Stay Focused at Work: 5 Easy Hacks

Stay Focused at Work: 5 Easy Hacks

Felicia Sullivan

Are you constantly checking your phone and refreshing your email? Whether you find yourself scrolling through status updates or disrupted by your coworker in the next cubicle — who suddenly decided to hold a conference call on speakerphone — it can take up to 23 minutes to recover from even the smallest distraction. With all the demands on your time, it can be nearly impossible to stay focused.

A comScore study reports that we spend up to three hours attached to our smartphones every day. If we add time spent with our friends, loved ones, and business associates into the mix, it’s no wonder we can’t get our work done.

Attention has become a scarce resource, and we’re faced with hundreds of productivity-killing interruptions a day. And distractions are costing companies big. According to Jonathan Spira, author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous to Your Organization, companies lose upwards of 30 hours a week to attention-sucking activities. On a grand scale, that’s 28 billion hours wasted a year and a $1 trillion hit to the U.S. economy.

Imagine the impact that getting caught in an email rabbit role could have on your small business. Don’t worry — it is possible to get your work done during the daily grind. Here are five foolproof ways to ditch the distractions and stay focused on the job.

1. Be on the move.

Studies have shown that getting up and walking around for five minutes every hour can boost productivity and help you to regain your focus. Compared to employees bound to their desks and those who walked for 30 minutes before working for five-hour stretches, the workers who stood up and walked every hour showed less fatigue and increased happiness.

We can get so caught up in calls, meetings, and paperwork that we later look up and realize hours have passed us by. Why not set an hourly alarm on your phone, which will remind you to get up, stretch, and take a few laps around the office or your place of work? You’ll be surprised by how refreshed you’ll feel when you come back to your work!

2. Prioritize your “deep work.”

Multitasking doesn’t work, and science proves it. Instead of playing the task-switching game, consider trying “deep work.” Deep work is the act of completely immersing yourself in a task that requires brainpower without interruption. Coined by Georgetown University professor Cal Newport, the practice of deep work will produce better results in a shorter time frame. Think about athletes who spend hours concentrating on a single move or practicing a routine — they get better at what they do because they stay focused on the details.

Consider this hack: Instead of starting your day plowing through your inbox, come in early, turn off the WiFi, find a quiet room, and work on your chosen task for an hour. Your email will still be in your inbox waiting for you; however, you can start the day with a sense of achievement because you’ve completed the hard work.

3. Limit your ambient noise.

Did you know that background noise can wreak havoc on our concentration? Ambient interruptions could increase stress, which triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone designed to ease that stress. However, constant stress disrupts your prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that regulates your ability to learn, plan, reason, and remember things. If you can’t nix the noise, consider investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for the times when you need to focus.

4. Block your time and batch your work.

Here’s a productivity 101 tip: Practice the Pomodoro technique. It’s similar to deep work in the sense of focused attention; however, the method works for people who can’t devote hours at a time to a singular task, but who can organize their day into manageable chunks.

When you’re up against a tough task, break the work down into short, timed intervals that are balanced by short breaks. Sprint for 25 minutes on a task, take a five-minute break, and then go back for another 25 minutes. This Pomodoro technique, invented by entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo, can also help you improve your attention span.

Alternatively, you could batch your work by setting aside a specific amount of time to bang out tasks in bulk. Do you have to review documents or check in on employees? Instead of spacing the activities out over the course of the day, why not compact them in blocks of time? Knowing there’s an endpoint to a series of tasks can help you get to the finish line, focused and productive.

5. Put your phone in airplane mode.

Blocking the obvious productivity-killing culprit — your smartphone — is a sure-fire way to get your head back on the task at hand. Don’t feel bad — software and technology companies design their apps and programs to help get you addicted to notifications and beeps. Sometimes, you need to go cold turkey in order to get your work done. Switch your phone into airplane mode for periods of time, so you won’t be tempted to peek and refresh.

As a small business owner, you know you need to stay focused on the tasks at hand, and yet you’re operating in a world that at times seems designed to thwart you at every turn. In order to preserve your most precious resource — your attention — you’ll have to take charge of both your schedule and your environment, and design a work day that works for you and your business.

Have you tried any of these easy productivity fixes? Do you have habits of your own that help you get the job done? Tell us in the comments below!

14 Responses to "Stay Focused at Work: 5 Easy Hacks"
    • Jessie W | March 17, 2021 at 9:13 am

      Despite not all of the information being new, I still found this article insightful and shared with my team. I am guilty of the ambient noise. I like to listen to podcasts when I work. I find music more distracting. But, I also like the idea of putting the phone on airplane mode and batch work, which I also recently heard about on a blog’s podcast. Thanks for sharing!

      • Small Biz Ahead | March 18, 2021 at 12:33 pm

        Glad you’re finding our content useful, Jessie! Thanks so much for your comment!

