Top tips for improving your focus at work
Do you feel like you can't focus properly? With so much information and technology out there, it could be argued that our attention span is shrinking.
According to research, our attention span used to be around 12 seconds in the year 2000 and in 2013, it was just 8.25 seconds. After an interruption, it can take people up to 23 minutes to fully return to the same level of focus. Every time we switch our attention from a task to checking our phone or emails, it can take us a long time to focus again when we go back to that original task.
High-quality work is produced when we balance the intensity of focus with the time spent. Unfortunately, the part we tend to struggle with most is the intensity of focus. So, complex tasks tend to take us longer to complete. So how do we improve our focus?
Various studies have indicated how effective mindfulness can be for improving focus. For example, one study demonstrated that after practising just ten minutes of meditation, people showed a better focus in subsequent tests than in the control group.
Other ways we can improve our focus and concentration include reading books or long-form content, completing puzzles or Sudoku, playing memory training games or practising something like a language or an instrument. Read on to find out more tips on how to improve your focus.
5 tips to improve your focus
To improve our focus and get better quality work done, we want to work in what is described as a state of flow. The flow state can be described as:
A mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity so that they lose the sense of space and time.
It's challenging to apply this to all elements of our daily work, but there may be some tasks we do that require a deep level of concentration and could really benefit from using this approach. So, if you want to improve your focus at work, you should try:
1. Focusing on just one task
Set windows of time where you will focus on a single task. For example, this period might be the whole afternoon or just one hour.
2. Setting your boundaries
Agree with the people around you - that may be your manager, team, or clients - on how frequently you will be available for them. Setting your boundaries in this regard can boost your productivity, as you'll have fewer interruptions.
3. Turning off your notifications
This tip is a no-brainer. Avoid interruptions by turning off your email, social media, and any other app notifications on your phone. If you can't simply turn these off, try silencing your phone when you have to focus on complex tasks at work.
4. Identifying how you work best
What does a productive work environment look like to you? Some people work better in the early morning, and with energetic music blasting from their headphones, others might only be able to focus in silent spaces. Identifying your work style can be helpful for your focus.
5. Working in 60-90 minute blocks followed by short breaks
Research shows that our brain will focus for an average of 90-minute blocks, and then you might need a 20-minute break to get back at that particular task. You can also break down that into 60-minute blocks followed by 10-minute intervals.
There are many ways of improving your focus at work and what works best for you may be different from others. It's important to acknowledge that we will have different periods in life, and our focus will also shift depending on what we're going through and our mental health. However, if you are still struggling to keep focused on simple tasks, you should consider other types of help, such as talking to a therapist.
How to stop procrastinating?
Whenever we cannot focus on our tasks, procrastination kicks in. Of course, we will all procrastinate from time to time – and we probably all know that feeling of frustration when we've put off work and then we have to rush through it or work overtime to get it done at the last minute.
Procrastination happens for several reasons. Our brain likes to preserve energy, so if it can take on a more manageable task like answering emails or completing simple admin tasks, it will drive you towards that, rather than the alternative, which is using valuable brainpower to focus on something complex. You may notice that when you're carrying out challenging work, you'll be drawn toward checking your phone and emails or trying to find a snack. These actions mean that your brain is looking for a distraction.
So, how to fight procrastination and get your work done? First of all, you'll need to make your goals and what you're working towards really clear. You should also try:
Part of this will happen in the planning process which we'll cover in the next section, but a few things we also want to think about here.
1. Breaking bigger tasks into smaller goals
The more specific we can be with these goals and what the outcomes look like, the easier it will be to stay on task and complete them. For example, if we know we have a lengthy report to write, we want to break that down and small achievable chunks. So, maybe the goal for one day is to finish 500 words of the introduction or to complete chapters 2 and 3. You need to be really clear on what success looks like for the task you're trying to complete. If we just have a 'complete report' on our to-do list, the likelihood is we'll put it off, because it seems like too big a task to complete.
2. Holding yourself accountable
Set yourself mini-deadlines for bigger projects and hold yourself accountable for reaching them. It's important to work at your own pace and within your own limits, however, be mindful and honest with yourself about procrastination.
We hope our tips have helped you to be more focused at work and reduce procrastinating. If you're curious about other tips to improve your workplace mental health, read our blog article on the topic.