Can’t focus at work?
You know exactly what you need to do. Your to-do list is ready, you’re prepared to work.
You’re full of energy.
You’re just about to start.
But something is missing. Your focus is gone, your brain drifts off.
Have you ever been there?
Being unable to concentrate sounds like daily bread to some of us and a never-heard-of to others.
When you’re unable to concentrate your thinking process isn’t clear. You can’t focus on a task and maintain attention.
So let’s break it down.
Bad Concentration At Work Can Become a Major Issue
Lack of focus can lead to making big mistakes. It affects your decision-making.
Most of us can only stay focused on any task for just 8 seconds.
These distractions take up time you didn’t account for.
Not to mention the time it takes you to get back to being productive. Only recovering from distractions takes away another part of your precious time.
Concentration is fundamental. If you’re unable to concentrate, doing any task will result in getting little or nothing done.
The lack of concentration impacts your anxiety. Stress levels increase because you’re putting more pressure on yourself.
You now have less time to work on that difficult task.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Why You Can’t Focus at Work: The 3 Main Causes
Being able to focus at work is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
It can be as simple as getting better sleep. Sometimes the reason lies deeper and solving it becomes a more complex issue.
Other times it’s about keeping yourself interested in what you’re doing.
There are three major groups of reasons why we can’t focus at work.
1. Chronic Conditions/Medical Disorders
Medical conditions affect you because they involve disturbances from your organism.
They are hard to change and sometimes require medical treatment: insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, epilepsy, major depressive disorder, restless leg syndrome, diabetes, etc.
2. Lifestyle Changes
When you change some crucial aspects of your life it can lead to issues with concentration.
These changes include: moving to another house, birth of a child, change of work, being tired, hunger.
Causes that weren’t mentioned above, for example, a side effect of some medications.
Do Everyday Distractions Throw You Off Course? Here’s What to Do
There are two groups of actions to take when you can’t focus at work. They will help improve your concentration.
The first of them is organic — it depends on the condition of our body. The second one is behavioral — here, our performance depends on our actions and intentions.
Optimizing Your Body for Focus: 3 Factors to Consider
You already know this.
You need to take care of your body and mind first and foremost.
How we think and what we are able to do, at the fundamental level, depends on the condition of our organism.
No wonder that we pump ourselves up with caffeine and sugar – they give us energy even if only short-term.
There are a few factors that have a strong impact on our ability to focus.
1. Eating For Productivity
First things first, it means eating several meals each day and having a balanced diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
But not only. Think about reducing caffeine consumption or choose to drink it strategically.
Caffeine can make you a lot more productive, but only if you drink it right.
To get as much energy out of caffeine as possible:
- Don’t drink too much
- Drink lots of water
- Drink it over a longer period of time (and wait a bit before your second cup)
- Stay away from sugary energy drinks
- Don’t drink caffeine on an empty stomach (or first thing in the morning)
- Eat very well
This part of the self-care routine is not as easy as just getting more sleep. Among the cues for a good sleep there are ‘Energize Tactics: Sleep in a Cave‘: make your bedroom a “bed room”, fake the sunset, sneak a nap, don’t jet-lag yourself, and so on.
3. Take Steps to Reduce Stress
They can be as well-known as meditating, writing in a journal, or reading a book. If you like sports, take time to swim or run in the park. Anything that reduces your stress levels.
Change Your Mindset for Focus: 11 Ways to Get Your Focus Back
So we took care of our bodies, but we’re not done.
What’s left? Mr. Brain.
If you want to regain your focus here are a few steps to follow.
1. Practice Saying ‘No’
Steve Jobs once said:
“Focusing is about saying no”
Cut everything that isn’t important.
Practice saying “no”. Read this collection of great tips about the ways to do it in The Power of a Graceful “No”.
Say “no” to:
- The clutter that affects your brain’s ability to focus and process information
- Buying things you don’t need (energy-draining invitations, life-sucking relationships)
- Compulsively checking social media, surfing the web, and texting
If your electronic devices are running your life, take back control.
When you want to focus, create a phone-free zone by putting your phone out of sight and muting it.
Having your smartphone nearby compromises your capacity of focus, problem-solving, and creative thinking. Even in silent mode.
Turn off notifications, uninstall addictive apps, and enable grayscale mode
2. Break Your Day Into 30-minute Slots
It will help you maintain your focus for longer.
How does it work?
If you have a big task ahead of you, it can be overwhelming.
If you focus on the one small, 30-minutes-long thing to do, you don’t fall into the trap of fear.
Promise to yourself that no matter what, you’re going to only work on this task and nothing else during this time.
This will help you crack the whole day, by doing a lot of work piece by piece.
Even a small amount of exercise can benefit you.
We often postpone it thinking that we don’t have time for it and it’s better to focus on the important tasks.
But this is an important task.
It can help you get rid of any restlessness or give you that boost of energy.
Try anything that will get your heart rate up. It will get you alert and ready to start working.
4. Collaborate With Someone
You’re more likely to work longer and harder. You won’t lose your focus so often if you work in a group.
You’re not alone on this task.
It makes it feel less overwhelming.
If any step seems too hard, you can always delegate it to your coworker and focus on something else.
When you get stuck or are not sure what to do next, collaboration keeps you progressing as you work on the problem together.
5. Use Timers
It’s an effortless way to manage your time.
