There’s nothing worse than a looming deadline or work piling up, and you just can’t focus. Every time you sit down, keyboard in front of you, you find your mind wandering and your focus dwindling. Don’t worry; it happens to us all. However, there are some ways that you can tackle your wandering attention and get back on track.
Before looking at the how it’s essential to figure out the why. A better understanding of what’s making you lose focus will get to the root of the problem (rather than just chugging coffee in the hope that it’ll help).
There are many reasons that you might not be able to focus at the office, but today we’re going to concentrate on seven everyday things that stop people from focusing at work. These are:
Lack of Sleep
Too many things in too many places
A lack of purpose or direction
Hunger – You Always Need Food for Thought
If you are reading this, there is an excellent chance that you are human. And, like all other humans, you have particular inescapable needs. According to research, two of your very basic needs are food and water. If these aren’t met, your body is programmed to keep all your energy and concentration directed at fulfilling them.
So, if you get into the office still hungry or work all afternoon without taking a drink, your body will be screaming at you to focus on getting food and water rather than finishing that finance report.
The solution? Eat and drink. It seems simple because it is, but focus at work can often drift because people simply aren’t fulfilling their basic needs. For a more actionable solution, keep some healthy snacks at your desk to fend off the pangs of hunger in between breakfast and your lunch break. Dried fruit or nuts can hold off the hunger and keep your concentration on track.
Arguably, water is even more critical, with a recent study finding that drinking just 300ml of water can improve a person’s attention by almost 25%. Additionally, after drinking water, the study participants also reported being in a better mood, which also has implications for focus that we’ll get to later.
On a practical level, try getting a reusable water bottle and keeping it on your desk. You’ll find yourself sipping water throughout the day and more than likely experience a boost in focus.
Lack of Sleep = Lack of Focus
In addition to food and water, sleep is also a basic human need. Thus, a lack of sleep can have an immediate and detrimental impact on your focus at the office. Without sleep, the brain struggles to function. It becomes overworked and lacks the time it needs to recover, leading to reduced cognitive function.
Studies have found that this includes impaired attention, working memory, long-term memory, and decision-making. This is in addition to a reduced capacity to carry out tasks that require higher functions such as keeping rhythm, motor skills, speech, and even the ability to adapt to new situations.
Basically, losing sleep affects every facet of your life, including your ability to focus at work. So the solution is again relatively straightforward: get more sleep. However, we know that it isn’t always that simple – many people struggle to get a full night’s rest. While this may be something you work on overtime, there are a few simple steps to get you started:
Stick to a sleep schedule, especially during your workweek. This means trying to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day while setting aside at least seven hours of actual sleep time.
Try to do at least some physical activities every day and not too close to bedtime.
Block out light and noise from the room where you sleep as much as possible.
Be careful about what you eat – foods like chocolate can hinder sleep.
Avoid excess caffeine! Caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, many soft drinks) should be avoided in the afternoon and evening. While it may not seem like it, caffeine has a half-life of 3 to 5 hours, meaning that a cup of joe in the afternoon could keep you awake well into the night.
Speaking of caffeine, is coffee a good solution to a lack of focus at work caused by tiredness?
Well, it’s not that simple – the answer is yes and no. If you’ve had a one-off bad night’s sleep, then a cup of coffee will, according to studies, increase your ability to focus and problem-solve. However, drink too much, and the exact same stimulant effects that helped you focus will start to reduce your ability to concentrate.
Comfort Keeps You Concentrated
We often associate comfort with relaxation, kicking back, and not concentrating on anything. However, basic comfort is also vitally important for focus. Think about the last time you tried to get a piece of work done at the height of summer – you’re not focused on the work, you’re focused on how hot it is. All your available brainpower is being used to figure out how to cool down.
Comfort is similar to hunger, thirst, and sleep as we already discussed, and is an essential need that must be met before you can move on to loftier things. In this day and age, many people are lucky enough to have control over the basic elements that dictate their comfort in the workplace, so to make sure you stay focussed, keep these comfort points in mind:
Even if your climate control is a window or a fan, utilizing what you have to keep your workspace at the right temperature is an important part of maintaining comfort.
Struggling to see or continuously shading your eyes from glare will both hinder your comfort and thus your focus. Make sure your lighting is right!
Stuffy rooms make for stuffy minds, so try to let fresh air into your office if possible. Plants can really help with this (as well as with climate control!).
Different people have different comforts, so set up your workspace to suit your needs. Don’t be afraid to mix things up to find what works.
Too Many Things in Too Many Places
In order to really focus at work, people require periods of deep concentration. In a workplace with thousands of notifications from a dozen different channels, this can become very difficult. Every time you sit down to work, “bing” another channel demands your attention and distracts you from the task at hand.
Centered around your email, Spike offers a modern alternative to out-of-date inboxes. This includes a built-in Priority Inbox, which serves up your most important mail, letting you focus on the things that matter. What’s more, the emails themselves are Conversational Emails, which cut away the clutter (like signatures and headers) to leave only the message.
