“Concentration is a fine antidote to anxiety.” – Jack Nicklaus
Running behind on a project (again)? Can’t remember where you stashed those brilliant stroke-of-genius-at-midnight notes you jotted down last week? Sorting through the pile on your desk and wondering how you’re going to get it all done?
From time to time, we all struggle to focus at work. It can be difficult to juggle your every day tasks, the phone calls, the emails, and all the different deadlines on your professional plate.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Not sure what to do? Here are a few strategies for improving your concentration on the job.
Get your priorities straight.
Don’t overtax yourself by trying to remember everything from memory alone. Sometimes, we get distracted trying to remember something, which makes it difficult to keep our minds clear to focus. Whether you’re in a meeting or on a conference call, jot down notes if you’d like to raise a point. This will allow you to fully absorb what others are saying without forgetting what you want to say.
The same goes for getting your tasks done on time. Don’t try to remember everything or tackle everything at once. This could lead to major time leaks and leave you open to getting distracted. Creating a list of important tasks you need to complete will help you to actually concentrate on getting them done. Once you’ve made your list, decide which tasks are most pressing and which ones can be left for a later due date.
One thing at a time.
Stop trying to do so many things at once! Being able to multi-task is not necessarily a good thing. Doing multiple things at once forces us to function at a constant state of partial-attention. Ultimately, this means we achieve less and sometimes make a lot more mistakes than when we focus on a single thing.
Still having trouble focusing on the task at hand? Try assigning yourself a time to worry about it later. For example, if you keep thinking about the laundry you were supposed to do yesterday – tell yourself, “Okay, I forgot to do that. When I get home this evening, I will immediately put in a load.” Then, set a reminder on your phone or add it to your To-Do list, so you’re free to concentrate on what you’re presently doing.
Timing yourself is another great way to improve concentration. There’s a couple ways you can use a timer to regulate your working habits.
- Setting work intervals can help bring your wandering mind back from its musings on the Breaking Bad series finale and help you self-police your work. If you’re off task, the timer should help you get back to what you’re supposed to be doing. You can start with short intervals like 10 minutes, and then slowly build up the length over time to extend your attention.
- Time management techniques, like The Pomodoro Technique, helps you work for set intervals of time that are broken up by short breaks.
The 5 basic steps:
- Choose a task from your to-do list
- Set your timer for 25 minutes
- Work until the timer rings and record the interval as an X
- Take a break for 3-5 minutes
- After four 25-minute intervals, take a longer break for 15-20 minutes
Get your email in check.
Sometimes, it’s easy to get completely side-tracked by the onslaught of emails flying into your inbox. This can reduce your focus and distract you from what you’re working on. Instead of checking your emails as you receive them, set aside specific times in your to do check your inbox. This way, it’s on your list as a task and you can devote your full attention to your mail and all the other tasks you need to get done.
Tell yourself “5 more”.
Getting frustrated and losing your drive? Tell yourself “5 more”. Whatever that happens to be. It could be 5 more minutes of anything. Write 5 more pages. Read 5 more articles. You get the point. Athletes often build up stamina by pushing their physical limits, and you can do the same with your ability to focus. Pushing yourself to the point of frustration will allow you to do it for longer the next time.
Create your perfect workspace.
One of the more common pieces of advice when it comes to workspace is to declutter it. For many people, a clean and organized workspace help them focus. The old adage, “Tidy house, tidy mind”, often applies to the spaces we work in as well. However, this is not for everyone. So, we suggest creating a comfortable workspace based on your own tastes.
According to 99U, scientific research has shown that simply making your own decisions about how you organize your workspace has been linked to improved productivity based on its empowering effect.
Other big takeaways from the same studies include:
- Rounded furniture can help inspire creativity.
- Colors like blue and green increase your ability to generate ideas.
- The color red has been shown to enhance performance for tasks that require attention to detail.
- Office plants help lower stress levels, and a window with a good view (or a nice painting of a landscape) will refresh your mind.
- A messy desk could boost your creative mojo.
Procrastination is not lazy.
We all have been there. A deadline is looming and nothing seems to have been finished. Skip to panic mode, a rush job, and a boatload of coffee. So, why do we procrastinate in the first place? The best way to avoid procrastinating is understanding why you feel the need to delay.
Scott Young says that one of the biggest causes for procrastination is a fear of how much you have to do. Putting off starting a project is caused by an unconscious feeling that there is too much work ahead and anything done in the short term will do nothing to reduce your workload in the long-term. Young also points out that too many people measure their work based on the hours they put in and not on the tasks they accomplish, or the energy they have devoted to their work.
Setting a hard end-point to stop for the day and giving yourself positive reasons for staying motivated can help you avoid procrastinating. Additionally, focusing on what you need to do and committing to finishing one task at a time can help you get started.
Any workplace, whether it be an office or a living-room, is full of distractions. If you have trouble leaving your email alone or find yourself checking your phone or social networks too much, cut yourself off. Getting rid of distractions will help you to process information more clearly and keep your mind focused. This might mean you’ll need to silence your phone or logout of your Twitter page, but shutting out what distracts you the most will help you avoid the temptation of losing focus.
Practice makes perfect.
Concentration is a skill that must be learned, just like any other activity. The more you practice concentrating, the better you’ll get at it. There are a lot of different exercises you can use to improve your concentration, such as sitting still in a chair or focusing on a single point of an object. Whichever mental exercise you choose, treat your practice as if you’re an athlete training for a race. The more you exercise your abilities to concentrate, the stronger they will become. Exercising your mind will take time, but ultimately, it will translate to better concentration and a sharper focus.
Take breaks and meditate.
Make sure you take breaks. Continuous work is enough to drive anyone crazy, and it’s important to give your mind a rest during the day. Get up from your desk and move around the office. Or, if you can, go outside and take a quick walk around the building. Breathing in the fresh air and exercising helps increase brainpower and reduces stress. This will help you stay motivated and interested in what you’re doing.
Another great way to give yourself a break is to meditate. The practice of meditation is one of the most powerful concentration enhancement techniques available to us. Meditation can help you handle the excess distractions and stress of a modern workplace. A ringing phone. Chatty colleagues. The internet. In order to meditate, we have to master the art of concentration. Meditating regularly (even for a short period of time) gives us a specific time every day to work on our concentration techniques.