Truth moment—let’s face it, no matter how much pride we take in our work or how diligent we are in completing assignments, there comes a time in the work week when A.D.D. sets in, our brains ascend into the clouds, and suddenly staying focused is the ultimate obstacle. If this sounds familiar to you, you may be sitting at your desk panicking over the possibility of missing that forthcoming deadline, but don’t go hyperventilating just yet. Before tossing your laptop out the window, waving the white flag, and abandoning the mission all together—just breathe. Give yourself a pep talk if needed, glance at your motivational desk calendar then take a few moments to read this blog. Here I offer some techniques to consider when trying to regain focus and actually get some work done.
Re-Evaluate Your Work-Life Balance
This is first on the list for a reason. Believe it or not, the key to a rewarding work experience begins at home. If you’re spending countless hours at work, rarely taking time off, and spending little to no time with your family and loved ones, chances are your work is going to suffer. In addition to our families and friends, many of us have hobbies outside of work such as exercise routines, daily meditations and affirmations, book clubs, or other social gatherings that serve as outlets from our day-to-day routines. If you’re someone who takes pride in being a workaholic, consider coming up for air. Remember it’s just as important, if not more, to invest time in your personal life and activities outside of work that make you happy. For instance, that vacation you’ve been longing to take? Take it. Your child has a dance recital tonight? Go! Feeling a little burnt out? Request a few days off. By finding balance in your personal and work life, you can reduce the likelihood of losing focus or falling apart when it really counts. As the saying goes, “Work hard. Play hard.”
As someone who journals often, I can attest to it being one of the most effective ways to declutter the mind. I don’t typically plan what I journal; I just allow it to flow freely. Sometimes I doodle, write a single word or sentence, make a list, rehash my entire day, try to work out an idea on paper, or write full letters with no intention of ever sending them. While reading this, some may be wondering, “What exactly does journaling have to do with my work?” Well in essence, it has the potential to mean a great deal. By journaling, I find that I am able to clarify my thoughts and make sense of them in a way that creates room for new ideas and boosts my productivity. For example, if I write a note in my journal that says, “Don’t forget the paper towels,” on surface, it may seem to have little to no impact on my work, but by taking the time to document my thoughts in all of their random splendor, I’ve somehow cleared the way for actual on-the-job productivity. Now I’m not at work thinking about whether I forgot to turn off the oven or soul searching for the meaning of life, and as an added bonus, I can tackle my work projects with a fresh mind.
Plan Your Days in Advance
In order to maximize productivity on the job, being proactive rather than reactive is always the best way to go, and I’ve found that most of the time proactivity leads to productivity. The last thing you want to do is wait until you’re backed into a corner, pressed for time, or being asked about the status of an assignment before making progress on it. However, taking a proactive approach to your work assignments involves one largely important component—planning your workdays in advance.
These days, we all have various devices that make planning and scheduling fairly easy. By using the calendar feature on your phone, tablet, or computer, you have the ability to coordinate and reschedule meetings in order to properly assess your availability for each day. In some cases, you may also have the option of sharing your calendar so that your colleagues are also aware of your availability. This has the potential to limit any unnecessary interruptions in the long run.
Once your calendar is updated, you can actually devote and allocate time to work on your projects. If you’re juggling a lot at once, you may find it somewhat cumbersome to nail down what projects to work on and prioritize them accordingly. This is when a list comes in handy.
Each week, I list the assignments requiring my attention on a post-it, affix the list to my desk, and check off the assignments as I go along. While I’m truly a fan of post-its, including the electronic kind, of course they are not a requirement. A list can be created pretty much anywhere. By creating an agenda for yourself and checking off projects as they are completed, you can establish a clear path to task completion and maintain the focus and momentum necessary for the remaining projects on your list.
Try Listening to Music
There may be a bit of controversy surrounding this practice as some find it helpful while others consider it to be more of a distraction. However for me, listening to music is by far THE most essential aspect of reducing distractions and staying focused.
If your workspace is noisy (i.e. doors opening and closing, a pen tapping against the desk, ringing phones), your brain will try to process all the individual pieces of data in the noise, exerting energy you would otherwise use to do your job.[i] This is why I find music to be almost invaluable in terms of staying on task. Music serves as somewhat of a buffer and forms a barricade between you and any background noise that could potentially deter and distract you from the task at hand.
A word of caution though, music choice DOES matter. While it truly does boil down to personal preference, “the nature and style of the music can cause specific responses in the brain.”[ii] I tend to flock toward instrumental jazz when I really need to focus on something. I do this because I love jazz, but also because anything with catchy lyrics will likely become a distraction and provoke me to sing along. So as a general rule of thumb, if it makes you want to dance, cry, or start your own singing group, you should probably pick a new tune.
Everyone gets distracted from time to time. There’s really no way around it, but by adopting some or all of these work habits, you’ll be well on your way to snapping out of it and better prepared to contest any distractions in the future. Now pop in your headphones, press play, and get to work.
What are some tactics you use to stay focused at work? Share in the comments below.
[i]Popomaronis, Tom. "What Listening to Music at Work Does to Your Brain (It's Pretty Amazing)" Inc.com. N.p., 20 July 2016. Web.
[ii]Burnett, Dean. "Does music really help you concentrate? I won’t be able to focus if you turn that off,’ a gazillion teenagers have whined at their parents. Is it possible that they’re right?" The Guardian. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2016.
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