How to Stay Focused at Work

Is there anything worse than getting into the groove at work, with some real momentum on a project, when suddenly...distraction hits. Your phone buzzes that someone tagged you in a picture, an email arrives asking if you want to go to a concert, a coworker IMs about where to go to happy hour tonight...and then there’s your lumpy office chair. The growing stack of work toward which you’re stealing furtive glances. It’s enough to force a person into workload paralysis.

Lifehack has some ideas for shutting out the world...or at least, soften the noise so it’s easier to stay focused at work within your sphere of control. Ask yourself these questions, and if the answer is no, it might be contributing to your proclivity for distraction.

1. Is your workstation comfortable?

Ergonomics is a serious consideration in most offices these days, but even so, it can’t always correct for a constantly bowed neck or strained eyes from a monitor placed too far away. Discomfort is distracting. When you feel your attention waning, do a self-check: am I straining anything which makes it harder to concentrate on work?

2. Is your office a clutter storm?

Disorganization is distracting. If there is a literal ‘to-do’ stack on your desk, along with a lunch bag, notebooks, pens, books, sticky notes, etc., it’s probably a good idea to take the time to do two things. First, clean your space and put everything in its place--EVERYTHING--and only take things out which you need to complete the task at hand. When it’s complete, put everything away, and move onto the next item of business. Doing a physical wiping away of work is therapeutic for your mind, as it’s able to mentally close out the task.

3. Does your computer lead to wasted minutes...or hours?

The Internet is a literal rabbit hole of distractions, as is your email, a messy desktop, and overly-complicated pathways to oft-used programs. To help reduce those distractions, try installing/asking IT to install a distraction-free browser. Try using your desktop not for file storage, but for program shortcuts (so, instead of clicking Start > Programs > Microsoft Office > Microsoft Word to get to the program, add it to your desktop). Many programs will display a list of recent open documents/projects, which is a more efficient way of accessing work than saving to your desktop because the program knows what you were working on last.

4. Do you have a water bottle at your desk?

No, seriously. It’s good to take a break when it’s needed but not always desireable when you’re under deadline. If fatigue or hunger hit, a few sips of water can be enough to stave off the urge to get up in the middle of something.

5. Do you have organized playlists?

Headphones or earbuds are great to drown out office noises, but *what* you listen to can be distracting in and of itself. This isn’t a recommendation for a specific type of music, though: it’s to create playlists with similar types of music, and not just hitting ‘Shuffle.’ Whatever your particular mood craves--heavy metal, smooth jazz, whatever--try to listen to a solid block of just that music. Switching from a classical piece to EDM is jarring to the mind, serving as more of a distraction than anything.


How do you stay focused at work?