Regardless, of the work you do, staying focused at work is essential. The more distracted you allow yourself to become, the less you will get done. But you already know that. That is why you are reading this post, right?
Over the years, I have had to work hard at developing better focus so I could produce what my customers needed and earn a decent living.
Below, are my top tips for avoiding distractions so that you can achieve more in less time. Although I work in the Digital marketing field, these tips can be used by anyone from any background.
So here are my top 5 tips on how to stay focused at work:
- 1. Block out Distractions to do Emotionally Difficult Work
- 2. Use the Pomodoro Technique to Stay Focused on One task
- 3. Keep Your Brain Healthy and Focused with Meditation
- 4. Get in the Zone with Productivity music
- 5. Plan your week ahead of time to achieve your Short term and Long term Goals
- Bonus tips
1. Block out Distractions to do Emotionally Difficult Work
Steven Pressfield, author of the bestselling book – War of Art says – “You feel the most resistance to the work you need to do the most”.
The thing that has been on your to-do list the longest is usually either very difficult for you to do or extremely boring.
If it’s too boring, for example, tagging all of the products in your e-commerce store and assigning them to the right categories just outsource or delegate that task.
For difficult and important tasks, like writing that fiction book you have been wanting to write or making call calls to get customers to your new business, you gotta do it yourself. But we often, avoid these tasks because they are emotionally difficult to do.
The Monkey Mind & its love for Dopamine
Understanding why you act the way you do is a big part of getting to the root of a problem and solving it once and for all. Getting inside your mind is the first step to breaking bad habits and negative cycles.
The problem with such emotionally difficult work is that you do not get that instant dopamine hit like you do when completing unimportant, but easy tasks like getting your inbox down to zero. When you start work, your monkey mind expects and craves the dopamine hit it normally gets within 5 minutes of your completing super easy tasks.
This has the effect of making it really hard to stay focused at work. Your brain is constantly telling you “this is not rewarding, go get me my quick and easy dopamine fix”. Pretty quickly most people give in open YouTube or Instagram or some other social media site and start scrolling endlessly.
In no time at all, you have wasted most of your morning watching silly videos instead of handling important tasks. Now, what you were supposed to complete in 1 hour takes you 4 hours. Or, worse never gets done.
That is why you should do your emotionally challenging tasks first thing in the morning. The first part of your day is when your willpower is at its fullest. It is also when most people’s minds are at their freshest and their energy levels at their highest. Both of which greatly improve your chances of completing a tricky task successfully.
You should also be blocking out all the distractions that the internet throws at you. Making this simple change has made a massive difference for me.
To do this I use Stayfocusd. It lets you block all the websites that you deem distracting using a simple chrome extension.
If you wanna block apps on your phone so that you can’t cheat, try Appblock. It enables you to block specific apps during work hours…. I am sure you will not ruin things by borrowing your coworker’s laptops to binge-watch Game of Thrones. I promise these two tools will do the trick!
2. Use the Pomodoro Technique to Stay Focused on One task
You need to be realistic about how much work you can get done. Even after years of training, staying focused for very long periods of time is something few humans can manage. That is why I recommend trying the Pomodoro technique. Again, I use it and have found it to be super effective.
The Pomodoro technique is a well-known productivity technique developed by Francesco Cirillo, a developer, entrepreneur, and author. When you use this technique, you work for 25 minutes with a complete focus on a single task. When 25 minutes is up you can take a 3-5 minute break and then you start another Pomodoro (25-minute work cycle). Taking that very short break is like deep breathing to de-stress.
When using the Pomodoro technique, the most important thing is not to switch tasks between those 25 minutes unless you complete one task. You might want to discuss your client’s traffic numbers with Jon from marketing, craft a proposal for a potential client, and prepare that PPT. In all likelihood, each task is equally as important, so the temptation to skip between them is high.
But, there is a real cost to switching between those tasks, every time you do so you lose focus. It is all too easy to lose the thread of what you are doing. This is not only a waste of your time it also burns through your mental resources. Your mind, like your other organs and muscles, has only finite resources to work with. So, you must not waste them.
Stick to one task for 25 minutes. If it gets completed within those 25 minutes then move on to the next item on your to-do list, and if it does not get completed then resume the same task in the next Pomodoro.
The biggest distractions in my opinion are slack and email notifications. Be sure not to entertain those with a reply during your 25 minute work periods. You can reply to them in your next Pomodoro, and then move on to the next task.
Use a chrome extension like this to help you.
3. Keep Your Brain Healthy and Focused with Meditation
So I am gonna share something personal here. For the last 9 months, I have been suffering from anxiety.
Thanks to this anxiety, I have not been able to give 100% to my work as those negative thoughts keep popping up in my mind.
Meditation has not cured my anxiety but it is helping me cope with it until I work on the root cause of the anxiety.
