How to Stay Focused at Work in 2020
by Hung Nguyen
"Going to work" has become a thing of the past. Here are 12 ways to stay focused, motivated, and productive while working, wherever you are.
"Going to work" has become a thing of the past. Here are 12 ways to stay focused, motivated, and productive while working, wherever you are.
2020 has been a bizarre year, due to the current global pandemic. Most of us are still working, just not at "work."
If you need help to maintain your productivity and concentration in top form—we're here to help. Below are 20 expert pieces of advice to help you focus better as you go through your day.
All the tips you'll need to remain focused and motivated.
Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash.
Face Your Anxiety
The first piece of advice comes from Dr. Chris Norris from Sleep Standards, a physiotherapist and neurologist. It clarifies how working from home in isolation, and the lack of freedom of movement can negatively impact our ability to focus.
He states: "For us human beings, any significant change surfaces fears, anxiety, and discomfort like nothing else. People are afraid of whether they will still have their jobs and incomes in a couple of months. The tendency is to fall into survival mode naturally."
To focus better, you must pinpoint the source of your stress and anxiety. Dr. Chris Norris narrowed it down to four possible factors:
An essential internal motivator is the need to find meaning in our lives. Meaning gives our lives purpose, values, and a frame to live by, and can boost self-worth.
Anxiety comes in two primary forms: a response to something that is happening, such as financial worries, or a loved one being ill. The other type, pathological anxiety, is a persistent fear of what might happen.
A Lack of Job Security and Stagnation
If your job is on the line, you may initially work harder to try to keep it. However, if the situation looks hopeless, you eventually give up. This thought of losing your job can also lead to the anxiety of its own.
Either through boredom or our intrinsic motivators—interest, curiosity, and self-fulfillment—we may become distracted by chores and activities such as planting seeds, DIY, doing puzzles, and cooking.
For us human beings, any significant change surfaces fears, anxiety, and discomfort like nothing else.
Photo by Tonik on Unsplash.
And to overcome these issues, he proposed the following solutions:
Put a Limit on News Consumption
Constantly keeping up with the Coronavirus can be anxiety-inducing and demotivating. Set a limit for yourself.
Establish a Routine
Away from the structure of an office environment, develop a few cues during the day that help you buckle down.
Give Yourself Breaks
Instead of office-based tactics such as absent-minded Googling, at home, you will get up and do other things.
Figure Out Your Personal Motivators
The words "motivation" and "emotion" both come from the Latin word "Motus," meaning movement, impulse or passion. What chimes with your personality? Is it curiosity, problem-solving, a sense of achievement, or taking an interest?
Enjoy the Freedom That Remote Working Brings
Setting deadlines is a great way to keep yourself focused. If your projects are long-term, break them down into smaller tasks with a deadline for each one.
And those are just a few; we have 19 more tips on staying focused. Onto the next:
Create a Morning Routine
And stick to it!
Abiding by your morning routine will help to reduce distractions, especially if you have the option to lounge at home.
Christie Love suggests that it could be something as simple as an early start with a coffee and no TV: "So for me, instead of having a Starbucks run for my morning latte, I make my own coffee, and I don't even turn on the TV. I walk straight to my office, and write in my planner what important tasks I want to focus on that day. I also note any appointments or errands I might have to take care of and plan out my day, including my workout."
Start early, finish early.
A morning routine also doesn't equate to diving straight to your work, a practice that many slip into, as they want to end the day early.
Instead, Lori Vella, an attorney and owner of a law firm reveals her morning routine for a focused workday: "Every morning, I choose one area of my life that I will work on....health, work, etc. It helps me to focus when even non-work related items have a plan too. Then, I am less distracted at work.
I start the day listening to a good audiobook. I avoid social media and emails. The morning is all about me and clearing my mind. My brain works best then, so I tackle my larger thinking projects, such as blog writing and creating estate plans. My notifications are all OFF."
And lastly, mornings don't have to be so chaotic. You can also sit back, relax, and mentally prepare your work. For Dana Humphrey of Whitegate PR, getting into the tranquility state is ideal: "For me, self-care involves putting myself to bed before midnight. Waking up and nourishing my system with hot water with lemon and honey before a protein-rich breakfast and some yoga, movement, dance, or stretching."
