How to Improve Focus and Boost Performance at Work
Learn how to improve focus in the workplace so you can get the best results for yourself and your team.
Life is never easy. So many areas of life require our attention. With constant juggling, it sometimes feels like we’re dropping the ball, whether it be running late to pick up your son from soccer practice or forgetting about an important deadline. At home or at work, it seems we need to learn how to improve focus.
Being fully present, whether physically or virtually in the office, means you are focused on the single task at hand. Eliminating distractions can help you better recall deadlines, instructions, and other crucial details that will improve your work. But that is just the start.
Staying focused can be a challenge. This article will dive into the common causes of distractibility and offer solutions to improve concentration and train your brain to better focus at work.
What can affect the ability to focus?
The ability to concentrate is one of our most important mental resources.
To be distracted is, by definition, to lose focus. The ability to concentrate is one of our most important mental resources. Many types of distractions can pull your attention away, whether you work from home or in an office. These are the most common complaints.
Maybe it’s loud phone calls nearby, text messages, or someone in the next cubicle talking about their weekend. Electronic devices, in particular, provide constant stimulation and constant distractions. Though they provide valuable services, they can dull our cognitive performance and problem-solving skills.
Mental or emotional distraction
These might include stress, preoccupation with an argument with a friend or partner, or any other mental or emotional strain. We’re likely to have trouble concentrating on a challenging task when our primary focus is on such troubles. This can be dangerous when we try to perform tasks that involve, for example, heavy machinery or large sums of money.
Poor or insufficient sleep
According to the CDC, adults need an average of 7 hours of quality sleep daily. Yet, 35% of U.S. adults report sleeping less than the recommended amount, likely resulting in a less than optimal performance at work.
Poor nutrition or eating habits
Not eating enough or relying on too many cups of coffee every day are common contributors to being easily distracted. We simply don’t have the energy to focus and complete tasks.
Physical pain or discomfort
Improper posture, neck stiffness, and even chronic health conditions can cause physical pain that can cause a shortened attention span.
How to improve focus at work
Now you’ve determined the cause of your focus issues, it’s time to find solutions. Here are some ideas to help increase concentration and enhance cognitive abilities.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
One psychological theory presumes that your most basic needs must first be met before you can begin to tackle more complex tasks. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains that you must first meet your physiological needs, such as shelter, water, food, sleep, and comfort. Then you can work to secure your personal safety, community, self-esteem, and ultimately actualization. Without all of these human needs being met, it is extremely difficult to dedicate your focus to work. Per Maslow’s hierarchy, these most basic needs include:
- Physical health. Because this is so important, even simple stretches can improve your concentration by eliminating distracting physical pain. Simple back stretches can help you relieve tension and allow you to work pain-free again. If you suffer from a chronic health condition, such as sleep apnea or high blood pressure, seeing a doctor may help you find the relief you need to improve your overall physical well-being.
- Sleep and rest. Make sure you are doing your best to get a good night’s sleep and come to work feeling well rested. Aim for 7 hours of deep sleep every night for optimal brain function. Taking short breaks throughout the work day can make a world of difference in focus and concentration. Even short 15-20 minute power naps could improve cognitive functions.
- Nutrition. As much as we all love a sugary, iced coffee full of caffeine, it may not be the best choice for improving cognitive function. Your goal may not be weight loss, but drinking about a gallon of water and eating 2-3 servings of veggies daily can be beneficial to your overall health, and brain health. Supplements could be a great way to bulk-up your nutrition. Talk to a healthcare professional first, however, about supplements for you and your lifestyle.
- Physical activity and exercise. Exercise is important for overall health and well-being, and an excellent way to reduce stress. Focus on what you enjoy, whether it be swimming, walking, playing basketball, or yoga.
Alleviate and eliminate distractions
A cluttered desk or a noisy workplace can be incredibly distracting. While we may not always be able to be in control of our work environments, there are some ways to eliminate or at least alleviate these common distractions and improve focus.
While we may not always be able to be in control of our work environments, there are some ways to eliminate or at least alleviate these common distractions and improve focus.
If you can’t see your desktop, it might be time to declutter your workspace. Take a few moments out of your day to toss any trash, put away pens and notepads, and do a quick wipe down. Your future self will thank you!
Your virtual desktop might need a little TLC, too. Take a moment to organize and consolidate files, close open tabs, and go through your inbox and spam folders.
Earplugs/white noise/instrumental music
If you have noise canceling headphones, you can easily block out the distracting office buzz with the touch of a button! After all, not everyone at work can get a private room. (However, an employer can boost workplace satisfaction and cognitive abilities by providing office spaces that individual workers can reserve for a few hours.
White noise machines, nature sounds, or playlists work to tone down background noise. Instrumental music can be a great way of improving concentration if you get distracted by lyrics in your background music.
Do not disturb
Always getting distracted by chatty coworkers? As much as we love getting to know them, sometimes it’s important to be alone to work. Try putting up a physical “do not disturb” sign to let your coworkers know you need some focused time. And it’s easy to change the settings on your phone and computer to shut off notifications.
Mental and emotional preoccupation
With so many things going on in your life outside of work, it can sometimes be difficult to transition to work mode. These tips can help you build self-discipline, refocus, and return to your present moment.
Make mental or physical to-do lists to help you prioritize your tasks, whether daily or weekly. Calendars can help you mentally prepare for busy seasons as well. Staying organized can help to keep your mental space uncluttered.
What researchers at the University of Chicago have coined “flow,” or getting yourself into an optimal performance zone, is all about staying positive and present. Practicing mindfulness can help you focus on what brings you joy in the task at hand. You might just get in the zone in no time.
Following some simple guided meditations can help bring your wandering mind back to the present moment. If you often notice your mind wandering and have trouble ignoring distractions, mindfulness meditation, one of many forms of meditation, might help.
Getting in the flow is the pinnacle of self regulation, requiring a bit of training to get to optimal brain development. Cognitive tasks like word puzzles can help boost concentration by training your brain to focus on one task for a longer period of time. Challenge your brain to focus for longer and longer periods. Soon enough you’ll be a pro!
We all lose focus sometimes, and it often detracts from our work performance. As difficult as it seems to stay focused at work, by implementing a few simple solutions, you’ll be in the “flow” zone in no time.
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