Once you’ve decided on the task you want to work on, set a timer for how long you want to work on it.
If it’s long, break the time slots into smaller periods.
Keep track of your work, keep your timer around.
It’s your friend, it will help you save time and own it.
Click start on the timer when you’re ready to go and don’t stop until that timer ends.
Search for a timer in Google, and it will appear in your browser.
6. Ask yourself: What Will Happen if I Don’t Do It?
Think about the negative impact.
Reality checks are a great way to force yourself to stay focused.
Think about the point you’re at and the point you’re heading to.
Position yourself in the situation in your mind.
Consider the negative consequences of not doing what you have to do. Face them and develop a mindset where you approach the task.
Instead of thinking about negative results, you can focus on the positive outcome.
They both have one thing in common: they are future-oriented mental operations.
7. Reward Yourself
You know you won’t only finish the task, but you’ll also get your reward, whether it is:
- A slice of cake
- 20-minutes on Instagram
- Buying yourself that new gadget you always wanted
An incentive to stay motivated and focused gives you a positive mindset when trying to stay focused.
Write these rewards down.
Put them somewhere visible to remind you to stay focused.
By rewarding yourself, you will become automatically positive in your approach to work.
8. Set a Deadline
By making this small promise to yourself, you’ve created a target in your head.
Now you must meet this target if you don’t want to disappoint yourself.
When you have moments of distraction, that deadline will pop into your head and help you stay focused.
9. Take a Walk During a Busy Time
Although it may seem counterproductive (and you don’t have time for it), giving your mind a rest will improve your productivity.
It’s similar to the exercise advice but it’s really not about stretching your body in a physical sense.
It’s a matter of having a break, having the sun shining on your skull and a breath of fresh air.
A bit of a reset does well to help you work better.
Also, some exposure to daylight enhances your attention.
Unless you’re a workaholic vampire, and it kills you.
10. “Eat That Frog” Technique
The method known as “Eat that frog” describes an approach where you do the hardest task first.
As a consequence, everything after is going to get easier.
By regularly tackling the hardest task first, it can become addictive.
Your productivity and confidence will go through the roof.
11. Break Tasks Down
…so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.
You know what happens when a task feels overwhelming.
You look for anything to do other than that.
It’s always better to start something, even if it’s just small progress, than to put it off.
Begin by breaking the task down into more straightforward, more manageable tasks.
The momentum you gain, helps you keep your focus as your anxiety decreases due to the progress you’re making.
The Bigger Goal — Reclaim Your Focus on a Habitual Basis
Your daily distraction can reach your more profound habits. If this is the case, reclaiming your focus requires more complex moves.
These five tips concerning focus management will help you to set your daily habits:
- Prioritize. Schedule the so-called ‘action items’ in your calendar in order of their priority. Establish as long a time for them as you estimate the task will take. Color them, make it fun.
- Follow your calendar. Try to at least work on, if not complete, one or two of your action items each day.
- Starting with a blank sheet of paper daily is a great way to capture everyday obligations.
- Look over your list and reorder your action items so they’re in order of priority. This critical step ensures that even if you only get one or two things done you’ll be making a big impact.
- Review yesterday’s actions and move the incomplete ones forward onto the new day.
Remember, your focus won’t get better overnight. Have some patience.
Lack of Concentration: How It Affects You
It’s tough to hold your concentration, especially in today’s work environments.
Among the small things that have the potential to distract you are for example:
- Email notifications
- Friday evening work meetings
- Colleagues’ never-ending symphony of pen-clicking
The traditional, old-school concentration becomes your biggest dream.
There are many signs that your concentration and levels of focus are low:
- Sitting still is hard, you are tired but can’t seem to stay calm
- Short-term memory — you can’t remember things that happened recently, you struggle to recall events
- Relaxing is impossible, you’re constantly stressed
- Losing things — you have difficulty remembering where they are
- Complex tasks become too hard
- Unfinished tasks are waiting
- Stress — leads to a lack of physical or mental energy to concentrate
- Decision Making — difficulty with thinking and making decisions, not only clear thinking is harder, you struggle to make decisions and make careless mistakes
The Real Face of Multitasking
Multitasking sounds like achieving far more in less time. But is it really?
Doing more at the same time is a utopian theory, which doesn’t exist in practice. Multitasking is a cute buzzword.
What you do is switching back and forth between tasks. You are having the illusion that you’re doing several things at once.
You can do a few things at once and be efficient, but it works only with easy tasks.
Talking on the phone with your friend and washing dishes is fine (you can even try chewing gum if that’s the case).
At work, where it’s worth to have a fully-efficient cognition, this method fails.
You might think you’re doing everything at once. In reality, your brain jumps around really, really fast.
Multitasking often results in starting lots of tasks but finishing none.
To increase the quality of your work, dedicate time to one thing, and do that one thing well before you move on.
You’ll find it easier to maintain your focus since you’ve given yourself the time to focus on that one thing only.
Find that one thing to do, focus on it, and get it done.
Julia Layton describes:
“If you’re stressed by trying to get everything done by the deadline, it gets even worse. Your focus and performance go down even more. Your adrenal glands release adrenaline. They receive a signal from your amygdala by way of the hypothalamus. It can trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response. And that isn’t the best environment for intense focus at all”.
It’s best to go with your brain’s natural state.
Your brain and your well-done job (and your boss) will thank you for it.