    • Barbara Van Dyke | March 16, 2021 at 11:32 pm

      I can see where these ideas would be good ways to get work done, if you are in just an office setting. As a business owner, I run the office. I have had different assistants over the years, and I just lost another one a couple of months ago, because of exiting California, like many are. So it is back to just me. We have been in business for 38 years, and it worked for many years, and things were accomplished. We now find as a manufacturing company, society has become ‘I need instant gratification’ or commonly called ‘The Amazon Effect'(get it next day). While the amount of business we handle has not changed. But every customer thinks we can drop everything and build their product ahead of those in the queue already. I can’t seem to find an efficient way to manage my office, with more daily calls on the same project, sometimes from 2 or 3 people in the same company on the same job. I answer all the calls, process all the quote requests, process purchase orders, order the material for the job, create the packing slips when the job is ready, bill the invoice once the job has been picked up, then collect the payment. That is just for the jobs. Then add in vendor’s bills to input and pay, tax reports, customer reports and certification, walk in customers (we request them to make appts, but it’s hard to get many to do that, they just drop by) etc. It has become overwhelming. I am trying to find a balance. But I have constant interruptions, with office phone calls, calls or texts on my cellphone from customers, that are out in the field, emails for quote requests, and various inquiries. But I start answering calls for our business at 7:00 am. But customers start calling at 6 am, and my husband does answer those, but once I take over, he heads out to manufacture orders. It feels like constant chaos. Every night before I leave the office, I make a list of things to do the next day, and then add to it once I get home as I think of things. I put a *star next to the high priority items. But by the time I get the work the next day, it seems, there are new priorities. I feel like I am juggling every day. How do you organize your day to be efficient, when you have to work with constant interruptions and an ever changing priority?

      • Small Biz Ahead | March 18, 2021 at 12:39 pm

        Thank you for sharing Barbara! While it does sound like a lot, you seem to be handling it well.

      • C Gould | March 22, 2021 at 2:02 pm

        Barbara, it sounds overwhelming. It might be helpful for you to retake control of your time instead of letting others have that control. Yes, you need to be responsive to your customers, but you -and they- are better served if you’re not putting out everyone else’s fires every minute. Like the article says, it’s counterproductive to be interrupted or multi-task. Let people leave messages on the phone instead of responding to every call. Create time blocks for yourself and your work, such as: the first hour of each day is for taking care of those tasks that didn’t get done the previous day that are most urgent; next 1/2 hour reviewing calls and emails and prioritizing orders and tasks for the rest of the day; next half hour returning urgent calls and emails; next hour ordering, invoicing, paying bills; BREAK for you; next 1/2 hour responding to those calls and emails that are less urgent; next 1/2 hour creating packing slips that need to go out that evening; next 1/2 hour….The point is to focus on related tasks for a block of time before moving on to the next group of tasks. Create folders for each task/block of time and move clients from one folder to the next as necessary until it’s done (i.e. Call Back, Order Materials, Create Invoice; Create Packing Slip; Pay Bills; etc. The last 1/2 hour of each day should be organizing your tasks/folders and prioritizing your task list for the next day. You will sleep better and be more productive having a proactive plan for the day and be dedicated to sticking to it…Alternatively, if calls, texts and emails can’t be held to 2 to 3 times per day, you could designate the last 15 minutes of each hour responding to those that came in during the previous 45 minutes while you worked on the issues from the previous hour. The point is for you to manage your time; not let every call or email realign you. I hope some or all of this helps you. Good luck. P.S. if you are in Nor Cal (Sonoma County), I help individuals and companies create systems that enable them to be more productive and organized.

    • Jackie Hayden | September 16, 2020 at 11:33 am

      I’m definitely sharing this with NIFMA. What a great way to get people back into their facilities.

      Jackie Hayden
      Pres. of Delta Insurance Advisors
      Vice Chair of Northern Illinois Facility Management Assoc.

    • Cora R. Jones | August 9, 2020 at 11:43 am

      Yes, this article and specific information was very important, pertinent, and helpful for my work day and overall productivity. Great information. Now, I will implement these tips into my planning and execution of daily task to reach my small business goals; weekly, monthly, and annually. Again, awesome information. Thanks!

    • Gabrielle Wanamaker | December 31, 2019 at 5:10 am

      I have used all five but not consistently. It’s good to be reminded of their value. And, even better when there are evidence-based reasons to use these tools. I love the Pomodoro Technique which I learned from a dissertation coach. It’s very helpful when time is limited and insightful output Is required.

      • Chloe Silverman | January 2, 2020 at 8:42 am

        The Pomodoro Technique is also one of my favorite methods for time management! Thank you for the comment, Gabrielle!

    • Jeff | December 24, 2019 at 3:32 pm

      If reference to #3, limit ambient noise, I use 3M brand Peltor ear muffs / hearing protection. I have tried ear plugs and noise-canceling headphones, but found music or other programs are a distraction. These ear muffs provide ‘golden silence’. Any professional grade ear muffs should work, however I have found the 3M brand to be the most helpful. They are large and might look a little odd, however I have found the benefit of silence far outweighs the appearance.

      • Sharon | March 18, 2021 at 3:58 pm

        Hi Jeff: Which model # 3M earphones do you utilize?

    • Kathy McCafferty | June 22, 2019 at 4:25 pm

      I forwarded this to coworkers. I’ve used all but #3 for years. I didn’t have an answer for that problem. Now I do. I jus wish there was a way to get others to realize their smartphones don’t just affect their productivity it affects those around them.

    • Elizabeth Briggs | April 8, 2019 at 10:48 am

      While I have read about focusing before, this is very helpful. We have a small office and are close in proximity to each other. I shared the techniques with our staff.

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