5 Ways to Stay Focused at Work When Your Brain Just Won't Cooperate

For a long time, I was looking for some sort of magic bullet to keep me focused and productive throughout the workday. The closest thing I've found is coffee, but no amount of coffee can keep me from reading 10 million random articles or needing to get up and move around every couple hours. I don't think a focus cure-all exists, but there are a lot of small things you can do to increase focus at work. And taken together, these small things can add up to a productivity boost or at least less stress throughout the workday.

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Stop Multitasking

It seems logical that multitasking would help us work faster or smarter. But study after study has shown that trying to switch attention back and forth between tasks just hinders the ability to do anything properly, really. We're more productive, creative, and efficient when we devote our attention to just one thing (and we make fewer mistakes). To really work smarter, turn off the smartphone, sign out of chat, and try to keep the browser tabs to a minimum of five. Dedicate a certain amount of time to working on a task with your full attention (scheduling in social media breaks if necessary).

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Eat Well

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Hunger is the arch enemy of focus. Eat a decent breakfast — at least 300 calories, with fiber and/or protein to keep you full. And don't be a martyr throughout the day; if you're hungry, grab a snack. Small snacks throughout the day can keep your stomach from sabotaging your attention span. And if you use your snack time wisely, you'll get added attention benefits. Foods such as nuts and dark cocoa can boost mood and focus too.

Take a Moment for Mindfulness

Taking a break can seem counterproductive when you're in the middle of working on something or in a rush to finish up. But as you've probably heard time and time again, small breaks can help you de-stress and do better work afterward. So take a walk. Get a coffee. Do some downward-facing dog. Even just stop what you're doing for a few minutes and try being mindful. Focus on your breath. Clear your head. Recharge your brain.

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Use your nose to wake your brain. Certain essential oils have been shown to increase mental alertness and clarity. One of the best is probably lemon balm, which has both soothing and concentration-boosting properties (also: it may treat herpes). Rosemary oil is another good one — in a 2012 study, it was shown to improve cognitive speed and performance. One of rosemary oil's main active compounds (1,8-cineole) is also present in other brain-boosting essential oils, including eucalyptus and sage.

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Resort to Drugs

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I mean caffeine, of course. It's everyone's favorite drug for a reason. There's no shame in resorting to a cup of coffee (or three) throughout the day to help you stay on track. While other caffeinated drinks (soda, energy drinks) have a lot of downsides (high sugar, high-calorie, sketch ingredients), coffee has an array of health benefits, in addition to perking you up.