Plan the Following Day
Now that you know how to identify the source of your stress and anxiety—plan to tackle it accordingly. You don't need fancy software to organize your work week either; Chris Brenchley, CEO of Surehand, mentions his tactic of using good 'ol sticky notes: "What I usually do is that every weeknight, I take out a sticky note and write my list of tasks for the next day. I attach the sticky note either onto my laptop or on a table. As soon as I get done with one task, I cross it out with a pen.
Even if it's only a small task such as sending out an email, just that crossing out part makes me feel like I've accomplished something. Then the cycle continues, and before I know it, I've done like 7-8 tasks in a single day! And there's no greater motivator for the next day when you know that today has been a success."
Connect With Others
It's without saying that taking regular breaks is crucial for an ideal work-life balance and staying focused. However, it's also important not to isolate yourself from connecting with others, in and out of the working environment.
Dhiraj Nallapaneni of BirdEye says: "I do sync up with my team members regularly, and we do try to make an effort to share some non-work-related life updates. It's a great way to bring the team closer together when a lot of people are struggling with loneliness.
I've also found that making an effort to connect with others when I'm off work helps with my productivity. If we don't make a concerted effort to do this, there's a real risk of suffering because we feel like we're spending all of our time on work. A Zoom call with a friend at night helps me feel more focused at work the next day."
Sync up with your team mates and stay connected.
Photo by Christian Battaglia on Unsplash.
Even if you can't physically see others, technological advancement has easily enabled us to connect with others via the internet. Webinars are a great way to keep up with others working in the same field as you. Janice Telstar recommends, "connecting with at least one colleague per day, participating in two webinars per week to stay current with trends and resources and updating my social media accounts daily."
Use the Pomodoro Technique
There are many methodologies to help you manage your time more efficiently; one of the most popular is the Pomodoro Technique, which requires practitioners to take short and regular breaks throughout the day.
Scott Perry, a senior project manager, and blogger sums it up perfectly: "It involves identifying a task to complete, setting aside a 25-minute sprint to complete that task (free of distractions, and focused 100% on the task), then taking a 5-minute break after the 25 minutes. Then repeat the cycle. I use a Chrome extension that has a Pomodoro timer called Strict Workflow. I couldn't work without it. Since I have a relatively short attention span, this extension helps me to be very productive by focusing on accomplishing work using a sprint approach to getting things done."
The Pomodoro Technique in a nutshell.
Divide Tasks Into Bite-Sized Objectives
Sometimes, we can't concentrate simply due to being overwhelmed. Lesley Reynolds, Co-founder of the Harley Street Skin Clinic, recommends breaking your tasks down into smaller chunks, enough to fit into each day: "There's a purpose why holes in donuts are so likable. They are very easy to eat. You could've consumed a couple of them before you realized it. This is how objectives should be too. You will, of course, have a very high, daring objective. But make absolutely sure you split down the objective into consumable, bite-sized objectives. This way, you'll feel like you're making good progress on your journey, and when you achieve the smaller goals you'll also feel a sense of accomplishment."
Kamala Kirk from Spa and Beauty Today mentions the technique of "earthing" in addition to creating a to-do list: "Throughout the workday, I take 10-15 minute breaks, where I walk around barefoot in my backyard and place my palms directly onto the ground or lie down on the grass. Also known as earthing or grounding, this act of being outside and connected to nature offers numerous benefits, which include better sleep and a stronger immune system. It also serves as a great refresher and helps me to clear my mind, especially when I'm having an intense day with Zoom calls, meetings, and article deadlines."
[B]eing outside and connected to nature offers numerous benefits, which include better sleep and a stronger immune system.
Photo by Rachel Woock on Unsplash.
Focus on Your Three Basic Psychological Needs
Based on the self-determination theory, Dr. Alan Chu of the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay states the need to satisfy our three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
He says: “Autonomy is a sense of volition and having choices, competence is a sense of effectiveness and mastery, and relatedness is a sense of connectedness and belonging. These are essential (psychological) nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, that are needed for anyone to feel focused and motivated.”
