Maintaining My Focus at Work

I get distracted easily. All it takes is a sudden noise, or a dog walking past and all I  want to do is pet that very good pup, or find out what made everything go boom. And then I can’t remember what I was doing just a moment ago. It’s something that I struggle with. But knowing how to bring that focus back to the task at hand, and accomplishing it, distractions and all is key to my work day.

I’m not here to give unsolicited advice, or tell you what you should be doing. Rather, I’m writing about what works for me to avoid entering a cycle where I feel like I have so much to do, and it’s so overwhelming I burst into tears if I make a typo in an email draft. The point of all of this is to not get to that point, and balance working your tail off while also giving yourself a moment to not focus on work when you’re at work. Which, in my case, actually makes me better at my job.

Move It

I’m not used to sitting at a desk all day. Until recently, my time was split 70/30 between a desk (30), and a production floor (70). I was in boots lifting heavy things, operating forklifts, climbing on top of pallets, and weighing cases of bottle caps (they weigh 50 lbs., in case you’re wondering). So, sitting down all day is still very foreign. A different field doesn’t mean I stay rooted to my chair, though. I try to go for a walk most days. It’s an easy exercise. My blood starts circulating again, I’m moving, I’m releasing endorphins, and it gives me some time to think about anything but work, helping me clear my head and regain my focus when I’m back in my chair.

Change Focus

Do you ever have an afternoon lull? That time of day when the simplest tasks are impossible? I think most of of us do. Whenever that happens, I know it’s time to switch to a different task. Or even grab a glass of water, or pace around a room to think. If I refuse to budge from my chair, and force myself to stay on something, focus or no focus, it takes more time to complete anything. Moving to something else, no matter how brief, helps me reset and focus again.

Pencil it in

I’m a list lover. I’ve written about lists before, and they’re worth writing about again. They keep me organized throughout the day. For example, today’s list included checking emails, writing this article, client outreach, and grabbing lunch (yes, I need reminders). Knowing what’s on my list keeps me focused on the important tasks, and, by including things like eating lunch, I give myself a little bit of breathing room. It changes how I feel during the work day, and makes me a lot less anxious when I’m finishing up for the day, especially if I do need more time to finish a task.

Be Flexible

Some days are uneventful. Some days, everything is an emergency. It happens! Instead of stressing out about bouncing between tasks, I just focus on what needs to be done right that second. I can jump back to what I was working on later, it will still be there. I look at the most important and urgent task, and get it done. Refusing to be flexible hurts me more than it’s ever going to help. Adapting and changing is one of the most important things I can do to support my team.

Admit When I’m Stressed

Never mind the diamond analogy, I don’t enjoy extreme pressure. But stress is not a negative thing. It’s normal. Sometimes, just admitting that I’m stressed out, taking a second, and getting a few deep breaths into my lungs helps me refocus. Even writing out, “I’M SO STRESSED” helps. It releases that pressure, and brings me back to what I’m working on with a little bit of renewed energy.

Find What Works for You

It’s taken years to figure out what works. I’ve tried wearing headphones. Didn’t work. Timers didn’t work either. I started compulsively checking them, destroying my focus even further! Everything has something that works for them. It’s about figuring out what that is, and applying it.

About Curious Minds
We are a web development firm in New York and Chicago, providing development resources and consulting for websites and mobile apps since 2004.