Having trouble trying to stay focused at work? Here are 14 secrets to help you keep your mind on the task at hand so that you can achieve more in your workday!
I don’t know about you, but when I have a lot going on, I have a tough time trying to stay focused at work. Whether Jordan’s out of town, one of the kiddos is sick, or I’m just having personal “stuff” happening, there are days when work is far from my mind, even though I’m at the office.
Then there’s telecommuting. On days when I’ve worked remotely, knowing how to stay focused at work is even more of a challenge. Home is distracting, right?! Even if the kids are in daycare, or I’ve hired a babysitter, there’s so much to do at home. Suddenly, cleaning the bathroom or throwing in a load of laundry sounds way more fun than maintaining my focus on work.
But for most of us, it’s critical to stay focused, especially when we need to pay bills! We need to do an excellent job at work, and focus is part of that. Plus, the more you focus at work, the sooner you can get done and move on to those other life items on your to-do list.
Here are 14 tips to stay focused and block out distractions while you work!
1. Stay Focused at Work with Time Blocking
Time blocking is a simple enough strategy, but it works really well. I’m a fan of Google calendar, but I also use a paper planner, especially for personal stuff. I find that my hybrid system helps me keep track of everything I need to get done.
Google Calendar works great when it comes to time blocking—simply block out chunks of time (think 30 minutes to two hours) to buckle down and focus on ONE project. You can schedule 15-minute blocks here and there to give yourself time to catch up, take a breather, or get a snack. When you’re in a block, stay focused on the task at hand.
2. Set a Timer to Stay on Task
I naturally respond to timers. Do you ever try to set the table before the microwave goes off? Just me? Setting a timer can really boost focus and help you feel a challenge to “stay on task” during the designated period.
A system called Pomodoro—named after a tomato-shaped timer—divides your time into 20-minute blocks. Focus for 20 minutes until the timer goes off, then take a 3–5-minute break. After three or four “pomodoros” you can take a longer break. There are apps that you can use to this effect too. Play around with the timing and find what works best for you.
3. Use Tools to Your Advantage
There are so many scheduling and focus tools out there. One great tool to help you focus at work is StayFocusd—a Google Chrome plugin that can help steer you away from time-sucking websites (I’m looking at you, Facebook and YouTube). The plugin limits the amount of time you can stay on those sites and “blocks” you when you go over your limit.
There are plenty of other website blockers and timing tools out there to explore. Again, don’t feel like you have to use ALL of the tools to stay focused at work. Pick one or two that work for you and see how you do.
4. Put Your Phone Away
When I have a deadline coming up, I’ll put my phone away. I may text my husband or a sitter and let them know to call if there’s an emergency, but most other situations can wait until I’m done with my focus-heavy project and can follow up.
If you have a tough time with checking your phone (hey, we’ve all been there), apps like Forest can help you keep up your focus at work. The app features a cute little tree that grows as long as your phone remains untouched. When you pick up the phone, the tree dies. It’s a nice reminder that most things can wait until after you’re done with your job.
5. Pause Your Inbox
Another big distraction? Email! I know I STRUGGLE with ignoring emails, especially when they only take a minute to respond (but I know it can throw off my focus). Now one of my general rules is to take care of most items right away (like sorting the mail when I get home from work or doing the dishes), but when it comes to email, not every item needs to be addressed right now.
You can use features on Gmail to “pause” your inbox (sending a message to anyone who tries to reach you that you will respond later). I’ve found these helpful, but it can also be beneficial to create a self-imposed limit. Go back to tip #1 on this list and time block a period (15-30 minutes) to catch up on your inbox a couple of times per day. The rest of the time? Leave it closed!
6. Set Up a Work Routine
I’m all about routines. I know that for our family, sticking to a routine works best. Building successful habits and regular routines (like meal prepping on the weekends) keeps us focused and productive. The same idea applies to keeping your focus at work.
If you start your day with coffee and emails, then make a routine out of it. Set up a timer, and keep that routine, then move to the next project. Figure out what time of day you have the most energy and focus (for some, that’s right away in the morning, others prefer after lunch) and do your biggest tasks then. Keep your workdays as routine as possible.
7. Help your Kids Build Tolerance for Quiet Time
Working remotely? Challenging. Working remotely with kids?! Nearly impossible. We’ve found that our kids had to build up a tolerance for quiet time. At daycare, there’s a happy amount of chaos that kids find stimulating and exciting. At home, especially when Mom’s working, things might be a little quieter.
