Whether you’re in the office, onsite at a supplier’s, or working from home, there are days when it can be difficult to stay focused at work. Whether it’s kids or coworkers, pets or an innocent neighbour knocking on the door, chances are, you have days where you feel like you haven’t achieved much at all.
This isn’t just demotivating. It can be bad for business due to the way it reduces your productivity and affects the service you give your clients. It’s also bad for your health as you inevitably end up working longer hours than necessary.
There are many reasons for putting things off such as finding the task boring, a tendency to procrastinate, a lack of knowledge or fear of doing something that challenges you. However, assuming the work you need to do isn’t moving you out of your comfort zone and that you have the resources you need to complete the task, the problem often comes down to a lack of focus. And that’s what this blog is here to help you with.
What is the difference between focus and concentration?
It’s common to hear people using the words focus and concentration interchangeably. After all, they are very similar ideas. However, there’s a subtle difference.
- Focus is about choosing where you put your attention. It’s tied up with willpower and discipline.
Concentration is about how you direct your attention and energy to a particular task.
Understanding this helps us recognise why we might have problems with focusing at work. It’s very easy to concentrate on things that don’t serve our objectives. Social media is a prime example. That’s why it’s important to focus as it allows you to direct your attention towards what matters, for example, the tactics and activities that will allow you to achieve your goals.
Staying focused at work – the ground rules
There are some basics to focused work. You need to be physically well – if you’re tired or under the weather you may find it hard to concentrate. It’s similar with your mental state. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, upset, or tired, you will be unable to focus.
A healthy body is a healthy mind – so look after yourself! Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, eat healthily, exercise regularly and get away from your desk – I highly recommend a daily 30-minute walk. It’s also important to do things that relax your mind, whether it be reading, meditation, yoga, or hobbies. Never underestimate the power of talking through your worries with those you trust.
With this in place, you’ll be in a position to start focusing. Here are three of the ways I encourage my clients to become more focused.
Three ways to stay focused at work
Stay focused at work step 1: remove distractions
Even as you’re reading this, I imagine you’re also fielding messages on your phone, emails and numerous notifications. There might be traffic tearing by outside and you may even be able to hear other people talking about something you’re interested in.
Yet staying focused at work means you need to become a pro at blocking out the distractions that divert your attention. There are a host of ways you can do this, and here are some ideas to get you started:
- Put your phone on silent and mute all notifications on your computer.
- Tell others that you’re going to be working for a set period and you can’t be disturbed. Use a sign on your desk or office door if needed.
- If you have flexible working, consider working at a time when everyone else is busy or not in – early in the morning for example.
- Use headphones to listen to music that helps you get in the mood. Can’t work to music? I once worked with someone who listened to coffee shop noise to help him concentrate.
- Clear your desk so you can focus on the work at hand.
- Work in a different location so you can’t get distracted by your other projects.
- Make sure you have everything you need before you start including a drink, printouts and the stationery you need.
Do this and you’re giving yourself the best chance to focus, ready to start working.
Stay focused at work step 2: stop multitasking
Multitasking is the worst enemy of focus. One study found that it slows productivity by as much as 40%!
You’ve hopefully already removed external distractions which means you’re on your way to becoming more focused and improving your time management skills . Think of this step as removing internal distractions – taking control of your tendency to juggle several things at once.
Here are a few ideas for ways to help:
- Treat your focus time like a meeting. Avoid distractions such as answering the phone and the temptation to work through emails as they come in.
- Cluster small tasks, such as responding to emails, engaging on social media and paying invoices, into an ‘admin hour’. This clears the clutter, giving you the headspace to focus more effectively.
- Try using the Pomodoro Technique to focus your attention. This involves removing all distractions and working for 25-minute stretches, broken up with 5-minute breaks.
Stay focused at work step 3: take control
Many people struggle to focus at work because they find it difficult to set boundaries. Those who work from home might find people are always popping around for a chat. If you’re in an office, you’ll probably have meetings that always overrun. In these situations, there’s just one thing for it – establishing firmer boundaries. Here are some examples for you to consider:
- If someone comes to the door to chat, you can either ignore them or tell them you’re busy and will give them a shout when you’re no longer working.
- Set up an autoresponder to tell those who email you when you’ll respond to their email.
- Begin meetings by stating when you need to leave. If the meeting goes over this time, politely take your leave.
These are three small changes you can make to your working life, and I guarantee that they WILL help you improve your focus at work and allow you to accomplish more in your working day.
Where do you rank in terms of time management, focus and productivity? Take my quiz and as well as learning more about your time management profile, you’ll also get tips to help you make the most of your time.
Take the quiz.