10 effective ways to stay focused on work

Fight back against distractions, improve your productivity, and focus on work by employing these useful strategies.
Written by Doug Wintemute, Contributor

Fending off distractions at work can be a challenge, especially with our phones, social media, and friends and coworkers within reach and calling for our attention. Many of us struggle to focus on work at times, which can eat into our productivity and even our finances. While everyone has their own unique methods, there are evidence-based strategies available to help you stay on task.

Here, we provide our tips to help you maintain focus on work, improve your productivity, and empower yourself as a professional.

1. Call out what's distracting you.

Distractions may take up your time, energy, and attention. In order to overcome them, however, you need to acknowledge your particular distractions and identify them for what they are when they pop up. By doing this, you can gather and redirect your attention to more important matters. 

People may find that just labeling distractions empower them enough to put up boundaries and avoid those devices. Others might need to think motivational thoughts, speak positive words, or employ breathing techniques to refocus. Not only can these strategies improve productivity, but they can help ease the anxiety and frustration that come from distractions. 

2. Cut out digital distractions.

Throughout the day, our phones and computers are bombarded with emails, text messages, alerts, notifications, and social media updates. We get distracted by the sounds, the urges, and the habits of it all. To fight against these distractions, try:

  • Keeping your phone out of arm's reach 
  • Turning off notifications or putting devices on do not disturb
  • Deactivating distracting apps and features during the workday
  • Blocking certain websites
  • Scheduling phone and social media breaks for yourself

These strategies will help reduce the power digital distractions have over you and allow you to focus on work more intently throughout the day. 

3. Work proactively, rather than reactively.

You can disarm distractions by emphasizing proactive work over reactive work. We often react to the things going on around us in our environment and to our digital messages and emails. These non-pressing matters distract us and force us to lose focus on more important tasks. 

To combat this, create a list of organized and prioritized goals. Set your mind to completing this list before tackling any other reactive task. This will help you focus on the work that matters and complete it in a more timely fashion. You may even find yourself having more time to finish those reactive duties later in the day. 

4. Break large, vague tasks into smaller, more specific, more manageable tasks.

A large or ambiguous task can be daunting for just about anyone. Many of us have the urge to put these off in favor of smaller and more manageable tasks. While we are inactive, we can more easily fall victim to distractions. 

An effective approach here is to break down large tasks. This can make the project less intimidating and allow you to take small steps through to completion. Once you start a project, you can better stay on track, stay motivated, and formulate logical approaches for future steps.

5. Time-block your workday.

One of the best ways to focus on work is to have your day mapped out and scheduled. By time-blocking your day, you can work more efficiently and accomplish more overall. Set aside time at the end of each day for planning your tomorrow. 

Schedule the high-effort tasks for when you are most productive, such as the morning hours, after lunch, or whenever works for you. Consider grouping similar tasks together, allowing you to maintain creative momentum or knock out several small tasks in one sitting. 

6. Avoid task-switching.

Multitasking might seem like the most effective way to work, but it actually has a negative impact on productivity, according to the American Psychological Association. When we switch between tasks, it takes time to rebuild our focus back to where it was. Switching also leaves us more vulnerable to distractions. 

Instead, try to work on a task through to completion. In addition to much of the advice listed above, you can avoid task-switching by preparing all the materials you need to complete a task in advance. This will allow you to build consistency and momentum in your work. 

7. Listen to suitable sounds or music.

Listening to music at work produces different results depending on the person and situation. Studies have shown that listening to music you enjoy can increase focus and improve your mood and overall wellness. Yet, music can also be its own distraction.

While music does not work for everyone, consider listening to songs or sounds that do not fight for your attention. Songs with deep lyrical content, for example, might distract you and cause you to lose focus on work. Classical music might help during thoughtful or analytical tasks, while upbeat music can help with repetitive tasks. 

8. Eat balanced meals and drink water.

How and what we eat and drink throughout the day can have a big impact on how we perform at work. Consuming brain foods, for example, can increase memory, attention, concentration, and energy. Try starting your day with a healthy breakfast, and mix in fruits, nuts, and foods with omega-3 fatty acids to improve your brain health and cognition. 

Caffeine, chocolate, and sugar in moderation also have positive effects, particularly on your energy and alertness. Additionally, drinking water throughout the day can improve your mood and brain function

9. Organize your workstation.

Your workstation may have a greater impact on your productivity than you think. According to the Harvard Business Review, your physical environment can affect your mood, cognition, and decision-making. It can also create undue stress and anxiety and negatively impact your relationships. 

Reclaim your workstation and turn it into a place you want to spend time in, a place you find both relaxing and energizing. Decorate it with items, visuals, and smells that you enjoy and motivate you. Declutter and organize your things and stop wasting time looking for lost or misplaced items.

10. Try the Pomodoro technique.

The Pomodoro technique, coined by Francesco Cirillo in honor of his tomato-shaped timer, is a time management technique that can improve productivity. In practice, you set a 25-minute timer and focus on a work task until the alarm sounds. At this point, you reward yourself with a 5-minute break. 

The Pomodoro technique can minimize the effect of distractions by pushing them off until your allotted break time. Create an interval system that works best for you, and plan the system ahead of time to keep you motivated and on target.

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