work from home (or Starbucks, or the library) then you don't really have to worry about noisy coworkers or stiff office chairs. The world is your oyster. And yet, sometimes that can be just the problem.
If you switch up your work location too often, you never really settle down, and focus goes out the proverbial window. But, as Gardner noted, "... if you habituate yourself to one place, your mind gets used to the area and can rev up to actually make you want to work." So enjoy your freedom if you work from home, but make sure you do so from the same place each day.
6. Take Lots Of Small Breaks
This one is the best suggestion in my book, because who doesn't love a break? The thing is, it's all about controlling your breaks, and not just leaping up every five seconds. It's also about actually giving yourself breaks, instead of struggling to focus all day long. According to Schwecherl, "Getting to the office early, working through lunch, and staying late doesn’t necessarily mean getting more stuff done. Short bursts of hard work followed by quick breaks can be more beneficial than never taking a breather, since the brain may just burn out."
To do this, I suggest setting a timer. Choose some intervals, and get as much work as you can before the timer goes off. You'll feel motivated to race against the clock, and you'll feel good knowing a break is on the horizon. It's a fun little mind trick that just might help you stay more focused.
7. Let Others Know You Can't Chat
Sometimes it's hard to turn a chatty coworker away. I mean, we like the distraction, they like the distraction, and it really works out for everyone. That is, of course, unless you're trying to get something done.
To prevent a conversation spiraling out of control, be honest with your coworker (or family or roommates if you work from home), and tell them it's time for you to focus. As Nikitina noted, "If you’re bent on making your personal working system work, let others know it. Chances are, [you'll] be left alone on the hours where you’re focused on really big, important work."
I know it's hard to focus at work. There are so many factors at play, that it can really make getting anything done feel like an impossibility. But with a few tweaks, you can stay focused at work, and be that much more productive.