Focusing, in general, can be pretty tough, but I find that being totally focused at work is even harder. Especially when I really need to buckle down and get a lot of work done.
I blame it on my phone and technology, but today I am not going to theorize on the impact technology has on our attention span. Instead, I want to focus on what we can do to stay focused at work every day.
These are some simple but really effective ways to stay focused and on task at work, every day.
To start, we plan.
At my old job, my boss would always say “Fail to plan, plan to fail”, and as much as it would sometimes drive me crazy, it is so dang true.
If you fail to plan out your day and take control of it, IT WILL take control of you. Think of the days you get into work and go right into emails, or responding to slack messages, and then the next thing you know it’s 10 am, you haven’t gotten any real work done, and are unsure of how you are going to get it all done in time.
Going into work 30 minutes early, and getting together your plan for the day will guarantee that you get it in and get it done.
When planning, these are some of the things that I do:
- Prioritize my list starting with what is most important and ending with what is least important. Put the tasks that will nudge you closer to your overall goal first, go after those tasks first. Even if it is a big and tough task, get it done and attack the others.
- Pick just three results you would like to see by the end of the week. By listing out the three major tasks you need to get done above all else, it helps you focus on what truly is most important. It also helps me not get overwhelmed with the never-ending to-do list.
- Strategize what to do when. For example, I like to get more difficult calls in the morning when I have the most energy. These may be closing calls with candidates, cold calls, or review calls with managers. This may look different for you because maybe your peak energy hours of energy may be different than mine, whatever it is, plan your day around that.
Put your phone away, like physically far away.
My phone is my biggest distraction at work. Between the notifications that pop up from my apps, text messages, calls, or the terrible habit I have of just picking up my phone and scrolling through Instagram mindlessly. The worst part is that I don’t even realize what I am doing until after I am doing it. Phones are a HUGE distraction, so if your work allows it, PUT IT AWAY. Even if it’s for a one hour or 2-hour block, put it away and then give yourself 5 minutes every couple of hours to look at it and then get back to work.
Unfortunately, my job requires me to be on my phone all the time because I make phone calls for a living. To try to stay focused, I set myself an allotted amount of screen time using the Screen Time app on the iPhone. I also try to give myself breaks after a certain amount of cold calls specifically to look at my phone so I won’t during call time. This helps me be less tempted so that when I am working, I am actually really working.
Unfortunately, we don’t all have Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility, so becoming invisible can be a really difficult task since it’s not physically possible. Though, there are a couple of things you can do that makes you become invisible-ish.
- Lock yourself in a conference room. If I needed true alone time at work I used to do this often. I would even go as far as putting a note on the door asking to not disturb. This may sound bratty but sometimes you have to be to get sh** done.
- Put headphones in. Some people will put headphones in and will tell their staff or colleagues that when their headphones are in, not to disturb them unless it’s an emergency. You can also write a note next to your desk saying the same thing. Typically when headphones are in it means, “don’t talk to me”, but a note or email can be more clear on exactly what your intentions are.
- Turn off your phone, slack, and email. With technology today, even when we don’t want to be found we can be because of our apps and electronic devices. I am here to tell you it’s okay if you are NOT available and present 24/7. It’s not healthy, and if you are constantly helping others with their to-do lists, you will never get ahead on yours. Turn it off and shut it down.
This one seems counterproductive, but taking breaks is such an essential part of staying focused and on task. There are multiple articles written about this, and Brendan Bouchard has even produced a pdf about the 50×50 Productivity Formula that I love. It talks about how you should block tasks into 50-minute intervals for ultimate productivity.
There was a study done by the University of Illinois that proved that distractions and breaks from a big task can dramatically increase one’s ability to stay focused on a task for a long period of time.
Taking breaks is absolutely a thing, and it will increase your overall productivity in a day. To start, try planning on having a 1-hour block of time when you are “on” and then 10 minutes of time when you are “off” or on a break before returning back to your work. Every time I do this, I get so much more done, then when I try to plow through work all day long.
The whole point of focusing at work, and the whole point of this blog, is so that we can stay focused enough so we can “get into the flow” and produce bomb a** work.
You might be wondering what “getting into the flow” means, and some of you may be lucky enough to know it well. Getting into the flow – is a period of time that you have uninterrupted work, and are wholly focused in what you are doing. Often times when one reaches that flow state they are totally honing in on what they are doing, forget about the world around them, seem to know exactly what to do next, they become creative and happier and are ultimately performing at their best.
When I get into the flow, I often notice that I create really good quality work, have great conversations with people, and tend to have some kind of lightbulb moment. I also always walk away feeling really good about what just happened.
With all the distractions that are constantly around us like people, our phones, emails, marketing pop-up adds, getting into that state of the uninterrupted state of flow is super difficult. Cutting out the distractions, and giving yourself the time and space is what will get you there.
This week, try to start implementing just one of these attention focusing habits and see how it impacts your workflow this week!
Until next time,