If you are anxious about anything like me, you have to give meditation a try. Even if you are not anxious, meditation is just gonna make your mind work better. Meditation is like working out for the mind. With hundreds of studies being done on meditation, each unveiling a new benefit of the practice, you can be sure meditation is a great investment of your time.
Since I have experimented with meditation quite a bit and read about it extensively, I will suggest the following meditation techniques for the following problems.
Feeling lazy – Mantra meditation
Self-worth problems – Loving Kindness Meditation
Not able to concentrate – Trataka
Problems sleeping – Yoga Nidra
Feeling Sad – Bliss meditation
I found this article to be a pretty comprehensive overview of these different techniques. Here is a mini-course for anxiety from the same guy. Currently, it is available at a much discounted rate. Watch the 5-minute intro video till the end to get it for just $9 (80% off).
4. Get in the Zone with Productivity music
Most of us prefer to listen to music while we work. But, it needs to be the right type of music. The problem with Rap, hip hop, or whatever you listen to is that it’s got lyrics. As a result, your brain tries to follow along and understand those lyrics. Doing this quickly burns up your precious brainpower.
Instead, I suggest that you listen to productivity music. It has been specifically written to get you in the zone. I don’t use it every day but on the days when I am feeling particularly distracted, I listen to the productivity tracks by [email protected]. Their stuff is really effective because scientists and musicians have worked together to produce, test, and tweak their productivity music.
They have dozens of productivity tracks available that encompass various music genres. You get a 2-week free trial so there really is no reason not to take it for a spin. You can also read my in-depth review of focus at will here.
There are also many youtube channels out there claiming to be streaming productivity music. You can try one of those if you are not in the mood to shell out money. I however cannot comment if their music is productivity-inducing or not.
5. Plan your week ahead of time to achieve your Short term and Long term Goals
Benjamin Franklins famously said “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” and he was totally right. If you don’t plan and prioritize things, you gonna act reactively instead of proactively your whole life.
Ideally, you should have a 25-year plan, a yearly plan, a quarterly plan, and a weekly plan. They should all dovetail together to produce the steps you need to take each week, month, year, and 5 years to achieve your ultimate 25-year goal.
If you can’t be bothered with thinking that far into the future, at the very least, you should have a weekly plan.
Each Saturday, I review what I have accomplished in the previous 5 days and plan what I need to do for the week to come.
You need to choose a maximum of 3 things that you want to accomplish during the following week. Those 3 things can have smaller sub-tasks. But, don’t include more than 3 things in your weekly plan. You need to leave yourself enough time to be spontaneous and respond to other important things that may arise as the week progresses. So, just choose the 3 most important things on your list.
Taylor Pearson has an excellent post about planning on his site. It will help you get started with planning and goal setting.
I was so impressed with his post and other content that I ended up buying his very reasonably priced course called “The Effective Entrepreneur”. A course which I think day job employees will also find useful.
6. Keep your headphones on to avoid real-world Distractions
If your office’s dress policy does not allow you to wear a hoodie, the next best thing you can do is to wear headphones. My advice would be to do so even when you are not listening to anything.
I don’t know about you, but, when I am wearing a hoodie, I feel far more focused. It is as if I am separated from the entire world and it’s just me and my laptop. I feel very similar when I am wearing headphones.
The benefits are twofold.
- It blocks out a lot of the office chatter, which makes it easier for you to get into the zone.
- It discourages coworkers from dropping by whenever they want and disturbing you with general chit-chat.
7. Disable your Smartphone app Notifications to avoid getting out of your “Zone”
Our smartphones are like popcorn. Once you start eating the stuff, it is all but impossible to stop. The moment you see it, your hand is in and out of that bowl constantly.
Those notification pings are very like that enticing popcorn. Both of them are very hard to resist.
You tell yourself that you will just reply to this WhatsApp message (or some other social media platform) real quick and then put down the phone but you know yourself that is not what happens.
You end up checking your crush’s latest photo on Insta, a funny sports blooper video on YouTube, and a couple of emails on Gmail. Pretty soon you have burned through 20 minutes and lost the thread of the task you were working on.
When you get back to it you have to spend 2 or 3 mins re-establishing where you are with it and what you need to do next.
Disabling all the notification sounds on my phone to be very effective at reducing distractions throughout the day. I know that no message or notification is that important that it requires my immediate attention. If it was, the other person would have rung me.
I still remember that when I was writing a post about SEO lead generation, I kept getting messages from a colleague and it made a 3-hour task take 6 hours. This is when I realized I need to block my smartphone notifications.
8. Keep track of your time
Work-Life balance is always important, being “too much” focused on your work makes you sometimes forget to take a break once in a while is not very good for your health and often affects the quality of your work. Use a time card calculator to keep track of your time, and again don’t forget to take breaks!
So there you have it. These things really help me stay focused & I hope they help you too. I know you might have heard some of these tips before, but that is because they work!
I would love to hear some of your tips and tactics that help you stay focused in the comment below! And here are some additional tips on how to focus better.