How To Stay Focused On Work
Is it just me or do you have days like this? Days where you keep getting distraction after distraction when you’re trying to work. People stopping by to talk. The phone seems to ring within seconds of you hanging it up. Days when my email is like the Hydra. Every time I take care of one email 2 more seem to appear to take it’s place. Distraction after distraction makes me wonder how to stay focused on work. Because some days it seems to be next to impossible!
Personally I like to have a day or two a week where I don’t have a lot scheduled. When this happens I am able to crank out a lot of work. I’m not a big fan of meetings but when I have them I try my best to keep them at an hour or less. I am not always able to achieve this but I try as much as possible. I love these days when I can stay focused on my work for longer periods. However there are many days when I try to figure out how to stay focused on work. Let’s look at how we can achieve this.
What Distracts Us – Depends on Your Environment
Lot’s of things can distract us at work, it really depends on the environment. I spent my fair share of time in the retail world where distractions were a way of life. The service industry in all it’s shapes and sizes is really all about being distracted. You are constantly distracted with customers. This is typically a good thing. More customers means more business which means more sales which means more bonuses and jobs. After my college days finally ended I wound up managing bigger and bigger retail stores. At the end of my retail career I managed $6M in revenue and almost 80 employees. My life was one big distraction and that was fine, I enjoyed it.
When I re-careered 14 years ago I moved to a desk job. The sitting at a desk looking at a computer was extremely hard for me to get used to. Fortunately I have done a combination of recruiting and business development in my 2nd career. With that I get a lot of interaction with people so I am not dully staring at the computer screen all day. I can’t handle that. I am pretty good with numbers but do not have the patience to stare at spreadsheets for hours on end. It seriously puts me to sleep. I enjoy talking to people and having a lot of interaction. That being said let’s look at some things that distract us so we can figure out how to stay focused at work.
There are tons of things that can distract us at work and put a big dent in our productivity. Some of the things that typically distract me while I am trying to focus at work includes:
My phone – Since I sit at a desk my phone is right there with me. I’ve turned off many of the notifications but I still tend to grab it more often than I should.
People stopping by – I have an office and I like it. Many of my conversations include private information so they put me in an office which is nice. Now it has glass walls so it’s not as private as you may think, kind of like being in a fishbowl. It’s uncommon for a morning or afternoon to go by without at least several people stopping by my office.
Disorganization – In general I am a fairly organized guy. Okay, I’m very organized. Some might say I even have a bit of a control issue. Putting that to the side there are times when I try to do too much at one time and get too much crap out. When I do that I can’t find what I am looking for and it certainly can get in the way of how much I get done.
Attention span – Most adults around my age that have attempted to study to pass a test can understand this one. I have read in several places that humans now have less of an attention span than a goldfish. I don’t know if that’s true but it always cracks me up. And depresses me. It is certainly true for me that it’s difficult to pay attention to one thing (especially one with a lot of detail) for an extended period of time. Help me figure out how to stay focused on work!
And More Distractions
Email – Oh boy this one is a killer. I have been horrible at this for a long time and have just gotten it more under control in the last year or so. This is what I was referring to as the Hydra in my opening paragraph. You take care of one and 2 more appear. Or you might be like one of my associates who never does anything with her email and lets hundred pile up in her inbox. Ugh. It’s hard to know how to stay focused on work when you are checking your email every time you hear a “ping”. You’ve got mail. Thanks AOL.
Meetings – Don’t even get me started here. I took a job opportunity about 8 years ago that proved to not be the best decision I ever made. I only stuck around for 6 months. One of the things that made it so horrible was that I was in meetings about 70% of my day. No way dude, couldn’t do it. Meetings can be a huge time suck and make it hard to stay focused at work.
Multitasking – Bear with me for a minute here. It seems like multitasking would help you get more done right? Wrong. Multitasking just pulls your already too short attention span into too many directions to truly get anything done very well. It is not our friend in how to stay focused on work.
Procrastination – When you put things off that you need to take care of it affects your productivity. It makes it hard to stay focused when your mind keeps wandering back to things you should get done but don’t for one reason or another. Our good friend procrastination.
How To Stay Focused On Work – Part 1
Eliminate what you can – First of all eliminate your distractions as best as you can. Let’s look at a few examples of how we can eliminate distractions.
Although eliminating procrastination is not easy it’s fairly simple to do. Look at your to do list for the day and attack the highest priority things first. Many times these are the more difficult things you have to deal with so you put it off. When you tackle the stuff you don’t want to deal with first you get it behind you early in the day, thus eliminating your procrastination of it.
If you can eliminate clutter and disorganization you will go a long way to staying focused at work. Take a few hours (or days if it’s bad) and really organize your area. Get it all set up so it makes sense. Every day when you’re done leave it looking nice and neat for the next day. Being organized is a big help in how to stay focused on work.
