How to stay focused at work – 20 quick focus tips

  • How to Stay Focused at Work

Staying focused at work can be as much of a hassle as keeping your focus while working from home – you’ll likely have to deal with chatty colleagues, less comfort, and constant meetings that’ll take away from the time you could be spending on priority tasks instead.

When it comes to the best ways to stay focused at work, you’ll need to make some changes in your personal workstation, tweak work (and life) habits, streamline your schedule, as well as avoid common work distractions.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do that:

🧟 (Re-)evaluate your work habits

Before you start blaming others for distracting you and thus making you less productive, think about your work habits and whether they make you productive in the first place:

  • Do you force yourself to get up early in the morning just because that’s what productivity gurus recommend, only to spend the hours before noon drowsy, moody, and unfocused?
  • Do you wake up fully energized, only to immediately focus on frivolous tasks that drain your energy until you have no zest left to finish the project that’s due tomorrow?
  • Do you work for 2 hours in the morning and then go to an early lunch just when you’ve fully immersed yourself in work – in order to adjust to your colleagues’ schedules?

If your answers are a sad “yes”, then it’s your own work habits you need to re-evaluate and change.

How best to do it?

A problem with your work habits has a lot to do with how you schedule your day – you may schedule activities too early or too late in relation to your Biological Prime Time, i.e. the time when you’re the most productive:

  • If you’re the most productive later in the afternoon (and you have flexible work hours), try to get to work at a later time – you’ll avoid the dreaded morning drowsiness and ensure a larger number of productive working hours per day.
  • If you’re the most effective early in the morning, schedule your most important activities for this time – you’ll finish your priorities early, and spend the rest of the day working on less urgent activities, thus relieving yourself of unnecessary stress.
  • If your colleagues have different productivity peak hours than you, don’t try to fit in with them no matter what – do your work at your own pace, and try to socialize with colleagues at other times.

Following a fixed routine is beneficial for productivity, but you’ll have no benefit from it if it’s the wrong fixed routine – so, work on your current schedules to find ideal times for all your assignments and errands.

To calculate your Biological Prime Time, you can track the time you spend on the same activities in the morning, and in the afternoon – to see when you’re more efficient with said activities.

Biological prime time with clockify

You can do this for all your work activities to create an archive telling you the time of day when you’re the most efficient with a type of task.

📝 Create and follow a to-do list

The first thing you need to do in order to start your day right is to create a to-do list you’ll follow – this way, you’ll know:

  • what you need to do today
  • what tasks you need to reserve time on your calendar for

How best to do it?

Write your to-do list in a notebook or in a specialized app such as Todoist or Remember the Milk, in the following way:

  1. List all the tasks you need to do today
  2. Parse these tasks into smaller subtasks you can easier keep track of
  3. Mark all items as urgent/NOT urgent and important/NOT important
  4. Reshuffle your list to put tasks and subtasks you marked as urgent/important first
  5. Delegate the tasks and subtasks you’ve marked as urgent/NOT important – delete them from your to-do list, and notify the person you’re delegating to
  6. Eliminate tasks you’ve marked as NOT urgent/NOT important – delete them from your to-do list

eisenhower matrix

When you start working, do your urgent/important tasks and subtasks first, and your NOT urgent/important tasks and subtasks second. 

Put a checkmark next to each task you finish, as soon as you finish it – watching the number of tasks you’ve finished increase will make you feel more confident to continue working and reach the end of the list as soon as possible.

checklist

🧱 Work in time blocks

A comprehensive to-do list is the first step to a successful workday – the next step is allocating the items in your to-do lists to specific times of day – i.e. blocks of time.

How best to do it?

To work in time blocks means to have every minute you spend at work made transparent – you list all your tasks and subtasks and then assign them with a slot in your calendar.

EXAMPLE 1

You have 7 tasks to work on during the span of an 8-hour workday, so you allocate:

  • 60 minutes to each task
  • 5 minutes for breaks between two tasks
  • 30 minutes for a lunch break

In the end, that leaves you with 7 clean hours for your work, plus 55 minutes of break time in total – meaning that time blocking may even let you ease out of your workday 5 minutes earlier.

