You’ve felt it, I’ve felt it, we’ve all felt it: that feeling of being completely unable to focus on your work. Around you, the office buzzes with productivity, and your grand achievement of the day so far has been noticing that the minutes really seem to take longer than sixty seconds to pass by. Your focus on work is tenuous at best, and downright distracted at worst. Oftentimes, the less productive you feel, the less productive you are, leading you to feeling trapped, creating a snowball effect that can quickly become overwhelming. On the other hand, feeling like you’re a productive member of the team can lead to a higher job satisfaction and the feeling of relevance to your organization. Still, we all have those days sometimes – so how can you focus on your work better?
A wide variety of factors can influence your workplace productivity, and, surprisingly, many of them have little to do with the work itself. A field study conducted in 2005 found that 99% of the 88 office workers surveyed cited difficulty focusing as a result of office noise, including phones ringing at other desks and background conversations.1 Another issue that can impair your focus at work may simply be the act of being in the office, and the resulting lack of daylight. Natural light can “improve subjective mood, attention, cognitive performance, physical activity, sleep quality, and alertness,” according to a 2016 study on natural light and productivity, which noted that these qualities “could be considered key aspects for optimal academic and work performance.”2 When you add the constant buzz of your emails, phone notifications, and social media into the mix, it’s a wonder we have any kind of attention span for our work at all!
With so many ways to gain and lose your focus on work, it’s safe to say that having trouble focusing in the office is normal, and even expected.3 Some companies have capitalized on this concept to test our reduced working hours that emphasize work over distraction; in some cases, these companies are able to achieve similar levels of productivity in twenty-five working hours as in the standard forty.4 In many cases, this is because many of those “extra” fifteen hours are influenced by stress. Most employers and employees don’t realize how much they are impacted by workplace stress, and this can lead to having trouble finding your focus at work and having no idea why.5 This means that activities that have a positive impact against stress, like eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising can wind up having a positive impact on how you focus at work. Better than that, it means a naturally healthier lifestyle as well.6 This is also why some companies, especially outside of North America, have begun exploring ideas like prohibiting employees from sending work-related emails on weekends – to cut down on stress and improve productivity and job satisfaction.
How to Focus on Work Better
There are a lot of things you can do to improve your focus on work, from little things like getting some fresh air periodically throughout the day to bigger ones like micro-tasking. Micro-tasking means taking a big job and splitting it into smaller tasks.7 Traditionally, these tasks would be distributed across a wide variety of people to be finished as quickly as possible, but you can use the technique to focus on one item for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time before taking a break and allowing yourself to check your email, social media, or phone. Breaking up your day in this manner can make it easier to progress through your tasks.
Another useful way to improve your focus is to optimize your working environment. You could set up posters, add plants to your desk, or incorporate background music to create a more pleasant working environment for yourself. You might be surprised at the difference this makes! Also remember to:
- Prioritize getting enough rest at night so you have the energy needed to apply focus to your job.
- Try to avoid or cut down on your caffeine intake; consider drinking tea or eating apples as alternative ways of keeping alert.
- Set deadlines and keep them – a looming deadline can have a lot of power in keeping you on task, and makes organizing your day much easier.
Another way you can focus on your work better is to wear an eSmartr sleeve as you work through your tasks. The Cognitive Boost Technology™ in each sleeve works to filter out the “noise” in your brain that can lead to distraction and procrastination. Tiredness, stress, and feeling overwhelmed can all hinder your ability to concentrate at work; eSmartr can help you to overcome this challenge.
As difficult as it can sometimes be, one of the best techniques in knowing how to focus on work better is to know how to take a step back. Work probably shouldn’t be your number one priority in life, and too much focus on a single idea can quickly lead to burnout. Do your best to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and then start experimenting with focusing techniques that might work for you. If you take care of yourself, you will begin to see better results at work, and from there you can begin to really shine at what you do.
1. Banbury, S. P., & Berry, D. C. (2005). Office noise and employee concentration: Identifying causes of disruption and potential improvements. Ergonomics, 48(1), 25.
2. Shishegar, Nastaran & Boubekri, M.. (2016). Natural Light and Productivity: Analyzing the Impacts of Daylighting on Students’ and Workers’ Health and Alertness.
5. Maulik, P. (2017). Workplace stress: A neglected aspect of mental health wellbeing. The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 146(4), 441-444. doi:http://dx.doi.org.library.sheridanc.on.ca/10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_1298_17