Do you struggle to focus while you work?
How often does it happen when you’ve been sitting at your desk for hours only to look back when the day is over and feel like you’ve accomplished nothing?
Or maybe you’re trying to work on something only to constantly be interrupted by email notifications, your smart phone beeping, or yet another interruption by a team member.
6 Techniques for Staying Focused At Work
Every day feels like a never-ending battle to keep your attention on what’s important, but more often than not distraction is winning the day.
This is a shame.
Because in many ways what we choose to focus on is the most valuable resource we have. We should treat it accordingly.
The good news is that if you set things up to maximize your focus, you’ll be able to get more done in any given day than you ever imagined. Below are 6 great ways to develop laser-like focus while you work:
1. Build Your “Focus Muscles” Like a Weightlifter
The same principle that weightlifters use to get stronger can also be used to develop your ability to focus. The only way for a weight lifter to get stronger is to stimulate his or her muscles with more and more weight. If not, the person’s strength will stagnate.
Studies show that we only have the ability to do a maximum of four or five hours of focused work per day. This is what we should aspire to work up to. However, just like a weightlifter’s strength does not come overnight, you slowly work up to your four or five hours per day of focused work.
When starting to build your focus muscles, doing an hour of focused work is a good starting point. But start at whatever point would be a challenge for you but still doable. So if an hour is too much start with 15 minutes and build from there.
2. Work In Focused Blocks of Time
Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr helped popularize the idea of “periodization” for entrepreneurs in their book, the Power of Full Engagement. Periodization in this context means we should work in a series of focused “sprints” throughout the day followed by periods of recovery.
A popular application of this strategy is the Pomodoro Technique, which advises us to work in a 25-minute burst followed by a 5-minute break. This 30-minute block is known as a “Pomodoro session.”
After four Pomodoro sessions you would then take a longer break.
My personal preference is to work for longer focused session of around 55 to 60 minutes followed by a 10-minute break (I use a kitchen timer to time my sessions). Experiment and see what works best for you.
3. Have a “Break Ritual”
Have you ever planned on having a quick 5-minute break to check something on the Internet only to come back from an “Internet black hole” 45-minutes later and have no recollection of what you just looked at?
You’re not alone.
Many well-meaning entrepreneurs struggle to stay focused because they don’t manage their breaks properly.
In addition to spending too much time surfing the Internet and checking our smart phones during our breaks, other culprits include getting distracted on long eating breaks and taking too much time talking to our friends and colleagues.
So how to fight against these ‘time robbers’?
By implementing a “break ritual.”
This means you’ll decide ahead of time exactly what you’re going to do during your breaks. I highly recommend you stay away from technology during these break rituals.
In fact, my preferred ritual is to “just sit there.”
Meaning after my timer goes off I’ll simply walk to the room next to me and sit down and relax for 10 minutes. No checking email, no looking at text messages, nothing. I find this is a great way to relax and clear my mind.
Another benefit: the 10 minutes seem to go by much slower than before when I would get lost in Internet-land during breaks. Other good things you can do during break rituals include stretching and going for a walk.
4. Schedule Your Distraction Time
In his book Deep Work, Georgetown University professor and MIT graduate Cal Newport presents the novel idea that instead of scheduling breaks from distraction to focus, we should schedule breaks from focus to distraction.
Meaning we should block out specific times when we’ll allow ourselves to check our smart phones and emails, but we should avoid these distractions at all other times.
We want to make not being distracted our “default” state.
This is one of the true secrets or “hacks” to being more productive. Numerous scientific studies show that the constant switching between stimuli has a negative effect on our ability to focus. When we force ourselves not to do this, we take our “attention power” back, which makes focusing much easier.
To do this, we need to schedule our “distraction sessions” into every work day. Preferably later in the day to allow time for us to get our focused work done earlier. It is during these distraction sessions where you can check email, your smart phone and your favorite social media sites (if you really have to).
5. Manage Your Energy For Maximum Focus
Managing your energy is one of the best ways to improve your ability to focus. We do this primarily through proper diet and exercise. A diet designed for productivity will not only give you the energy you need to stay focused throughout the day but will also give your brain a boost.
The keys to a productive diet are:
- Eat plenty of healthy fats (including avocados, fatty fishes and nuts).
- Eat plenty of greens (including leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach and broccoli)
- Stay away from all processed sugars.
Similar to diet, exercise not only will give you energy throughout the day, it’s also been shown to improve brain function as well. And what type of exercise you do is much less important than the fact that you do exercise at all.
At a minimum, you’ll want to engage in 20-minutes of moderate exercise at least three times per week. But also look for opportunities to move your body whenever possible: take the stairs, park your car a little farther when you go to the store, carry a hand basket at the grocery store instead of pushing a cart around if you can. All of these things make a difference for both your energy levels and your health.
6. The 3,515 Year-Old Secret For Improving Mental Focus
Did you know that one of the most amazing “hacks” for improving your mental focus has been around for over 3,500 years?
What’s more, this secret is completely free and can do wonders to improve your focus in as little as five minutes a day.
I’m talking about meditation.
Meditation has been called a “mental workout” for your mind and that’s exactly what it is. We talked above about building your “focus muscles” while you work. Think of meditation as a way to further train your focus muscles so you really “stretch” them during work time.
Many top running coaches have their athletes train their legs with weights in addition to their strenuous running workouts to prepare them for their races. Think of meditation as “weight training” that will help you perform even better at the race that happens everyday at work.
A great way to get started with meditation is to sit comfortably and simply focus on your breath: take a slow deep breath through your nose and say the word “in” to yourself while you do this. Then slowly exhale while silently saying the word “out.”
Repeat this for five minutes. Once you can do that, slowly build up to 10 then 20-minute meditation sessions.
To summarize, we just covered six great ways to develop laser-like focus while you work:
- Building your focus muscles
- Working in focused blocks
- Having a break ritual
- Taking breaks from focus
- Managing your energy
If you implement these strategies one by one, your days of struggling to focus and get things done will be over forever.