EXAMPLE 2

You have 12 smaller tasks to finish within 6 hours, so you:

  • allocate 25 minutes to each task
  • separate tasks with 5-minute breaks

If you stick to this schedule, you’ll find that you have 5.5 hours for the tasks, with as much as 30 minutes for unexpected challenges or a longer break at some point.

In any case, that’s the main reason why you should work in time blocks – they rely on simple math, and math always works.

Clockify pro tip
For a more streamlined approach to time blocking your work, check out our 9 free time blocking planner templates you can print out or fill out in Excel.

📦 Timebox your emails and meetings

On average, you spend about 13 hours per week on emails and about 6 hours on meetings – that means you spend almost half of your workweek on routine activities that don’t bring your company any profit.

In order to minimize the time you spend on these less important activities, you can limit meetings and inbox management by timeboxing your schedule.

How best to do it?

As with time blocking, you’ll also need to allocate time to activities – the difference is that:

  • time blocking implies it’s your goal to find time for these activities
  • timeboxing implies it’s your goal to limit the time you’ll spend on these activities

So, with timeboxing, you’ll be allocating less time to less important activities.

timebox with clockify

HOW BEST TO TIMEBOX EMAILS…

For example, you can schedule 15 minutes for managing your inbox every 2-3 hours – start the timer, and once the 15 minutes are up, close your inbox, even if you’re in the middle of writing an email.

After 2-3 hours, it will be time for another email timebox – you’ll then have 15 minutes at the most to continue writing the said email.

HOW BEST TO TIMEBOX MEETINGS…

The same is true of meetings. If you have a daily standup meeting every day, allocate 20 minutes to it each day, and close the meeting as soon as the 20 minutes are up.

This way, you’ll ensure you stick to your meeting agenda and keep everyone focused on what they want to say in a straightforward and fast manner.

By timeboxing, you’ll put the time you spend on emails and meetings under control, and save more time to allocate to more important tasks.

📅 Define personal deadlines

Sure, you’ll have official deadlines, either set by your supervisor or clients.

But, it will be best if you were to parse your project into milestones and set personal deadlines for yourself.

This way, you’ll ensure you work your way through the project at a brisk pace and ultimately finish before the client’s/supervisor’s deadline.

How best to do it?

So, once you are assigned with your share of the work on a project, block time in your calendar for your tasks and set a realistic deadline:

  • The Parkinson’s Law states that all your tasks expand to fill the time you’ve allocated to them – so, don’t set a loose deadline.
  • Hofstadter’s Law states that your tasks usually take more time than you originally think – so, don’t be overly optimistic about your deadline either.

The best practice is to set your deadline based on previous experience with the same type of tasks – if you know it takes you 3 hours on average to finish a project proposal, then you should set a deadline for 3 hours each time you write a project proposal.

Sure, sometimes it will take you 5-10 minutes more, sometimes 5-10 minutes less, depending on the scope of the proposal – but, it’s the most precise time estimate for a deadline you’ll ever have.

🙅 Make others aware of your schedule

Once you’ve parsed your work, defined your deadlines, and identified your priorities, it’s best that you make sure your colleagues are aware of your schedule.

Google Calendar

How best to do it?

For this purpose, you can take a popular time management game called Circadian Rhythms as inspiration and make your schedule public:

  • by hanging a printed version of your schedule for the day/week on the front of your office door
  • by sharing your Google Calendar with your colleagues

As an alternative, you and your colleagues can join the same workspace to track time in a team Dashboard – this way, you’ll all be able to see what everyone is currently working on, and decide whether it’s the right time to interrupt them.

team dashboard work in progress

🎲 Have some fun at work

Remember – happy people are productive people.

When we’re enjoying our time at work, our bodies are producing more oxygen and endorphins, making us more relaxed as a result.

And, when we’re more relaxed, our blood flows more freely to our brain, making us more likely to focus and find creative solutions to pressing problems.

How best to do it?

Sharing a few laughs with your colleagues is a great start. You’ll also feel closer to them if you’re able to laugh together with them – which will, in turn, make it easier to work together successfully.

So, tell a joke or point out a ridiculous new trend on the Internet when appropriate – your colleagues will also appreciate a short departure from the usual seriousness at work.

To bond with colleagues some more, you can also join or create an office club about an activity you enjoy – for example, you can organize basketball matches after work or even have your team join the business league (if you’re really good).

