• Anita Chastain, MBA

Feeling distracted? 10 Ways to Get Focused at Work

Updated: 3 days ago

"Ignore the noise. Focus on your work." - Unknown


Some days it's hard to get focused at work. Today was a good example:


I wasted the first 10 minutes of my workday this morning. Basically, I wasted it on, well, doing nothing.


Here's what I did:


I watched the construction across the street. I watched a garbage truck lift and empty my neighbor's trash can. I checked the stats on my latest social media post. I ate a donut.


Here's what I needed to do:


Create the Unit 1 curriculum for a management skills class I'll be teaching at a local manufacturing plant.


Instead of focusing on the work I needed to do, I spent wasted my time doing random things that had nothing to do with my work.


My wandering attention and lack of focus are perfect examples of what distraction looks like: Thoughts that are everywhere, except where they need to be.


Fortunately, even during your most distracted moments, there are things you can do to reign in your thoughts and focus on the job at hand.


I've created a list of 10 easy strategies I use to increase my productivity at work when I'm having a hard time getting focused.


Today, I'm going to share that list with you. And I'm going to give you tips to put each strategy into practice.


10 Ways to Stay Focused and Motivated at Work


Our ability to concentrate is a function of what's going on inside us (our internal environment, i.e., how we feel and what we're thinking about) and what's going on around us (our external environment, i.e., what we can see and hear around us).


To get on task and stay on task, we need to manage both our internal and external environments.


We can manage both by eliminating or minimizing the distractions that interrupt our concentration or keep us from getting focused in the first place. When you overcome these distractions, you'll find it much easier to concentrate on important tasks.


Here are 10 things I do to help me get and stay focused at work, so I can get more done:


1. Clear the clutter from your desktop before you get started.


A clutter-free space calms the mind. A calm mind makes it easier to concentrate on whatever you need to focus on. When you're focused you get more done.


Likewise, if there's clutter at your feet (laptop cases, umbrellas, shoes, gym bags, or whatever), move it out of your sightline. It's better if you can clear the clutter permanently, but if you can't, at least get it out of your workspace.

A clutter-free space calms the mind. A calm mind makes it easier to focus on whatever you need to focus on. When you're focused you get more done.

What to do next: Before you get started today, spend a few minutes removing the clutter from your workspace.


2. Turn off all electronic notifications.


Emails, messages, your phone, your watch. Whatever it is, silence anything that pings, rings, or vibrates. The sole reason for all that pinging, ringing, and vibrating is to grab your attention.

Even tiny noises create powerful cues, so turn your notifications off.

Even tiny noises create powerful attention-grabbing cues, so turn your notifications off.


What to do next: Block out distracting electronic noises by silencing your devices. And yes, you need to silence all of them. Then, move your phone across the room or put it in a desk drawer to reduce the temptation to check for notifications.


3. Create a to-do list on paper, NOT in your email program.


Use your email as a communication tool, not a task management tool.


By their very nature, email programs are designed to get your attention. This makes them excellent tools for sending and receiving messages, but a terrible distraction when you're working on anything else.


Every time you check your email, you interrupt your workflow and slow your productivity. This is why it's not a good idea to manage your to-do list inside your email program.


What to do instead: Write your list on paper or an electronic sticky note, or anywhere that's easy for you to access and manage without other distractions.


4. Break big tasks into smaller ones.


Most people dread big tasks because they're big. And our brains find big tasks overwhelming. Even if the tasks aren't hard to complete, they're still big, so we avoid doing them.


If you're avoiding a task because it seems overwhelming, the best way to deal with the situation is to make the task more manageable. You can do that by breaking the task into smaller pieces.


It feels less overwhelming to complete several 20 or 30-minute tasks than to spend the next few hours working on one huge task.


Think of it like this:


Which seems easier? Sprinting through three 20-minute fun runs or running non-stop for one solid hour? I'll take the three fun runs because they seem easier, even though the total running time is the same.


What to do next: Make a list of what you need to do today. Split anything that will take more than 20 minutes into smaller tasks.


5. Gather everything you need to get the work done before you get started.


Electricians carry screwdrivers with them to every job. Why? Because they don't want to drive all the way back to the shop to get their screwdrivers when they know they'll need them to complete the job.


Stopping the job to drive back to the shop is frustrating and inefficient. The drive wastes time, wastes gas, and puts unnecessary miles on the truck.


