Have you been struggling to stay focused at work? It happens to everyone and it’s normal – to a certain degree. But if you find this story a bit too familiar, then it may be time to face the problem and improve your concentration powers.
You get to work early, super-energized, with great plans for the day.
You’re going to be super-productive and do so much work.
Then 5 minutes into your first task, the Facebook icon catches your eye. You realize you haven’t checked your news feed since last night.
Not being able to resist temptation, you hop on over to the site. Just look at all those interesting posts and great pics!
You then move on to Twitter, Pinterest, personal e-mails, and your favorite news and blogging sites. Your mind also wanders to friends, family and weekend plans.
The problem is you’ve lost track of time. An hour (sometimes more) has gone by.
How did your mind go off on this tangent? You haven’t yet started your work and there are important deadlines to meet.
You feel frustrated that this cycle repeats several times during the work day. You’re not sure how to stop it.
But is it even possible to improve focus?
Improving focus means devoting your undivided attention to specific tasks for long periods of time, and blocking out all distractions and wandering thoughts.
This requires training your mind and having great discipline over your thoughts and external factors.
The good news is that there is hope for us after all.
Research studies have shown that our minds can continue to grow and strengthen. Scientists have discovered the concept of “neuroplasticity”, which allows existing brain cells to change and new cells to develop.
How do I start?
Strengthening your focus involves a 3-step process:
- Determine the what and the why. What is causing the break in your attention span and why?
- Catch yourself and recognize when this is happening.
- Shift gears and change the direction of your focus.
You are ultimately responsible for your actions. If you’d like to enhance your focus abilities then you have to be willing to change.
It’s impossible to remove all internal and external distractions. So how you deal with these items is all under your control.
To help you get started, below are 10 factors that contribute to your ability to concentrate. As well as tips and strategies to improve and stay productive all day long.
There is a reason that the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” is widely known and accepted. It’s proven to be true.
Multi-tasking is a real focus-killer.
The more you multi-task, the more difficult it is to concentrate on each of the specific tasks. You end up either not completing the items or completing them poorly.
Research studies back this up and have shown that multi-tasking leads to a decrease in efficiency at work. You are also more prone to making mistakes and omitting details that are necessary for the project.
Unfortunately, our minds have become accustomed to our multi-tasking, distracted ways. To make things worse, we even have a false sense of productivity and joy as we juggle 10 things at once.
Kick the habit
A few things that can help you ditch the multi-tasking habit:
- Work on one task at a time. You can phase this in slowly as will take some time to adjust. For example, try practicing this for an hour each day and increase over time until you reach a full work day. This will eventually become the norm.
- Complete each task before moving on to the next one. You will be better off by finishing each task instead of leaving all unfinished. For large projects, try breaking them down into smaller more manageable pieces.
- Concentrate fully on the next task. Don’t allow lingering thoughts of prior work distract you from completing the current task. Block these thoughts or put them on hold to revisit at a later time.
Once you have become a single-tasker, your mind will be less burdened and more productive. You will conserve more mental energy to use throughout the whole work day.
2. Career Satisfaction
Do you find that you’re not interested or motivated at work? And that you don’t envision any progression opportunities for yourself?
The reason for your lack of focus may be simply that you’re not satisfied with your career.
The mind needs to be engaged and challenged to focus. So even if you’re not motivated in your current job, try to find some interesting activities for yourself. These will help train your mind and keep your focus on track.
You will then be able to apply your laser-sharp focus when the time comes for a job that interests you.
Turn a negative situation into a positive one
Here are some steps you can take that will help you get some positive outcomes from a job you don’t enjoy:
If you feel stuck in your current job:
- Try talking to your boss or supervisor to see if you can work on more interesting, challenging projects. Let them know that you want to take on greater responsibility.
- Learn new skills by taking training or professional development courses offered by your company.
- Get involved with professional organizations in your field, attend conferences and networking opportunities.
- Keep busy so that your mind doesn’t have the chance to think about the lack of motivation and interest. As long as you’re learning, the mind will be engaged.
