Staying focused at work can be a challenge. Between office chatting, personal email, texting, and every single site on the Internet, it’s a wonder anyone ever gets anything done. I struggled with focus for years, and I assumed I was simply doomed to a goldfish’s attention span. But it turns out I just had to adopt some simple behavioral changes. Here’s what worked for me.
1. Make short-term and long-term to-do lists.
While having a sense of long-term projects is necessary, it can be overwhelming to approach each day with a giant mountain of tasks. Breaking down your bigger projects into daily to-do lists makes your work manageable. Added bonus: You get to check things off every hour instead of once a week.
2. Create a routine.
You can set a watch by one of my fellow colleagues, she stands up every 30 minutes to stretch. If you know that something is supposed to happen at an appointed time, you’re more inclined to work toward it, instead of letting the hours fritter away. At my first office job, I was most productive in the two hours leading up to my daily 4 pm hot chocolate break with my fellow HR colleagues.
3. Take breaks and move around.
I get up and leave my desk at least once an hour. I find that walking around the office energizes me, and that I come back to my desk refreshed. Here’s what I don’t do on short breaks (except lunchtime): Facebook, Instagram, or the Internet in general. Walking around clears my head; diving down an Internet rabbit hole ruins my focus — and it takes ages to get back in the game.
4. Cut out Internet distractions.
If you can’t tear yourself away from checking blogs, Facebook, your personal email, or other distractions, get yourself an app to handle it. There’s no shortage of apps and extensions that will block you from Internet browsing, like Cold Turkey and Self Control — and you can customize by the specific site(s) you want blocked and how long you want to stay offline.
5. Snack and stay hydrated.
I don’t know about you, but I can hardly function when I’m hungry. Hunger pangs are just as disruptive as a constantly pinging phone. If you can do it, take the time to enjoy a healthy and energizing snack. What works best for me is to eat three small meals spaced out every few hours, instead of one bigger meal at noon. I find that I have more energy as the day progresses, and I don’t fall into that afternoon slump. And don’t forget to drink water as often as possible. Frequent restroom trips fit in nicely with walk-around breaks.
6. Use headphones.
Headphones signal to your coworkers that you need to stay focused. In fact, I know many professionals who wear their headphones all day while at work to signal the importance of what they are doing to their co-workers. I tend to listen to spa music that I’ve heard a million times when I’m writing, so it functions like white noise. Otherwise, you might get tripped up on unfamiliar lyrics and end up losing your concentration.
Sherri Elliott-Yeary, the Generational Guru and best selling author of Ties to Tattoos, Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage, is a speaker, coach and trainer in the area of Human Resources and Talent Management. Sherri specializes in helping employers maximize their human capital by collaborating across the generational gap. Her expertise in human capital management and organization includes: workforce planning, company culture, training, assessments, HRIS implementation, regulatory compliance, strategic alignment, payroll, compensation and benefit programs. Learn more at generationalguru.com.