To avoid all that, electricians carry screwdrivers with them.

Think like an electrician. Make sure you have the resources you need to do the job before you get started.

Think like an electrician. Make sure you have the resources you need to do the job before you get started.


What to do next: Take a minute to think about what resources you'll need to complete the work before you get started. Gather those resources before you get started.


6. Complete the worst, most dreaded task first.


It's a simple fact of (work) life that we don't like everything we have to do. Unfortunately, disliking a task doesn't get us out of the responsibility of doing it.

When you can't make a task more pleasant, the next best thing is to make it go away. You can do that by getting it done. The sooner the better.

When you can't make a task more pleasant, the next best thing is to make it go away. You can do that by getting it done. The sooner the better.


This is the work equivalent of eating your vegetables before you eat dessert. Get the worst over with and everything else is better by comparison.


What to do next: Prioritize your to-do list. Put the worst, most dreaded task at the top. Then, just do it so the worst thing on your list is already done.


7. Commit to working 20 minutes on your most pressing task without a break.


Do what you have to do before you do what you want to do. Completing the most important work first gives you a mental win.


Everyone likes to win at least some of the time. Even when the wins are small, they're still wins.


What to do next: Choose a task and start working. Work without stopping until the task is done. Once it's done, take a quick break. Enjoy the accomplishment, then start on the next task.


8. Single task your way through your work.


Sometimes it's tempting to stop what you're working on to do something else because something else popped into your head or someone dropped a new task onto your lap (or your screen).


Don't be lured by the temptation to multitask. Why? Because we don't multitask as well as we think we do.


Multitasking breaks our concentration and workflow. Switching focus from task-to-task is exhausting and inefficient.

Emergencies, urgent situations, and realigned priorities handed down from above are reasons to switch tasks. For everything else, work on that one task until it's done.

Unless the other task is an emergency or deserves higher priority, continue working on your current task.


Emergencies, urgent situations, and realigned priorities handed down from above are reasons to switch tasks. For everything else, work on that one task until it's done.


What to do next: Keep working on your current task until it's done, unless there is a compelling reason to stop.


9. Keep a "clean" screen by closing windows you don't need.


Open windows offer opportunities for distraction. Don't leave anything open on your screen that you're not using now. Close browser tabs, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations you're not currently working on.

If there's anything I missed that you aren't using to complete a task, close it too.

If there's anything I missed that you aren't using to complete a task, close it too.


What to do next: Check your screen and close anything you don't need to get your work done.


10. Stay off social media.


So you've been off your phone for a while and you're ready for a screen distraction. Now seems like the perfect time for a quick break to check Twitter or Instagram or whatever. Don't do it.

Social media is distracting by design. Once you're in, it's hard to get out.

Social media is distracting by design. Once you're in, it's hard to get out. Set aside social media time for later, when you really do have free time to spare.


Avoid social media until the task is done. Don't promise yourself that you'll just take a quick look. Social media isn't designed for quick looks, it's designed for endless scrolling.


It's better not to start something that's designed to be hard to stop.


What to do next: Close all social media accounts open on your computer and phone screen. Move your phone out of reach if you didn't do it earlier.


3 Bonus Tips for Avoiding Distractions During Your Workday


Here are three final tips that you can get and stay focused at work:


1. Set aside time periodically during the day to check your email.


For example, you might check your email first thing in the morning, late morning, right after lunch, and middle of that afternoon.


2. Stay off of distracting websites.


It's not just social media that's distracting. It's easy to lose track of time and focus when you're reading the news online, shopping online, and reading company intranet resources.


3. Listen to music to manage your mood.


Besides making the workday more enjoyable, music helps you manage your mood. Choose music to fit your mood and your goal. I listen to smooth jazz when I need focus and 70s classic rock when I need creative inspiration (weird, I know).


Summary


Here's the bottom line:


We all have times where we feel distracted. We struggle with staying on task. When that happens, these 10 tips will help you block out distractions and increase your productivity, so you can walk away from your workday feeling a sense of accomplishment.


What hacks do you use to get more done? Email me at anita (@) simplelife365.com.

NEXT: You might enjoy reading:

10 Easy (and Overlooked) Excel Tips

7 Easy Ways to Make a Bad Job Better

17 Ways to Motivate Yourself When You'd Rather Do Nothing

9 Ways to Avoid a Complete Meltdown When You're Stressed Out at Work

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