Now, keep in mind that tolerance for “down-time” takes some time to build, especially if it’s not the norm. One thing that can help is to tuck away some quiet-but-time-consuming toys, games, projects, and even screen-time activities that are novel and exciting for those days when you really have to focus on work. Only bring them out in emergency focus situations.
8. Tune Out
One investment to help you focus on work: noise-canceling headphones! These are totally worth the price and then some. Buy a good pair of headphones and then listen to white noise, soft classical music, or binaural beats for focus.
If you can’t use headphones at work, consider a white noise machine or even a fan—anything to help you create a quiet space to focus on work and tune out the rest. Noises can really contribute to our sense of distraction.
9. Find a Private Space
If you need to focus at work, a private space helps. Many offices have open concepts and shared collaborative spaces. These are great for some people, and for others, they can really be challenging. I know people who can easily work on airplanes, coffee shops, or in the middle of a crowd. Others must have isolation.
If you’re part of the second group, you may want to talk to your boss about letting you work in a more private space during big projects. If you’re working from home, designate an area just for work and keep it that way. If your brain associates the guest room with focusing at work, it can really help you get into concentration mode.
10. Break Up Your Schedule
Keep in mind that most of us aren’t built to hyper-focus for eight hours a day. If you find that you’re having one of those days where you can’t focus at work, take a break! I know it sounds counter-intuitive, especially when you’re already feeling frustrated about being unable to concentrate, but sometimes clearing your head can do some good. Even on good focus days, you need an occasional brain break.
One key is to take a break by stepping away from your desk. Go for a walk or have a quick dance party. Do something to reset your brain and get it away from the idea that you “can’t focus on work.” It is sort of like when you can’t sleep—fixating on the problem can make it worse.
11. Get Mindful
If you’ve never tried mindfulness practices, they can really help for boosting your focus. Apps like Headspace offer guided meditations and exercises to help you concentrate better, clear your mind, and keep from going off the rails.
Many times, when we can focus, it’s because our minds are racing through all the things we need to do, our worries, or even anticipation about upcoming activities (like that vacation on the horizon). Keep your mind on your work by learning to control your thoughts and stay in the moment.
12. Set Yourself Up for Success
When I know I need to focus on a big project at work, I try to set myself up for a good day. I will pick out my clothes the night before, make sure that lunches are packed and everything is taken care of ahead of time. Do things still crop up? Of course! Life’s full of unexpected distractions.
But when I take the time to set up the night before, I sleep better, and I approach the day ahead with a better outlook. It may even help to make a quick plan for how you will tackle the big focus-heavy project and break it up into smaller chunks. That way, you can celebrate a series of small wins to help you stay motivated.
13. Accept Help When You Can
No one can do it all. As much as I’d love to be one of those people who did everything from scratch, I’m just not. I’m a planner mom, not a scratch-made mom. That means I need to sit down and plan things out—follow a recipe, have a to-do list, and work from a game plan.
It also means I’ve learned to take help where I can. So, I opt for grocery delivery. I call a babysitter. Sometimes I get takeout. There’s no shame in requesting the assistance of others or paying for a service that saves you time and energy. In fact, it can help you have more focus at work and even be a better, happier mom and spouse.
14. Let Go of Perfection
None of us—not even the most successful CEO—is 100% focused at work all the time. When we’re focused, we might not come up with inventive or creative ideas. Occasionally our brains need some space to relax, daydream, space out, or scroll through shopping websites.
Let go of the idea that you must be completely perfect and focused all day long. Yes, I know that work is counting on you, and you need to get these tasks completed so you can get home to your fam. You will. But give yourself some room to have an off day occasionally. It’s okay. Work will still be there tomorrow.
If you’re wondering about more ways that you can better manage your time as a busy mom, I have created a plan! It’s called the Complete Schedule Overhaul, and if you’re tired of feeling like you’re a mess, then it’s for YOU. I’ll go through my tried-and-true ways of managing a busy schedule that really works, especially for working moms. I’ll tell you secrets about how I stay productive and organized and how you can get a better, less overwhelming schedule so you can enjoy what matters most.
Don’t miss out on the Complete Schedule Overhaul!
How about you? I’d love to hear your ULTIMATE tip to stay focused in the comment section below!
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