Alternatively, if your colleagues ever organize a barbeque after work or a pizza party on Friday, make sure you join in and help out.

In the end, whatever office activity you partake in, you’ll likely have fun and learn something interesting about your colleagues – like what they’re like outside of their rigid company titles.

🚶‍♀️ Take short breaks

One research shows that breaks, as controlled distractions from our work, vastly improve focus.

So, taking regular breaks is important for maintaining focus for longer periods of time – you’ll recharge your energy and increase your alertness levels.

How best to do it?

The previously mentioned research shows that ~50 minutes is the maximum time we can stay completely focused on a task – after that time, our focus slowly dwindles and we lose the sense of importance tied to a task.

So, make sure to take frequent breaks:

  • Go outside to take a walk around the block – the fresh air and natural sunlight will help increase your productivity, and even help you sleep longer during the night
  • Make yourself a cup of green tea – this type of tea is a superfood filled with antioxidants, minerals, and caffeine perfect to increase your physical performance
  • Do some desk stretches – you’ll get ease that annoying computer hunch
  • Watch an educational TED video – you’ll distract your mind from a current problem for 5 minutes and learn something new  like how sugar affects your brain and why we dream
  • Chat with a colleague you rarely see by the water cooler – you’ll get a socialize boost and refresh your mind

Afterward, it will be easier to start another focused work session – plus, now you’ll know you have something to look forward to when you start feeling too hazy to continue work.

📵 Turn off notifications in apps

Notifications in apps are useful in general – they tell you when you can update a favorite program with new useful features, or when your colleague has just sent you a new message. But, when you’re trying to focus, a message from your colleague telling you about the newest Black Friday deals will only distract you.

How best to do it?

You can disable notifications on all your Windows, Mac, iOS, or Android apps on a whole, or disable notifications just for a select number of apps.

Most individual apps have options to disable notifications, so you can do that app by app – for example, you can select the channels you want to get notifications from in the settings of your chat app, or block updates from a certain program you’re looking to uninstall anyway.

💆‍♂️ Schedule quiet time

Finding some quiet time for when you have to finish an important assignment with flying colors is often a challenge – so, it’s best that you find a quiet, isolated place when you can go work when you need ultimate focus and zero distractions.

How best to do it?

Nowadays, most companies harbor an open office policy – you all sit and work together, for better or for worse. But, most offices still have isolated rooms for meetings and similar activities.

So, when you’re feeling overwhelmed but have an important project proposal to finish:

  • “Book” the conference room for an hour or two in a time when there are no meetings and job interviews planned
  • Explain it to your colleagues that you don’t want to be disturbed during this time
  • Take your laptop, put on your headphones if you want a fully immersive effect, and focus all your attention to the task at hand.

As a result, you’ll likely work faster and with better quality, as well as feel a nice tingle of accomplishment once you re-emerge in the open office with a perfect final product.

📴 Avoid your phone

Your phone is often your biggest obstacle on the road to focus at work. You can use it for phone calls, texting, browsing the Web, posting pics on Instagram, and more – which, in work talk, means that you can use it to waste the time you should be working.

So, if you want to get quality work done, avoid your phone like the plague during work hours.

How best to do it?

When it comes to your phone, it’s best if you were to keep it on mute at work. This way, you won’t get distracted by notifications about personal emails, texts, phone calls, and news articles delivered directly to your inbox at an alarming (and annoying) rate.

Unfortunately, putting your phone on mute will only get you so far.

You can always reach for it in your pocket and see all these new, shiny notifications any time you want – so, you’ll likely need to turn to more drastic measures to deal with your own lack of self-discipline.

Your best solution is to leave your phone at a place you can’t always reach, such as:

  • a locked desk drawer
  • a hard-to-reach place in your bag
  • a cabinet in the office kitchen
  • the glove department of your car parked 8 stories bellow and half a mile away

The more attached to your phone you are, the further you should leave your phone during work time – this way, you won’t fall into temptation as often, and, if you do, you’ll at least get some fresh air and exercise looking for your car in the parking lot.

🚫 Avoid time-consuming websites

Working on the computer for 8 hours per day, also makes it relatively easy to slack off on the computer – you can watch random YouTube videos, scroll your Instagram feed, and aimlessly browse the web. Such procrastination can easily lead you to fall out of line with your schedule and work extra hours after work to make up for the lost time, risking burnout as the final outcome.

