6 Tips To Stay Focused At Work

With only a few minor adjustments, you can achieve better work.

“Too much to do and not enough time to do it.” We all have these moments at work. Sometimes, it never ends. How can we better manage our overbearing workload?

The workplace is a place of constant interruptions, over collaboration and few completed tasks. Edward M. Hallowell, a well-known psychiatrist focusing in ADHD, wrote about the dangers of ADT, or attention deficit trait, in Harvard Business Review. His article “Overloaded Circuits” discussed how the environment we work in can cause ADD-like symptoms in employees.

Between inboxes and voicemails being full, Slack notifications in double digits, desks covered in agendas and reports and co-workers interrupting, we feel that we don’t put enough attention to tasks. Only a few minutes are spent on a task at a time, making a 30-minute task take five hours to complete.

I highly recommend reading Dr. Hallowell’s article, but until then, here are six tips to avoiding ADT.

1. Take care of your physical health

This isn’t any secret sauce. It’s common knowledge that you feel good when you take care of yourself. This doesn’t mean you need to run a half marathon every morning and become a vegetarian. By simply watching your diet, getting adequate sleep and 30 minutes of cardio every other day you’ll see a new level of focus and energy at work. I go for a very short run a couple times a week, and on those days I complete more tasks than other days.

2. Follow the OHIO rule

OHIO stands for “Only Handle It Once.” Isn’t that the dream? This rule applies to both our digital desktops and actual desktops. When a new document or task comes across your desk, make a decision. This could be by completing it immediately, scheduling time later in the workday to complete it or delegating it to a coworker or junior associate. By making a decision on how you will take care of the task, you are keeping a portion of your desktop clear. Having a section of your desk clear helps you feel more organized. This also helps avoid letting files and papers accumulate on your desktop, which will add to future stress.

3. Take a break

Look, it seems counter-productive to take a break when you have too much to do. But, when we become overwhelmed, our mind gets caught in a loop between the decision-making and instinct part of our brain. We can’t make decisions because we’re in a fight or flight mode. To get out of this loop, step away from your desk and talk to someone you enjoy talking to. Doing a repetitive task, such as writing a description of your home, also resets the brain. For me, I channel my inner Forrest Gump and play a few games of ping pong.

4. Learn how and when you work your best

There are hundreds of productivity books and thousands of strategies to be more productive. Not all of those strategies are helpful to you. Everyone works differently and you need to know yourself better than anyone else. Ask yourself questions like “When am I the most focused?”, “How do I best receive tasks?”, “When am I unmotivated?” and “What tasks demotivate me?”. Knowing the answer to these questions will help you know how to plan your workload. For example, I’ve learned that I am most focused early in the morning and that I struggle with complex tasks in the early afternoon, when I want to take a lunch nap. I’ve also learned that playing upbeat music through headphones (I prefer Blink-182 and Sum 41. It’s provocative; gets the people going!) keeps me on track and eliminates most of my distractions.

5. Get a teammate

It’s easier to change your habits when you have help. When you are overwhelmed, reach out to a colleague for help. Delegate tasks to them or talk through your predicament with them. Talking through it can help you create an action plan. Feedback is also important. Having an assistant or deskmate push you to talk less on the phone, send fewer emails, or go home on time will make it easier to change your work habits and avoid your common pitfalls that create ADT.

6. Reserve some think time

Each day, reserve some time away from distractions and interruptions. Be free from appointments, phone calls and your email. This “think time” will help you think through your priorities and action plans to accomplish them. You’ll be able to think deeply on your work and find solutions to the issues you are facing. Once you’ve completed one or two important tasks, you can then get back to your inbox. Since I work in an open office, I come into work an hour early to get some peace and quiet. I’m more productive in that hour than any other hour.

For the past two months, I have implemented these six tips into my workday. My tasks have been accomplished faster. My plans to meet a challenge have more thought and have received better results. I feel more relaxed at work and am more in the habit of keeping focus.

Give it a try yourself. I’m sure you’ll see the difference.

Want to remember these tips? Download a PDF to keep at your desk!

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