Who hasn’t struggled with concentration at work and with any other place or activity for that matter? We all do in different ways, depending on our personality tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it is not nearly enough to tell yourself, “Snap out of this and concentrate!” Many times, starting this internal dialogue leads to negative self-talk, procrastination and feelings of worthlessness (especially if you seek approval from others with work). In order to truly make ourselves focus on work related projects consistently we must create a concentration program that will work for us.
A preliminary step is to first recognize your strengths and weaknesses surrounding how you handle your workload, as well as your daily schedule. For example, for years I used to stay late at the office, trying to finish one more task. However, after a while I realized that staying later wasn’t helping me much. Instead, coming in a bit early when there were important deadlines worked better. I noticed that my brain was more awake in the early morning and it was easier to tell myself I will “get a headstart” on a project, as opposed to when I would say, “I have to finish this right now” when I had stayed late. The slight mental and schedule shift made a world of a difference to me. Instead of pushing myself beyond the point of exhaustion, I began protecting my mental health by creating the early versus late work schedule boundary.
1) Throw Multi-Tasking Out the Window—Commit to doing one task at a time. We all have different methods of multi-tasking, but the truth is that you can only do one task at a time, and still be efficient and effective. For example, one habit I am still trying to break is to not keep too many Internet and Microsoft Word tabs, pages and windows open as I jump from one task to the next. It helps me to keep at least a couple open since I will get an idea for a second project when I’m still working on the first. However, much of my desk time is spent multi-tasking because of this habit. This breaks my concentration when I realize that there is more than one project that needs to be completed soon. As I have done, it is helpful to pinpoint your weak areas regarding multi-tasking in order to begin making real changes.
2) Reduce and/or Eliminate Distractions—We cannot deny that we live in a high-technological age. With the distractions of the Internet, instant messaging, email, smart phones and the like, we have created focus problems as products providing ease of use and convenience became solutions. Before that, it was distracting enough to field internal and external calls, faxes and constant office drop-ins. We have to recognize which distractions throw us off the most, as well as which ones we can directly control best.
Depending on your office setup and situation, many professionals choose to hang a “do not disturb” sign when they are in the thick of a deadline. As you can see, it is possible and essential that we learn how to best reduce distractions, so that we can serve our work and ourselves better.
3) Boost Your Brain—One of the most important factors in maintaining good focus and stamina, whether mentally or physically, is to eat well and exercise regularly. As cliché as it sounds, we all know this point is true. One thing that helps me stay on track at the office is picking up brain-boosting food, such as blueberries, blackberries and Greek yogurt with raw oatmeal. When I hit a mental wall, it is convenient to pick up one of my power snacks from the break room refrigerator and eat at my desk before I continue on. Other foods to incorporate include green leafy vegetables (ex: kale), nuts, beans/lentils and garlic, as well as super foods like spirulina and pomegranates.
It is also essential to exercise at least a few times a week if not several times. Even if you can only fit it in 10 to 15-minute increments, it still has a powerful effect on your body. When I am lacking enough exercise, I feel that my circulation is not good, and my muscles become quite stiff. When I am meeting my personal work out requirements, then I feel better all over—physically and mentally.
4) Break it Down—Another piece of advice we always hear is to break down larger tasks into smaller chunks. Depending on the project, this may or may not come naturally to you. Personally, I struggled with this because when I read the tasks on my list, it seemed like I could complete them faster than in reality. For example, finalizing a news release took more time than I estimated because I had to wait for someone to reply to my request for a quote and more detailed information. If I already had all the information, then I could have written the draft and checked it off my list. Therefore, it is important to be realistic with the nature of your work by breaking it down into smaller items. If I had done this years ago on my daily to-do list, then I would have been more kind to myself, and probably would have gotten more done.
5) Keep Calm and Carry On—I have seen this saying (“Keep Calm and Carry On”) posted in many homes as a décor piece. What a great reminder. Many of us do not think or know how to remain calm while working. We start drinking coffee and revving up our bodies while tackling stressful projects. This is not always a good combination, depending on the stress level. Therefore, you should consider what gets you worked up and what will calm you down. For example, if I am craving a beverage and wish to keep my body calm, a cup of relaxing herbal tea is the perfect choice. By eliminating added hype to your system, your mind will be in a better state to continue working.
In addition, when you leave work or your desk at home, then stick to it. Stop checking emails and the smart phone repetitively. Going overboard by continually stimulating your eyes and brain can make you feel run-down very quickly. Plus, your body will not achieve full rest that evening.
Try incorporating these tips into your daily routine as you journey onward with learning how to focus better at work. Your body and mind will thank you for it later.