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7 Ways to Improve Your Focus at Work

The workday can be long and hard, and it’s very easy to let your focus shift to the conversation that you had with your roommate last night or how much you want that pizza after work. While it is definitely a challenge to maintain focus, it’s not impossible. Not only does focus increase your productivity, but it also makes you a very valuable employee. Although you might think that giving yourself a social media break is the best way to regain focus, we have compiled sure ways to get your focus back on track during the workday.

1. Don’t let coworkers distract you

People in the office like to gossip and goof off, but just because they’re doing it doesn’t mean you should too. When trying to get work done, the best thing you can do to keep yourself focused is to tune out all of the outside noise and chatter. Once you get roped into a conversation about last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, your productivity at work is as good as gone. While it might be difficult to keep yourself from sharing your opinion on Shonda’s latest emotionally victimizing episode, try to wait until after work to fill your coworkers in.

If a coworker approaches you, casually mention whatever task you are currently working on and make it clear that you are very focused on getting it done. You can also tease them about their workload which might just be the hint they need to increase their own productivity. While you might be afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, you shouldn’t feel bad about choosing your work over a coworker.

“I tend to just ignore the conversations that my coworkers have and keep doing my work, no matter how tempting it is to join in,” says Kerry Moore, University of South Carolina Student Services graphic designer, class of 2018.

2. Create a to-do list

Lists help to keep priorities in order and remember deadlines. When you glance at this list you will know when you can take it easy and when you have to get to work because you have three or four projects lined up. To-do lists create a sense of urgency that will keep your focus in check. Putting your assignments on sticky notes and placing them around your computer or on your desk is a great way to visualize what you have to do for the day.

“If you set specific goals that you want to accomplish each day, it will be clear what your priorities are and you will be able to go after your goals with laser focus,” says Deidre Elkerson, an MBA student mentor at Western Governor’s University.

Related: 11 Things You Should Never Talk About With Your Coworkers

3. Break up your work

For some collegiettes, it can be very overwhelming to walk in to work and visualize everything that you need to get done that day. Everyone’s approach to focusing at work can differ. If lengthy to-do-lists stress you out, try breaking up your work into more manageable bits.

It is easy to shut down and get frustrated at the thought of working through assignment after assignment with no end in sight. The best thing to do is crush things into manageable pieces and proceed that way. Also, it is definitely more satisfying to cross multiple items off of your to-do list. Ending the day with seemingly only one thing accomplished can be very frustrating.

“I always find my work more manageable when I complete it in smaller chunks,” says Kaia Thompson, Ball State University Career Center assistant, class of 2018. “It also feels more satisfying when I look back at the day and see that I completed a bunch of tasks instead of one task, no matter how large it is.”

4. Have a routine

It might seem monotonous to have a schedule, but the built-in structure is a key component of staying focused. Having a routine, such as when you respond to your emails or even just when you take a lunch break, allows you to minimize distractions due to random choices. The time you would have spent contemplating your lunch hour, you could be honed in on your work.

According to Dr. Mahnaz Hashmi, a consultant psychiatrist and co-founder of expert healthcare platform Medstars, “When the distractions come from outside factors, you need to think about the boundaries you’ve set yourself. Instead of jumping at every opportunity to gather around the water cooler, plan your day in advance and schedule your time out.”

5. Take on your hardest task first

We have all heard that first is the worst, second is the best and third involves someone in a polka dot dress. While it may be a silly little tune that we used to sing on the playground, there is definitely some truth to the first task being the worst task. If you take on your most dreaded task first, you can get it out of the way and you won’t linger and procrastinate on other tasks to avoid it. Once you’ve handled the first and worst, everything that follows will seem more manageable.

“Do things you’re not looking forward to the most first. It makes sense, really. That way, you won’t spend your day wasting precious energy stewing about them,” says Lee Grant, a clinical director at Efficacy Limited.

6. Focus on one thing at a time

It is easy to try to take on numerous tasks in hopes of finishing earlier or moving on to more exciting things. However, it is impossible to completely devote yourself to multiple tasks. It is much better to hone in on one task and complete it to the best of your ability than to rush through a handful of tasks. Finish one assignment and then reward yourself with a break, a snack or a quick Buzzfeed quiz before returning to the other assignments on your list. 

According to Sarah McKay, the founder of Your Brain Health, “If you attempt to do multiple tasks, your brain will simply switch focus back and forwards between the two tasks, essentially diluting your attention, ability to compute and extending the amount of time it’ll take you to reach your goal. Not only will you be less efficient, your stress levels will increase and you’ll be at risk of cognitive fatigue or burn-out. Multi-tasking is a myth. Choose one task to focus at a time and follow it through until completion.”

7. Take a break

While you might be saying “duh,” it isn’t unusual for people to avoid breaks because they think that once they get off track, it will be difficult to refocus. It may seem counterproductive to say that the best way to stay focused is to take a break, but it actually is very helpful to take a minute or two for yourself during the workday. As long as you don’t use your break to social media stalk your crush, your productivity shouldn’t be interrupted.

“I like to go to the bathroom, get a snack or a drink, or just get up from my computer for a minute or two,” says Moore. “When I finish my break I know that it’s time to get focused and get back to work.”

Whether these tips save you from an endless conversation with a coworker or just a very stressful day, hopefully you will be able to start and end your day with laser sharp focus. An increased focus at work will help you to be a more efficient, productive and overall invaluable employee. At the very least, you will have a very happy boss on your hands and that, in itself, is something to be proud of. 

She realizes that her last name is Trusty and does that make her trusty? Yes, yes it does. She cares way more about the goings on of Kylie Jenner, One Direction, and the rest of the celebrity population way more than the average person should. So as opposed to becoming a professional paparazzo, she does this while she studies Broadcast Journalism at the University of South Carolina. You can find her on Instagram @briballerina or @verytrustysource. 
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