Laura Iñiguez, Content Manager at Hirebook
Laura is a content and social media strategist with deep experience in Employee Engagement, People Management, and Culture. She works with Hirebook to bring their innovative best practices to life through content, videos, and webinars seen by thousands around the globe.
Pub: September 2 2021
Upd: November 11 2022
Do you have a hard time staying focused at work? Do you have days when you’re hyper focused and others when you just can’t concentrate? Do you feel distractions are everywhere? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! This happens to millions of people around the globe.
Of course we all want to stay focused throughout the work day to accomplish our objectives, deliver good performance, and just stay on track of our activities; allowing us to keep a healthy balance between work and life, have time to relax and do more of what makes us happy… Yet, a lot of people find themselves struggling with distractions and end up working under pressure because they have a project due in a couple of days and they’re super behind and now there’s no time to relax at all. Sounds familiar?
Not many people know this, but one study showed it takes an average person around 23-25 minutes to dive back into a focused state after being distracted. If you get distracted easily, don’t even try to do the math of how many minutes you spend just battling to concentrate again on your job. Technology is both a blessing and a curse; it sure is helpful, but oh so distracting sometimes…
Corporate employees work mostly on a computer, and they are distracted every 10.5 minutes on average. These distractions can be anything from reading emails to reading a simple notification on their phone, or just bluntly checking social media. Considering a person’s attention span runs between 10-20 minutes, it’s no shocker how quickly we can drift off from whatever we’re doing at any given moment and struggle to stay focused.
Your time is valuable, but dealing with these distractions and losing focus make you miss your momentum, making you less productive. Since you can’t just shut the entire world down so you can concentrate and increase productivity, you must find the right techniques and tips for staying focused, and that’s what we’re here for:
Fix your Work Environment
1 Clean up your Workspace
The environment you work in is extremely important to avoid losing focus. It has to be inviting and free of distractions. If you work from home, try to find an appropriate space in your house that’s quiet and that preferably has a door. Your workspace should be clean, we know we usually toss everything on our desks, but clean it up and just keep what's fundamental to your activities like your computer, post-it notes or a notepad, a pen, etc.
2 Bring Healthy Snacks
Always have your water close by, preferably in a bottle to prevent accidents. Bring a nice coffee tumbler with you and get some healthy snacks at the beginning of the day so you don’t have any excuses to go to the break room or kitchen to get something when you’re hungry or have a craving. Eating within your workspace area will not expose you to unrelated activities and other distractions.
3 Isolate Yourself
Get a good set of noise cancelling headphones that go over your ears, not just for better blocking the noise, but also to let people know you are working and shouldn’t be interrupted unless there’s an emergency, it also couldn’t hurt to actually tell them not to bother you when the headphones are on so you can stay focused.
4 Choose the Right Music
Most people are into listening to music while working, but the wrong kind of music may become more of a distraction than a concentration tool (if you start singing along you definitely won’t get anything done!). The point of having music on while working is to provide ease and inspiration. Identify the music that pumps you up and allows you to stay focused. For some may be the latest hits, and for others good ol’ classical music.
Manage Your Time
5 Turn Off Notifications
If you really think about it, no matter how much you plan your day, others control a lot of your time. Every notification, every message on Slack and every email are sent when others feel like it, or when others are free, NOT when you are. So if you get distracted by that new notification and decide to reply and handle that matter that surfaced while you were doing something else, you’re now using your time on someone else’s task. We’re not saying you shouldn’t pay attention to others and what they need, but if it’s not urgent, it can wait until you’re done with your priorities. It takes one second to distract us and get us out of “the zone”.
One thing you can do to effectively manage your time is to turn notifications off. There was a time when we managed to do our jobs without being available 24/7; set a timer on notifications so you won’t allow others to create distractions when you want to stay focused. If someone needs something urgent, they’re going to call you, not just message you.
6 Stay Away From Social Media
Social networks are not meant to be checked all the time. Discipline yourself to check them only when you decide to take a break and make an effort to just spend a few minutes on them. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency that you’ll stay on them much longer than planned because there’s always something new, exciting or interesting that catches your attention… but this will only decrease your productivity since there’s a lot of information there that could get you unnecessarily perturbed; like sad news from a friend or a celebration you missed, etc.
7 Do One Thing at a Time
Another thing is to do one thing at a time. Don’t try to multitask when you want to get things done right. If you try to do a lot of things at a time, none of them will have your full attention and you won’t stay focused at all. It’s perfectly fine to take a break! The Pomodoro Technique states that you should work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break, after four breaks (or four pomodoros), you should take a longer break. We covered this technique in this post. It’s also healthy to stop working on a task that’s stressing you out and do another one instead, this will let you stay focused on something else and have a clear head when jumping back on the stressful matter.
8 Set Priorities
You’ve probably tried to have a to-do list and failed to follow through. It’s okay to fail and try again, that’s the only way we learn how to succeed! But only if we try again differently.
The first hour of the work day is usually our most productive one, we’re just settling in and are ready and energized to tackle the day. During this hour, you should establish your most difficult and challenging tasks, those are your priorities for the day. Identify your power hours to work on your priorities and leave the tedious tasks for the end of the day or for when you need a break.
Have your list nearby either on an app or a notebook, and make sure you cross them out when they’re done. This will fill you with a sense of satisfaction, empowering your productivity.
Create New Habits
9 Have a “See Later” List
A lot of times, distractions come in the form of interesting articles or videos that you don’t want to miss. Instead of having a bunch of tabs open that will just add to your stress and tempt you into stopping what you’re doing to see them, use a chrome extension (or even a simple note on your computer) to save them for later. You can use tools like Pocket or Evernote to save them, and even add tags based on subject, so you’ll remember to come back to them later.
10 Keep an “Ideas” Register
Sometimes when we least expect it, our brains just find a solution to a problem that’s been bugging us for days, even when we’re not thinking about that problem. Has that ever happened to you? Our brains make connections at the most unlikely moments, like when we’re focusing on something else! As great as it sounds and as much as we may love it when that happens, if we take the time to follow up on every idea at the moment it pops into our heads, we’ll never get anything done.
So, instead of stopping everything to follow up on your ideas, have a registry of all those thoughts you want to come back to later. This way you can stay focused on each task appropriately.
11 Add the Above to your To-Do List
The “see later” and “ideas” lists will only be effective if you actually set aside some time to revisit them. To nurture our creativity and professional growth, agenda-free thinking time is a must. If we’re just getting things done all the time, we miss opportunities to develop our professional selves and lose track of the big picture.
12 Plan Ahead
In order to stay focused while working, you can cut your brain some slack by planning ahead. To be successful at this, you need to have a system that you can trust. If you plan to have weekly reviews of yourself to check what you did and what you missed, don’t skip it. If you write down every idea or task that comes into your head, write them all down. Starting is the difficult part, but you have to be consistent for this system to work, otherwise it will just be left forgotten. Once you get into it, you won’t even notice it’s a routine.
During this day and age, distractions are everywhere, and as humans we easily fall for those distractions. Whether it is a notification on our phone or computer, or just scrolling forever on whatever site, or just because our attention spans are so short. Staying focused is not as easy as we’d want it to be, and concentration is something that can easily be lost. We hope these tips help you to stay focused while working and improve your productivity.
Remember that it’s important to be kind to ourselves. Forgive yourself if your day didn’t go as planned and you had a hard time staying focused. Research suggests that practicing self compassion when you haven’t accomplished as much as you want can actually drive more productivity and positive behaviors on similar tasks in the future.