If you’re looking for your dream job:
- Spend some time researching and soul-searching to figure out what you’d like to do. What does your ideal job look like?
- Then work towards attaining your dream job. Learn the necessary skills and leverage the experience of your current job.
- Take courses, attend networking events and learn to market yourself for your new job.
If you feel stuck in your current job and none of the above options are helpful:
- Look for a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in external activities. Volunteer, take classes at night, join sports teams, explore new hobbies, meet new people.
- It will help you to focus during the work day if you have something great to look forward to after work.
3. Stress and Anxiety
The mind focuses best when it is calm and relaxed.
Feeling stressed and anxious impairs your focus and cognitive abilities. The mind struggles to cope with the agitated mental state and regain control.
Research has shown that the mind responds powerfully to negative emotions because these are perceived as threats. The mind also has a natural tendency to wander on its own towards negative thoughts. Problems, conflicts and self-criticism can consume us. So mental energy is drained to cope with these threats.
On the other hand, positive thoughts have a good influence on the brain’s cognitive abilities and increase focus and thinking powers.
Put the breaks on the negativity
It’s important to break the negativity cycle and realize that the worrying does not accomplish anything productive.
You will only feel more frustrated that the work is still not complete. This only gives you more reasons for self-criticism.
From now on, catch yourself at the start of the worry session and shift gears to use that energy for your work instead.
Stay positive and encourage yourself with the work at-hand. Remind yourself of all your past successes and that you can continue to achieve success. You really are talented and can achieve anything you put your mind to!
4. Planning and Goal-Setting
It’s difficult to focus and work effectively without a plan. Creating a to-do list with all your tasks is essential to channeling your focus on the right things.
Prioritize and complete the most important and urgent projects first. Plan your time and schedule to complete these items sooner rather than later. This tactic will boost your productivity for the long-run. And the stress that comes with leaving large projects for the last minute will be gone.
For bigger projects, break them out into smaller more manageable pieces to include in your plan so that you stay on track.
Check things off
It’s important to review your list and cross off completed tasks. This will send positive messages of accomplishment to your brain. You’ll then be ready to tackle the next tasks at full power.
Keep your eyes on your goals
Make sure to remind yourself of your short-term and long-term goals each day.
Ask yourself: How does my plan for today fit in with these goals?
You can also use images to keep your goals at the front of your mind. Put up pictures that help you visualize your goals. For instance, your next vacation spot, family, dream house and car, etc.
You’re training your mind to focus and implement behavioral habits that will help you meet your goals. So use these to your advantage.
Work in time increments
Find out the work and break time structure that works best for you. For example, working straight for 45 minutes and then taking a 10 minute break.
Everyone is different. So find the stretch of time that you can be productive before your mind wanders.
5. Analyze your work environment
It’s important to identify the conditions in your work environment that boost your productivity.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you need absolute quiet or do you work best with some background noise?
- Do you need headphones to block out all noise?
- Does listening to music help you concentrate? If so, what type of music?
- Can you work alone for many hours straight? or do you focus best by interacting with others at various points throughout the day?
- Do the constant interruptions from co-workers break your focus for the whole day? or can you regain focus easily?
- Does it work to be unreachable to your co-workers for certain times of the day?
Peak working times
- What are the times of day that you’re most creative and at your peak for strategic thinking? Do you complete your most important tasks during these times?
- Is it more helpful if you work offline or block the social media sites on your computer?
- Are you easily distracted by social media sites and other online sites?
- Do you hold yourself accountable to complete your work tasks? or does it help to have an accountability partner (such as a co-worker) to help you?
- Is chronic procrastination interfering with your productivity and your goals? If so, it’s time to get a grip and kick this habit for good. Read our article for smart tips to beat procrastination and take action.
- Which aspects at work are most stressful? Is it mainly the stress of the projects and deadlines? or is there also conflict with co-workers, a bad culture, etc.?
