How to Stay Focused at Work: a Complete Guide
It’s Tuesday afternoon. You’re trying to stay focused on work, but somehow you keep finding yourself watching cat videos and falling down Wikipedia rabbit holes.
Your deadlines are looming, but the closer they get, the harder it becomes to concentrate — no matter how much coffee you drink.
You need to do something about your attention span. It’s shorter than that of a goldfish and seems to be getting worse.
If this scene sounds familiar, fear not — help is at hand.
In this article, we’ll reveal:
- How to improve your focus through lifestyle tweaks
- Proven strategies for staying focused at work
- How to use Stack to help you stay focused.
6 natural ways to increase focus and concentration
Did you know that you can naturally increase your focus with a few lifestyle tweaks? Here are six self-care practices — science-backed advice, not hippie woo woo — that will set you up for success before you even arrive at work.
1. Get enough sleep
Parents and insomniacs know all too well that not getting enough sleep affects your ability to focus.
Burning the candle at both ends might be okay for a night or two, but chronic sleep deprivation can take a toll on your overall health as well as your concentration.
The CDC recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep per night for adults aged 18 to 60.
To improve your sleep hygiene:
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
- Create a bedtime routine to help you relax. This might be yoga, reading, a bath, deep breathing, or anything that helps you unwind.
- Limit your caffeine intake after lunch.
- Turn off electronic devices two hours before bed as the blue light can affect sleep cycles. Okay, an hour and a half could do the job too.
2. Eat a balanced diet
It’s a cliché, but it’s true — you are what you eat, and diet plays a huge role in focus and concentration.
Sugary snacks may give you a temporary boost, but then your blood sugar levels crash, leaving you tired and even less focused than before. So keep that in mind next time you find yourself heading to the vending machine!
Boost your brainpower by focusing on the following foods:
- Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains that are high in fiber can help maintain blood sugar levels.
- Healthy fats from fish, walnuts, olive oil, and avocados support brain function.
- Berries — blueberries, in particular, boost cognition.
- Leafy greens such as spinach and kale contain potassium that helps speed up neural connections, making your brain more responsive.
- Lean meats that provide protein without the fat.
3. Exercise regularly
Don’t hit the gym for six-pack abs — do it for your brain. Exercise releases hormones such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, all of which help with concentration. In fact, one study found that just two minutes of exercise is enough to boost your focus.
Another study found that higher levels of physical fitness correlate with greater focus and concentration. Plus, physical activity can release tension in the body, which helps the brain to focus.
4. Manage your stress levels
Although a little bit of stress can actually improve performance in the short term, many of us live chronically stressful lives.
The stress hormone cortisol impairs memory and concentration. It can also interrupt sleep cycles, further decreasing your ability to focus.
So how can you get your Zen on? A few ways to manage stress include:
- Yoga and breathwork
- Spending time in nature — nature walks are a great way to combine exercise with decompression
- Talking to a therapist or coach
- Reducing the number of tasks or responsibilities you’re juggling
- Consistently spending quality downtime with friends and family — schedule it into your calendar if you have to!
5. Change your work environment
Your work environment has a huge impact on your ability to focus. For example, a busy coffee shop might not be the best place if you really need to concentrate.
If you work from home, make sure you have a dedicated space to work. If possible, you should be able to shut the door.
Get rid of any clutter and organize your workspace so that you have everything you need. Make sure you’re comfortable, as being uncomfortable — like too hot or too cold — is a distraction.
If there are other people in the house, ask them not to disturb you. But we all have that one person who just can’t resist interrupting, so invest in some noise-canceling headphones, too. If you’re on communication apps, such as Slack, make sure to start using statuses to mute notifications and let you focus.
We spend almost half our time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, according to researchers at Columbia. That’s a lot of time spent on internal distractions!
Meditation is a way to train your brain to stay focused on the present moment. It also helps you regain your concentration more easily when your mind wanders.
The Columbia team found that meditation boosts both concentration and memory. It also eases stress, anxiety, and depression — all of which can impact your ability to focus.
15 ways to stay focused at work
Are you more easily distracted than a dog in a sausage factory? Use these 15 strategies to stay focused at work.