Additionally, there are Online Notes to stay organized or collaborate with your team as well as Tasks and To-Do Lists, so you never miss a thing. Your inbox already contains most of your important tasks, and Spike gives you the power to keep them there in an organized and actionable way.
It’s easy to break your flow when you’re in the middle of an important document and have to set it aside to boot up, log in, and launch a meeting in your video conferencing software. Using Spike means never missing a step, with built-in video meetings and calls just a single click away. And if you don’t need a full call? Spike offers Voice Messages too!
Spike brings together all the tools you need into a single, user-friendly package, meaning no more distractions or interruptions from all the different apps. Everything under one roof means less time looking for tools and more time focussing at the office.
Avoidance – Tasks That Are Too Big or Too Boring
Another reason you might not focus on your work is that you’re actually trying to avoid doing the work. No, this isn’t an attack on your work ethic, and we are definitely not calling you lazy. There are just certain tasks that we as people tend to avoid. These are broadly split into the boring and the big.
The Boring Tasks are Painful
Some work is boring. Yes, we said it, and you know it’s true. Even if you love your work and find it satisfying overall, there will always be parts that are just a drag. And unfortunately, these boring bits of work can completely throw your day’s focus off as you try as hard as possible to avoid doing them.
There are a few ways to deal with tedious tasks that you are trying to avoid and even those you’ve successfully avoided for months. First, try to figure out if you can add something new to the task to make it less dull. This could be as simple as putting together a playlist of new music to listen to while you do the task or setting a timer to turn it into a game.
Additionally, you can combine smaller tasks simultaneously, so your overall “bored time” is reduced. Hate filing paperwork and being on the phone? Do them at the same time. There is also the option to combine them with tasks you like to create a boring-task-sandwich, taking the edge off the mundane.
The Big Tasks are Scary
On the flip side, we also tend to lose focus when confronted with tasks that are too big – too imposing or overwhelming. Big tasks mean either those that will take a long time (like writing a book) or that seem like a professional step up (your first time running a project).
In either scenario, you can be intimidated into procrastination, which means you can’t focus at the office. The solution is to break down these tasks into smaller parts that can be dealt with one at a time. Take the main goal, break it down into individual tasks and daily to-do lists, then start tackling them. You’ll soon find focus returning.
Anxiety Crushes Concentration
While we are often encouraged to leave our personal lives at the office door, this is nearly always impossible in practice. The things that are happening outside of work will no doubt affect the things you do at work, and this includes how well you can focus.
If you are dealing with anxiety-inducing problems outside of the office, these will take up your mental space and stop you from being able to focus on the tasks at hand. This is especially true if they are personal problems but also holds true for broader issues such as those you might see in the news or on social media.
It would be simple to say, “well why not stop watching the news and checking your feeds?”, but we all know that this isn’t a viable solution. One that could work, however, is introducing a little more mindfulness to your work.
In a fundamental way, this means learning to deal with that negative news so you’re free to focus on the things you want – whether that’s reading a book or getting down to work. In practice, this can be done at work in a number of ways, such as through breathing exercises or actual periods of meditation.
What’s more, the same practices that help deal with worries from outside of work can also be used to reduce anxieties within work. Whether you’re nervous about an upcoming presentation or feel like there is too much on your plate, a little mindfulness in work can help you keep your stress in check and your focus sharp.
And of course, drink water.
A Lack of Purpose or Direction
To be focused at the office, you have to be invested in what you’re doing and where you’re going. If you lack either purpose in your work or a clear direction to what you are doing, then there is little chance that you’ll focus – and let’s be honest, little reason you should try.
Purpose in work can come in many forms and is separate from how much you enjoy your role. For example, you could have a great time at the office each day but lack the more profound feeling of purpose that would keep you focussed.
To try and find purpose in your work (or clarify that you might need a shift), examine and carefully lay out your personal drivers, values, and strengths. Then, ask yourself: are these compatible with my work? If so, find ways to incorporate them into your day-to-day. If not, then perhaps you need a broader reflection on your work.
One major part of purpose at work is knowing that you’re heading in the right direction, and this direction can come in many sizes. There are daily, weekly or monthly goals that help keep you invested, but also your overall career progression. If you think that you aren’t heading towards the place you want to be, then there’s no chance you’ll focus.
The solution to this is to regularly assess your targets and how you plan on getting there. Then, make your work align with them. Then, if you feel like you have direction, you will quickly find your focus as sharp as ever in the office.
How to Stay Focused at the Office – a Quick Start Guide
These seven reasons that you might lose concentration at work, and the ways to beat them, are a great start to boost your office focus. Just remember, meet your basic needs such as food, water, sleep, and comfort. Beyond that, ensure that everything is as streamlined as possible to reduce distractions from a thousand channels.
Avoidance, anxiety, and a lack of purpose or direction can pull your focus while at work, but there are ways to deal with them if you invest a little time and a few personal exercises. It might take a while, but you could make distraction a thing of the past.