- How do you handle the stress of these situations and how much does it interfere with your work?
Maximize your potential
You can’t always control the work circumstances. But being aware of what works best for you can maximize your productivity potential.
Find the system that works best for you and implement it within your work environment to the best extent possible.
6. Feeling overwhelmed? Simplify your life.
Do you feel overwhelmed with all your personal and work responsibilities? If yes, then it’s worth examining whether there are any items that can be scaled back.
Prioritize the things that matter most and let go of some of the things that aren’t important. Especially if you have things in your life that aren’t adding value or that can be put on hold for a later time.
By simplifying some of the aspects in your life, you’ll be back in-control and feeling recharged.
Along with the positive mood booster, you will also declutter your mind. Your focus will also improve since the things that take up your concentration time will be more manageable.
7. Schedule time to reflect
Your brain needs time to think about the tasks at hand and plan for the next ones. Charging ahead without thinking is a recipe for disaster.
Take some time to review and assess how you’ve completed your tasks thus far. It will help you move forward more strategically and in the right direction.
It will also give you insights into approaches you may never have thought of. As well as what works best for you in general.
Empty your mind
Do you feel that your mind is a whirlpool of unrelated thoughts and ideas? Start writing down all your thoughts, problems, and stress triggers. Empty your mind of the chaos.
Once these items are on paper, they appear as manageable and that can be conquered. This will also help you to figure out where to start and what to do next.
Set aside specific times to daydream
Your mind also needs breaks to daydream. Set up times of the day where you allow your mind to roam freely. This could be once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Pick the times that work best with your schedule and commitments.
This is important or else you end up feeling deprived and use up valuable work time for mind wandering.
It’s also a great way to avoid procrastinating. When your mind starts to wander, remind yourself that daydreaming is only allowed at the specified times.
Studies have shown that meditation can improve the brain’s cognitive functions. Meditation itself involves mastering the art of concentration and being mentally present.
You learn to become aware of your thoughts and block out all distractions. It’s not difficult to see how the benefits of meditation can then be applied at work.
To find out more about meditation, check out our article on mental exercises to boost your focus.
Our minds need oxygen to concentrate and think properly. One of the best ways to get oxygen to our brains is to exercise.
So if you’re feeling hazy at work and need a break, get up and go for a walk. The moving activity will improve blood flow to the brain and help you feel awake and rejuvenated.
Make sure to exercise regularly and stay physically fit. This will help your mind stay fit and improve your attention span and ability to focus.
It also helps you relieve stress and anxiety and get you in a positive mood. Exercise has also been linked to getting better sleep at night.
You likely don’t need a reminder on this one, but the ability to focus depends on getting enough rest.
When you’re sleep-deprived, it can make you feel scatter-brained. And tasks take much longer to complete than needed.
Some steps you can take to optimize your sleep:
- Get a good amount of rest each day: 7 to 8 hours is recommended for optimal mental performance.
- Keep a regular sleep-cycle. Go to bed and wake up at roughly the same times every day (including weekends). This will help keep your mind on a regular focus cycle as well.
- Don’t over-sleep. This could have the same effect on your ability to focus as not getting enough rest.
10. Check with your Doctor
If it’s impossible to concentrate and none of the tips in this article can help you, then it may be best to check with your doctor.
There are many medical conditions that could be causing your lack of focus. Iron deficiency anemia, other vitamin deficiencies, problems with the thyroid gland, and many others.
You may also have adult ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and it may be worthwhile to be assessed by a specialist.
The ability to focus is critical for achieving success. You could realize your goals and be super-efficient if your mind just didn’t wander off so often.
All good habits develop over time with a lot of conscious effort, practice and dedication. The same holds true for increasing your focus.
The benefits of improved focus will apply not just at work but extend to all areas of your life including personal relationships, work-life balance and other cognitive abilities such as learning, memory and comprehension.
There are no limits to the benefits of a super-sharp mind.
What do you think?
How do you keep your focus sharp and on-track? Please share any comments below.