Start the day with tasks that we like and have complete control, such as creating documents that do not require a third-party. When we have the mindset of doing things we want to rather than have to, our motivation increases, giving us more focus and energy.
Try to request to do more of the tasks that we are good at or challenging tasks. Research shows that our motivation is much higher when we can apply our strengths.
Make connections with colleagues. Although the pandemic makes this a little harder, you should find ways to connect outside of work, such as having wellness days in which everyone does some exercise or meditation together.
Use a Task Tracking App
If you're aiming for a paperless office, or prefer to keep everything digital, task tracking apps are a great way to keep you organized and focused throughout the workday. Katie Thompson, CEO of Modern Darling, recommends using Google Tasks "to create and track to-do lists." With the more significant tasks, she recommends breaking them up and putting a timer on so that you don't lose your focus while going through the list."
Google Tasks is available in both the Play Store for Android users and the App Store for iOS.
Switch up Your Workstation
One of the perks of working from home is not having to stay in one spot the whole day. If you can, try to maneuver and make the most of your space.
Jase Rodley, CEO of Dialed Labs, mentions the need to move around to stay focused and motivated: "Motivation is all about moving. Staying in one spot too long is naturally tiring, and stops your productivity as you start to think about it getting warmer/colder or any other changes happening around you. That is why I like to work on a laptop - I can jump from desk to desk, work on a sofa for a bit, or even stand for a while to make sure I'm not slipping into a comfortable haze of distraction."
For those who are not living alone, lay out the ground rules for your loved ones. Brad Davidson, CEO of Norton Home Solutions, adds: "Create an area of your home known by all to be holy ground. Your family or roommates must know to respect that when you're in that area, the only interruptions should be for an emergency. All other inquiries from your family or roommates should be in the form of a text or an email with the understanding that you may not respond right away."
Create an area of your home known by all to be holy ground.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao from Unsplash.
Give Yourself More Credit
We sometimes focus too much on our long term goals instead of what's right ahead of us. We also are too busy moving forward when we should pause and reflect.
Ethan Taub, CEO of Loanry, recommends looking back on earlier work or accomplishments: "One thing I occasionally do to get a little 'pick me up' during a hard week is to put my website into the archive Wayback Machine and see how much it has changed over the last few years. Looking back shows you far you've come, and can often spark inspiration to move forward."
Take a nostalgic trip down the memory lane with Wayback Machine.
Willie Greer, founder of The Product Analyst shares the same sentiment and suggests that you should take it one day at a time: "When you start to think of the future and the days where you know you will have to face more tasks, it will be brutal to your mental health and keep you in an overthinking state. Just look forward to ending the day no matter how rough the situation is and accomplish what needs to be finished at that certain time."
Understand that Enough is Enough
If you're losing focus, it may simply be because you're overworking yourself. There are only so many hours during the day; it's important to leave work at "work"—regardless of whether you're working in an office or from the comfort of your own home.
Matt Scott, the owner of Termite Survey, mentions explicitly the mistake of going overboard: "Entrepreneurs tend to deviate from the traditional 8 to 5 working day, and international ease of access through emails and Skype makes having a 24-hour working day more than easy. But understanding when enough is enough is crucial. Set yourself a practical leave date, and commit to it most days of the week. Avoid responding to emails after 8 pm, or starting work on Sundays. When you give yourself some relaxation, you'll feel more relaxed and more efficient."
Have It Your Way
We've covered how to tackle your anxiety and appease your psychological needs. However, the most important thing to consider is the need to satisfy yourself to stay focused.
Zach Reece, the owner of a roofing company, explains: "I stay motivated by allowing myself to do things that are generally frowned upon in the office. This practice may include taking multiple breaks, stopping mid-work to watch a random YouTube video, or multi-tasking between work and chatting with friends online. I know this sounds kind of counterintuitive and fosters a poor work ethic, but it works for me, and that's all that matters. It keeps the daily grind from feeling too monotonous. It keeps me feeling human and less like a robotic drone."
And there you have it. Take these tips wherever you go, and here's to a much more focused work environment.