How best to do it?

Avoiding fun websites such as YouTube is much easier said than done, so, once again, it’s best if you were to turn to an external app to help you block time-consuming websites.

Website blockers such as Cold Turkey for Mac, or FocalFilter for Windows are a good choice – they let you add the URLs of the websites you want to avoid a blacklist, and you won’t be able to access them during preset times, or until you whitelist them.

StayFocusd for Chrome takes things to a whole new level – with this extension, you can set the time you want to spend on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube and the system won’t allow you to waste a second more.

stayfocused

For example, if you set 10 minutes, your browser will only allow you 10 minutes on these websites before you’re banned from entering them until the next day. What’s more, once your 10 minutes are up, you also won’t be able to change the settings to prolong this time.

🔇 Block noise

You probably already know how this goes – you’re trying to focus on a new work brief, but the noise is overwhelming:

  • One colleague is talking about the new interior design in her apartment.
  • Another colleague is rattling with the coffee machine while loudly discussing yesterday’s football match.
  • The colleague sitting next to you is quietly discussing her upcoming family dinner over the phone, yet you hear every word.

In short, you try to focus, but end up staring out of the window waiting for the casual discussions and conversations to end – until you decide to find a way to block the noise.

How best to do it?

In gist, you can’t make people adjust to your schedule and not talk amongst themselves when it’s convenient for you – but you can block the noise around you with headphones.

Once you put on the headphones, you can play some music – your best choice is a familiar, simple tune you’ve chosen yourself, with no lyrics. Mozart is always an excellent choice, but you can also be creative – there are a lot of inspiring (and unusual) choices when it comes to music that boosts productivity.

As an alternative, you can use a noise generator such as MyNoise and listen to the oddly inspiring sound of rain falling over a tent, or the mind-setting sound of the wind blowing over the Irish coast – you’ll have plenty of choices.

🎧 Use specialized headphones

Music is a nice choice to block out distracting chatter – but what if you’re making an educational video for work, and cannot play music with your headphones without having your microphone accidentally record Queen’s greatest hits? Or, what if you’re doing client calls for most of the day?

Well, then you’ll need to kick your noise-blocking game up a notch.

How best to do it?

It’s best if you were to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones – they reduce as much as 70% of noise by using active noise control.

They’re also useful because they almost completely erase lower-frequency sound waves – the same type of sound waves that makes you tired if you’re exposed to them for too long.

However, the only downside to noise-canceling headphones is that they usually come with a hefty price – but you can usually find some affordable solutions, or borrow a pair from a tech-savvy friend.

Or, you can make a request letter for these headphones at the office, and see whether it gets approved.

🧰 Use productivity tools and extensions

Sometimes, you just need a little extra help with staying fully focused on your work – and there are a lot of interesting tools and extensions you can try.

The previously mentioned website blockers are just a scratch on the surface compared to how much technology can help you plan your workday and execute work with focus.

How best to do it?

To help streamline your workflow you can use various productivity tools. We have covered these tools extensively on our blog, so feel free to check these posts out and learn more about productivity software:

Nowadays, you can find an app to help you with every activity you have to perform at work, so make your picks and remember – automating the actions you can help you decrease stress and finish work faster on a whole.

👨‍💻 Streamline your workstation

You won’t be able to focus properly if your chair and desk are uncomfortable – common problems include backaches, migraines, and increased fatigue.

Moreover, staring at a blank wall while engulfed in dim lighting and stuffy air won’t do you any good either.

So, you’ll need to make some adjustments and tweaks to your workstation, for maximum comfort.

How best to do it?

