Concentrating on work requires a good bit of effort. We all have days when our ability to focus is so weak that we can’t seem to make headway on any work-related tasks. We find ourselves easily distracted, bouncing from one activity to another while time slips by with very little being accomplished.
Most of us have a finite supply of attention to use during the workday, so we need to make the most of it by allocating our productive hours to the complex tasks that require deep thinking. When we’re operating at peak brain strength, it helps to proactively isolate ourselves from interruptions that can sap our energy and resolve (hello, email) — or that are hard to resist, like running through rounds of checking social media.
If you find yourself struggling to stay on task, eliminating the most common concentration killers can help to funnel your focus back to your work.
The ability to multitask is generally viewed as a prized skill in today’s workforce, but the truth is, multitasking diffuses our attention so that we tend to make more mistakes and it actually takes longer to complete each task.
To get things done, break down your goals into single tasks that can be completed within a reasonable amount of time (remember your attention span has time limits, too) and without relying on multiple tools or resources. For instance, let’s say that you’re developing an outline for a presentation to a client and you need input from a colleague. Make that action a separate task. Conducting research, writing, coding, answering email, making phone calls — all of these types of tasks can be grouped together and scheduled so that you’re only focusing on one type of activity at a time.
Email is a huge time suck. It diverts your attention away from YOUR work goal while you spend your productive time working on tasks to help someone else to achieve their objectives. If you’re part of a team, you may need to devote part of your day on collaboration and shared tasks — but try to prevent anyone else from hijacking your prime productive hours.
For starters, don’t leave your email application open on your computer while you’re working. Set a schedule for when you will check it during the day; for instance, at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. And 6 p.m. Be sure to set expectations with your team mates, clients or employer for your message response turnaround.
If your work requires you to check email message throughout the day, reply to messages that are critical or time-sensitive, but schedule a time to respond to messages that don’t require immediate attention.
Fight the urge to check in on social media networks during your working hours. It does require a bit of self-control, but if you can’t trust yourself not to be distracted by social media, use an app or browser extension that allows you to block your access during specific hours (e.g., SelfControl, StayFocused, Freedom and Cold Turkey are just a few).
Use your social media time as a reward for completing work tasks or for timed concentration blocks. For instance, once you complete Task A or apply yourself to your task for 45 minutes, allow yourself 10 minutes of Facebook time. If you use social media to motivate yourself during the day, be sure to set specific time limits — with alarms — so that you don’t get carried away.
Alarms & Notifications
Speaking of alarms, use them to time your breaks, but otherwise turn off all nonessential alarms, notifications and alerts on your digital devices during your focused work time. If possible, remove the temptation from your work area so that your gadgets are not pulling your attention away from your work.
Sometimes the environment itself is a distraction, especially if there is excess noise, people, pets or clutter that prevent us from concentrating on our tasks. Try a change of venue. Many people find that working in a cafe, coffeehouse, library or coworking space helps to improve their energy and mood. Be sure to find one that provides an ambience that allows you to maximize your productivity.