We all know the feeling – you sit down at your desk with the best of intentions, only to find yourself a few hours later having achieved nothing other than catching up on your social media newsfeed, texting a friend, and perhaps you sent a few emails. Distractions in the workplace can be challenging to overcome, but fear not! With the following tips, you’ll be able to increase your focus and improve your work performance. It’s time to beat distraction and get back on track!
Identify Your Key Distractors
Our focus killers aren’t easy to miss. Think back on the times you have reminded yourself to get focused and back on track. Then ask yourself what stole your focus. Was it your phone, a colleague’s interruption, an email ping, or your wondering mind? Of course, there can be dozens of distractors throughout our workday. The idea is to determine which ones you fall victim to most often. Understanding them gives you great power because you can now take action to mitigate them. One idea I use and coach my clients is to silence your mobile phone (or just turn it off if you are brave) and then put it in your desk drawer. If you are distracted by email, simply turn it off. Exhibit power over your environment by taking action to remove the distractors. When you know what you need to say no to, it’s easier to control them.
Getting organized is essential for staying productive. It can be difficult to stay focused and motivated when the daily grind of work feels overwhelming. Taking the time to create an organized system for yourself can help you stay on track and maintain productivity. Not only does being organized make it easier to find what you need quickly, it also saves precious time that would otherwise be wasted on searching through disorganized piles of papers or emails.
There are many strategies to get your workspace organized, such as setting up a filing system, creating labels or folders for documents or emails, and using a planner or calendar with reminders of upcoming tasks. Additionally, organizing digital files into separate folders on your computer will help keep things easily accessible without having to search through multiple windows. Taking the extra step of color coding related items can also add clarity and visual aid in keeping things sorted correctly. The key is to make things easy to find so that you aren’t distracted by the search process. A study by McKinsey found that employees spend 1.8 hours every day searching for and gathering information. That’s 9.3 hours per week!
Another key to getting organized is to take time each day to review your upcoming deadlines and meetings. Then make an actionable list of what you need to do to fulfill your duties that day. Use your calendar to block time for each task or project. I also suggest using calendar alerts or ‘To-Do’ lists to ensure that everything gets done on time.
Develop Habits That Build Focus Muscles
Habits that promote concentration, mindfulness, and efficiency will help you stay focused on the task at hand. Building concentration is like building muscle. Start by setting a concentration goal of 15 minutes. Set a timer on your computer and then challenge yourself to focus only on the task at hand until you the alarm rings. Try to get as much done as possible during this time. Then expand your goal to 18 minutes. Then 20 minutes. One fun tactic I use is the Pomodoro Technique. It is a fun and productive way to train your brain to be more focused and reduce distractions.
Another effective habit is to find your best focus hours during the day and use this time to be highly productive. I call them your “golden hours.” These are the hours when you are at your best, and your brain can easily shift into its highest gear for processing. For example, I section off 9-11am and 3-5 pm on the days I’m working in my office for the tasks that require the most brainpower and focus. Your golden hours may be different, so determine what they are and plan to use them effectively. Make it a habit to structure your day around these hours. Don’t cheapen those high-performance hours by allowing distraction to occur.
Imagine if a Formula One race team never allowed their race car to take a pitstop during a race. What would happen? Of course, the high-performing, high-powered, and the very expensive car would break down and wouldn’t be able to finish the race. It would run out of gas, blow the engine, or the tires would sheer off. It’s the same for your high-powered brain. You need pitstops throughout the day to rest, relax, and recuperate to maintain focus and regenerate your energy. It’s important that you don’t use your break time to be on your phone or computer. Instead, use breaks for breathing deeply, taking a walk, and thinking about something you enjoy. Not only will this allow you to handle distraction better, but it will also give you greater energy and self-control throughout your day.
Ask for Accountability
Finally, we don’t excel by ourselves. We need the help of others. Asking for help from your colleagues is a great way to beat distractions at work. One way to do this is to identify common distractions and discuss with your colleagues how to manage them, so it’s not distracting to everyone. For example, you might define a social time for the team if you find that people often interrupt each other throughout the day. One team I worked with defined 3 core “focus times” during the work day where they asked everyone to respect each other’s focus by not interrupting.
Another simple way to ask for accountability is to ask a trusted colleague to remind you when you are being distracted. Ask this person to kindly remind you that you are off-task. This trusted colleague will likely ask you to do the same for them since we all struggle to maintain focus.
Distraction at work will always be a challenge, but it’s one that you can take steps to overcome. By taking proactive measures to understand and limit the sources of distraction, getting better organized, building good focus habits, and leveraging accountability, you can manage distractions and make sure they don’t interfere with your productivity. So take action to be the master of your work! Now go forth and conquer the world — or at least your workspace!