If your desk allows no alterations, you’ll have to focus most of your energy on adjusting your chair:

  • Raise or lower the seat pan – so that your feet lay flat on the floor, or on the feet rest
  • Ask your operations manager for computer risers – your screen should either be at or slightly below your eye level
  • Adjust the back support of your chair – so that you feel comfortable sitting for long periods of time
  • Adjust the armrests – so that your arms can rest nicely without you hunching your shoulders

Next, you’ll need to elevate your workspace with the right lighting and some greenery:

  • Bring a small houseplant to put on your desk – plants help relieve stress in the workplace, and you’ll have something to take care of when you need to put your mind off of work
  • Open the shutters on the windows closest to you to bring in as much natural light as you can and keep you fresh and alert – if your colleagues protest about this, bring in a small overhead LED lamp you’ll use to emulate natural lighting just for you

Clockify pro tip
Interested in improving your focus under various conditions at work? Check out our other focus guides:

How to stay focused at work during a personal crisis
How to stay focused in meeting at work
How to stay focused when approaching retirement
How to stay focused at work on the computer

🧘 Meditate for 5 minutes

Meditation helps you relax and regain your focus after a stressful work session – you can easily perform it at work whenever you need to organize your thoughts for future work.

How best to do it?

You can meditate at work during short breaks between tasks – it’s easy and efficient if you follow these basic guidelines:

  • Sit on the floor next to your chair or in the conference room
  • Close your eyes
  • Breathe deeply, in a rhythmic pattern
  • Focus on your breathing
  • Perform these meditation exercises for 5 minutes per session

By the end of each session, you’ll feel refreshed and more likely to focus on the next task on your to-do list.

For longer meditation sessions, you can try a mindful meditation app such as Headspace or listen to YouTube videos that offer short guided meditation.

💧 Stay hydrated

You can’t properly think when you’re thirsty – science shows that even mild dehydration causes mood changes, lower concentration, frequent headaches, anxiety, and fatigue.

So, you’ll need to make the extra effort to drink enough water at work, even if you’re engrossed in your newest project.

How best to do it?

If you fear you’ll often forget to take a break and pour yourself a glass of water, it’s best that you keep a half-gallon water pitcher at your desk.

You can fill it up when you get to work and make it your goal to drink all of it by the end of the day – this way, you’ll enjoy all the benefits healthy hydration brings, as well as control the amount of water you intake. You can even elevate matters by making lemon-infused water, for extra freshness.

🥦 Eat healthily

You can’t properly think when you’re thirsty, but it’s even worse when you’re hungry – your stomach starts to growl, your sugar levels drop, and you can barely remember what day it is, let alone how to solve that push notification bug you’ve been having lately.

So, you’ll need to take precautions to retain your energy levels high throughout the day.

How best to do it?

Your best start is to pack a good lunch – a nutritious sauteed spinach salad or avocado pesto is a good choice. And, you can also bring a pack of healthy blueberries for dessert.

As an alternative, you can order food to the office together with your colleagues – just make sure you order it on time. So, don’t wait until you’re starving to message your colleagues about who’ll place the group order.

You’ll also need to keep some snacks at your desk for those unexpected outbursts of hunger – almonds, walnuts, and dark chocolate bars are always an energizing, but healthy choice.

🤸 Get some exercise during the day

Exercising boosts your energy, gets your blood flowing, and makes you more alert – which are all excellent qualities for focused work. So, it’s best if you were to include an exercise routine at work, at least in some capacity.

Sure, you can’t really bring a treadmill into the office (unless your company has a lax policy about such things) – but, you can introduce exercising on a smaller scale.

How best to do it?

For example, if you have flexible working hours and have a gym near the office, you can parse your day to work/exercise segments:

  • work for 4 hours in the morning
  • hit the gym for 1 hour in the afternoon
  • finish you your workday with 4 hours of focused work after the gym

Alternatively, you can do a series of quick and easy exercises during break time.

For example, you can use water bottles (or bring in your own set of weights) to do a couple of overhead presses or arm curls right at your desk.

You can even take a quick jog around the office building before lunch, to really get your blood flowing.

Final thoughts…

Keeping focus at work is crucial for a successful career – it’s sometimes challenging, but always manageable if you follow the right focus tips. In the end, you’ll likely find that you’re finishing your work faster and better – which will ensure you feel happier with your job and life overall.

By |2019-09-30T11:25:27+00:00August 1st, 2019|Categories: Productivity|

About the Author:

Marija Kojic is a productivity writer who's always researching about various productivity techniques and time management tips in order to find the best ones to write about. She can often be found testing and writing about apps meant to enhance the workflow for freelancers, remote workers, and regular employees. Appeared in G2 Crowd Learning Hub, The Good Men Project, and Pick the Brain, among other places.

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