1. Learn to multitask the right way
You’ve probably already heard that multitasking, when done wrong, decreases performance. And that’s true if you’re trying to do multiple things at once. But you may have noticed that it’s easier to switch between similar tasks than completely unrelated ones.
Multitasking the “right” way means grouping your tasks together in a way that makes sense. This allows you to focus on one thing at a time but move with ease from one task to the next.
Did we mention that is exactly what Stack allows you to do? With Stack Spaces, you can organize your tasks in multiple browsing workspaces to work without distraction and stay focused on one thing at a time.
2. Make a to-do list
Keeping your to-do list in your head is a sure-fire way to distract yourself. Free up some space in your brain by dumping all your tasks into a to-do list. Then, prioritize them by order of importance.
If you suddenly remember you have to send your great aunt Gertrude a birthday card while working on a project, just add it to your to-do list. Then you can forget about it and focus on work.
3. Schedule your tasks
Once you’ve prioritized your tasks, schedule them into your calendar. Set yourself daily goals and aim for no more than three to five non-negotiable tasks each day.
Focusing on a smaller number of things will help you get more done than getting overwhelmed and stuck in analysis paralysis.
4. Drink coffee (in moderation)
You now officially have a science-backed excuse to drink your morning cup of coffee: it’s proven to enhance your cognitive abilities.
There is a catch, though. You must consume caffeine in moderation, as too much can give you the jitters and interfere with your concentration or even get you addicted. It can also affect your sleep and leave you feeling like a zombie at work.
5. Take breaks
Hustle culture would have you believe that rest is for the weak, but that’s not true. Giving your brain time to rest and relax is just as important as working hard.
For starters, your brain is more creative when it’s at rest. So when you find yourself banging your head against a brick wall, take a break. Your subconscious mind might come up with a solution as you rest! Many great thinkers have had their breakthroughs in the shower or right before bedtime, so make sure you keep something nearby to write down ideas as they come to you.
Vacations are just as important as short breaks. Sometimes you need to unplug and let your body and mind rest. Plus, taking a vacation can help you get a fresh perspective. You might return home with your next big idea.
6. Minimize distractions
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes — from your dog wanting to go for a walk to that one coworker who always wants to gossip.
Add to this the constant stimulation from modern technology, and it’s no wonder you struggle to focus on mundane tasks like writing a report. One study found that just having your mobile phone near you negatively affects your cognitive abilities.
You might not be able to stop your coworker from gossiping, but you can minimize distractions by removing your phone from your workspace — and closing some of those 60 tabs you have open.
7. Limit time on social media
Surprise, surprise — social media is bad for your concentration. Although you probably don’t need scientific research to tell you that.
If you’ve ever picked up your phone to do something and found yourself scrolling Instagram 30 minutes later with no recollection of what you wanted to do, you’re not alone. Social media is destroying our focus, memory, and even social skills.
So fight the power, and limit your time on social media. If you really struggle, use your phone settings to designate a limit to scrolling time each day.
8. Turn off your notifications — or batch them and check at specified times
Many studies have shown that phone calls and smartphone notifications reduce our attention and decrease performance — even if you don’t respond. So you have two options:
- Turn notifications off completely. The downside here is you can miss urgent last-minute messages, like a crucial meeting with an upset client.
- Use a notification management tool to compile and schedule notifications into 2–4 batches a day to amplify your focus without losing the thread.
9. Take a walk
A large body of research shows that exercise is good for your brain. But a 2021 study found that walking may have even greater benefits for cognitive ability than more strenuous forms of aerobic exercise. Great news for everyone who hates the gym!
According to the study’s authors, all you need is a few brisk walks each week to keep your brain healthy and boost your focus.
10. Set goals
It can be hard to stay focused if you don’t know what you’re working toward. Without a specific goal in mind, you may have a lack of motivation to get things done.
One of the best ways to set goals is to use the SMART framework. SMART stands for:
- Specific — define your goal using specific metrics, for example, “10 new customers in Q2”.
- Measurable — you should be able to measure the outcomes and know when you’ve achieved your goal.
- Achievable — ask yourself whether your goal is realistic given your current resources.
- Relevant — does your goal contribute to your overarching strategy?
