Focus isn’t something that’s constant.
In a perfect world we’d always be on task and avoiding distractions would be easy, but sometimes finding focus isn’t so simple. An email or side conversation might completely throw you off your game when you should be concentrating on work.
Or, maybe your lack of focus is the symptom of feeling overwhelmed or uninspired. There are plenty of reasons why you may have lost your focus, but it’s not impossible to get back. In fact, there are several tricks that will help reset your brain so you can return to crushing your to-do list.
When you do feel distracted, it’s important to take an audit of why. This will help you solve the problem. So often, we don’t stop to think about what’s causing our feelings – but we’re quick to try and fix them. Ask yourself what’s keeping you from being focused on the task in front of you.
On the surface, you might think it’s a conversation happening in the hall outside your office, but in reality it’s that you’re having trouble interpreting the report you should be analyzing. Closing your door might help some, but are there other actions that could help your root problem?
That quick scan might help you find the best possible solution.
A few deep breaths and finding a little bit of stillness can have a big impact. Sometimes focus is lost when we have a million thoughts racing through our brain. Even when you’re on top of it all, it can be hard to escape. Meditation can help quiet those thoughts so you can return to your best self.
2. Set the right priorities
When multiple tasks or projects are vying for your attention, it can become overwhelming. This is a common way focus is siphoned from our work, but prioritizing tasks is a great (and simple) way to ensure that your focus is in the right place. You may quickly find that sorting out your to-do list by priority increases your productivity and keeps you on track to reaching all of your goals.
3. Reset your routine
A chronic loss of focus might mean you need a hard reset. If you try to push those feelings down and keep going, you might eventually arrive at burnout’s doorstep – which is a lot more frustrating and difficult to alleviate. Take a look at your schedule and your routine to figure out where you might need improvements.
A good place to start is your sleep. Are you getting enough? Then, work through your morning and work routines. Small changes can make a big difference.
4. Set a timer
Time management and focus are closely related, and it’s easy to see why. They often directly affect each other. If you’re in need of a quick trick to get you on task, set a timer. 15-30 minutes is a good place to start when you feel completely unfocused. By doing so, you’re able to break down your work into more manageable chunks. For especially tough days, set a reward on the other side of the timer. A quick walk or a snack after the timer ends is a good way to force yourself through a few tasks.
5. Take a break
If your brain is drifting, you might just need a break. For many, that’s a hard pill to swallow, but everybody needs a break every once in a while. Stepping back from your task and getting some distance is actually quite beneficial, researchers say. Not only can it improve your recall of information, it can help you solve problems. Taking a break can result in better work, which is the ultimate win.
6. Slow down
Just because you’re moving fast doesn’t always mean you're accomplishing a lot. Finding your focus can sometimes require slowing down. It seems counterproductive, doesn’t it? In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably not making that much of a difference in how much you’re accomplishing, but it will help you complete a task. Plus, easing up on the gas pedal will help you ensure quality so that you don’t have to re-do a task.
7. Set boundaries
It’s easy to lose focus when we’re being pulled in so many different directions. Whether it’s meeting or feeling the need to respond to emails right away, you’re probably losing focus and having trouble finding it again. Researchers say, on average, it takes about 23 minutes to regain focus after a distraction.
If this sounds like something that’s happening to you, find a way to introduce more boundaries into your work life. This might mean setting a specific time to respond to emails (instead of doing it as they are delivered) or setting your online status to ‘do not disturb’ when working on tasks that require deep focus.
8. Grab some water
When in doubt, hydrate. It’s such a simple fix, but one that often works. Researchers have linked hydration with cognitive performance, so if you’re feeling a little spaced out, you might just need a bottle of H2O to get you back on track.
9. Set the mood
A clean desk, a good playlist, a fresh cup of tea. Setting the mood to get down to work is important, and it looks different for everybody. Find the things that help you settle into work mode. For some, this might mean turning off any irritating overhead lighting. For others, it might be trekking to a coffee shop for the afternoon for a change of scenery.
It’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve so that when you feel unfocused, you can take a few moments to tidy your space or open a window and get back to work.
10. Minimize distractions
It’s nearly impossible not to be distracted these days. Constant email and app notifications, the lure of scrolling, and a million other variables might be competing for your attention.
Take a moment to set your phone to work mode or in another room. Out of sight really is out of mind. You can adjust your settings to only let certain notifications through during working hours. This significantly cuts down on distractions that constantly have you reaching for your phone, causing you to constantly lose focus.
For environmental distractions, it can be a bit trickier. Sometimes ambient sound, like the sound of a coffee pot sizzling or a printer printing, can fall into the background, but other times it feels like it could send you over the edge. Noise-canceling headphones are a great tool for drowning out some noises and it keeps people from approaching. A win-win.
11. Find a fresh perspective
Sometimes you really have been staring at your computer screen too long or focusing too hard on a problem.
Every now and again your focus needs some new inspiration. Find a friend or colleague who might be able to help you find a new angle you haven’t thought of or encourage you to think differently. Those little moments can have a big impact on your work and push you to go farther, even when it feels like your brain is a little scattered.Written by Kara Mason