I’m going to put meetings in the eliminate and minimize category. You can seriously eliminate many meetings. If you need a consensus from a group of people having a meetings is probably required. However you can make sure everyone is fully informed prior to the meeting to keep it short and sweet.
If you can try your best to eliminate multi-tasking you will go a long way to being able to stay focused at work. Even though we feel like we are being more productive when we multitask we really aren’t. Try your best to focus on one thing at a time.
How To Stay Focused On Work – Part 2
Minimize what you can – When you aren’t able to eliminate do your best to minimize these work distractions.
Email is huge in this area. I know how badly email can break your concentration. Like a puppy chasing it’s own tail I’ve been incredibly guilty of jumping to email every time I hear that darn ping. When I am cranking I make it a point to only check my email 3-4 times a day and respond when needed. Also a big helpful tip here is to deal with email when you read it. Delete, respond, file.
As we all know in our day to day lives our phones can be a huge distraction and make us lose focus. This takes a real effort to not look at your phone when you get a notification or just to check it. My cell phone is an important part of my job. When I’m trying to focus on something and I don’t need my phone I put it in a drawer until I’m done with what I’m working on.
Our attention spans are something that we can’t really minimize (that just sounds counter intuitive) but we can certainly minimize the things around us that cause our attention to wander. Work to minimize as many distractions as possible to help you stay focused. I’ve seen more and more people wearing headphones while they work. While this doesn’t really scream “I like to interact with others” I’m betting it helps cut some distractions out and increase focus.
One More Tip On How To Stay Focused On Work
Taking a page from my Covey training days focus on what matters. We all have things coming at us all day long and work is no different. Make sure you know what your most important priorities at work are and pay attention to those first. When I am working on a long term deal that takes 6-12 months and involves many steps I know I have to do what I can to move that along. I ensure I am getting done the most mission critical things at work before anything else.
Here are some resources to that will help you in your quest for how to stay focused at work. Pick one or two and see if its helps you stay laser focused!
Eat That Frog – By Brian Tracy. A must have for helping stop procrastination.
Franklin Covey Master Plan Ring Bound Leather Binder – This was my absolute favorite for 10 years. I think I’ll have to bring this back into my arsenal.
31 Simple Strategies For Eliminating Distractions And Developing Your Focus – By Daniel Karan. A powerful and easy to read and digest book to help you focus.
Get Organized. Be Focused. Get Moving: How To Avoid Productivity Potholes – By Cynthia Kyriazis – Great book on organization and tips to avoid losing your productivity steam.
And there you go, you made it! See, I knew you could do it. You were able to stay focused long enough to read approximately 1800 words. I’m hoping I was about to provide some information on how to stay focused on work. I know I can certainly be guilty of not being able to stay focused when I want to.
And focus grasshopper (better than a goldfish),
4 thoughts on “How To Stay Focused On Work”
What an informative article. And, I hope it’s not true that the human attention span is comparable to a goldfish.
You mentioned one of my biggest issues…email! I try to keep it cleared out on a daily basis, but I’m not always successful.
Multitasking is something I always disagreed with, even when the “experts” were telling us what slackers we were if we weren’t participating in the multitasking lifestyle. I’m glad this notion is falling out of favor!
Thanks for stopping by. I thought that was incredible funny as well – comparing our attention span to that of a goldfish. Squirrel! Email used to be my downfall but with a lot of practice I’ve gotten better.
I loved your article. What you say resounds with me! I am a principal at a private school attending around 400 students. It is unimaginable how many things come to me all the time.
At least 3 days per week I do not schedule things because the school day is over before I know it and I have done hundreds of things. I often feel unaccomplished because of that. It seems like I am not doing a single thing, yet I work really hard all the time. I guess that comes with this kind of job.
The main distractions, if I can call them that, is people popping into my office. That can be students, teachers, administrators, parents, bus drivers, etc. They all come in for a piece of advice, since we are dealing with people and relationships with people can be very demanding. So, I stand there as this “tall tower” as I like to call it and try to give everybody good advice as to how to deal with the situation in class, what to do next, how to help the kids learn, how to deal with behavioral issues, etc.
That takes up lots and lots of time! When I first started out, there were meetings, but I have been able to minimize them, because it is just ridiculous how much time is lost in a meeting. They take so long, but many things are unfocused and unnecessary. Although I have to attend meetings at least 4-5 times a month, it is less than it was.
Thanks for an eye-opening blog post about how to reduce and organize your day so you can be more accomplished,
Wow! I am sure you stay incredibly busy at your job! Sounds like people popping into your office is part of the role you have, probably difficult to minimize that. I totally agree with you on the meetings part, it is difficult for me to sit through so many. Thanks for the thoughts!