- Time-bound — set a time frame within which to achieve your goal.
11. Use the Pomodoro technique
“Pomodoro” means tomato in Italian, but this technique has nothing to do with tomatoes other than a tomato-shaped kitchen timer that’s popular in Italy.
The Pomodoro technique is actually a strategic way to build breaks into your working day (or night).
For many people, these mini-breaks give them the boost they need to sustain their concentration over long periods of time.
To use the Pomodoro technique:
- Choose a task and decide how long you want to spend on it. For example, let’s say you want to spend two hours working on a presentation.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes. This is your “Pomodoro” interval.
- Work on your task for those 25 minutes — without distractions.
- Take a 5-minute break with all the distractions you like.
- Start another Pomodoro and repeat until the two hours are up.
So get that tomato-shaped timer 🍅 on your desk and batch your deep work around “I will do nothing until I finish this” tasks to maximize your output.
12. Be mindful
Mindfulness is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, but it basically just means focusing on the present moment.
Practicing mindfulness can help you train your “focus muscle.” Start paying attention to when your attention wanders. Which tasks do you struggle with the most?
This kind of awareness can help you plan your day to maximize focus. If you’re a morning person, this might be at the start of the day, but night owls may prefer to do their focus work at night.
13. Listen to music
According to research, some types of music help to increase concentration and focus. Classical music is one of the best brain-boosters, but other types of relaxing music work, too — think smooth jazz and binaural beats.
Avoid music with lyrics, as it’s more likely to distract you. If you don’t know where to start, check out this playlist — it’s a favorite with the Stack team.
14. Group similar tasks together
Switching between, say, working on a pitch to potential clients and doing your accounts is bound to make you lose focus.
Instead of trying to work on unrelated tasks during the same period of time, group similar tasks together. This will make it easier to transition from one task to another.
For example, you might block out the whole of Tuesday to do customer research and work on your pitch and leave the accounts until Wednesday.
15. Set yourself rewards
Carrots work for donkeys, and they work for you, too. Help yourself stay focused by setting rewards for completing your tasks.
For example, you might treat yourself to a new outfit for successfully completing a project or go for ice cream after handing in a report. Whatever it is, just make sure it’s something you’re excited about.
Setting rewards is also a great way to celebrate your achievements and remind yourself how far you’ve come.
5 ways Stack can help you stay focused at work
If you want to improve your ability to focus, Stack is here to help. Stack can help you stay focused by organizing your virtual workspace and minimizing online distractions.
Here are five ways you can use it to manage your mind.
1. Organize your life with Spaces
Use Spaces to separate work from play and personal life. Spaces allow you to group similar tasks and apps together, so you can save your Amazon wish list for later and focus on your work instead.
2. Save time on searching with Switch
Sometimes a thought pops into your head, and you need to act on it before you forget.
But searching through all your open apps and browser windows can lead to distractions, and before you know it, you’re scrolling through your TikTok feed with no memory of how you got there.
Our Switch feature will take you straight to where you need to go without any detours.
3. Get rid of distractions with Focus Mode
The clue is in the name — Focus Mode helps you stay focused by muting your notifications so you won’t get distracted by all those memes your cousin sends you.
When you’ve finished working, simply turn off Focus Mode to reactivate them.
4. Keep important info with Saved Cards
When you’re working on something, you might need to use a variety of different apps and tabs. Use Saved Cards to keep the ones you need to come back to close at hand.
This will save you time on digging through your browser history or clicking on hundreds of open apps.
5. Remove unnecessary clutter with Ghost Cards
Let’s say you’re doing some research and need to open several web pages at once. But you don’t want all that clutter in your stack, so use Ghost Cards to open temporary links. When you’re done, close them all with one click and forget about them.
Staying focused at work has never been so easy
So, there you have it — 21 science-backed ways to improve your focus and concentration at work — and a few bonus tips on using Stack to implement them.
Ultimately, staying focused is about managing your mind, energy levels, tasks, and time. Harnessing the right tech can help you do just that.
Stack is the world’s first Spatial Browser that promotes mindful online living as the best way of being productive on the internet. Our mission is to help you create a personal virtual universe that works just for you. Join the waitlist for Stack Next, launching in May 2022.