How to Stay Focused

Bianca Zaklikowski
Jan 23, 2018


As the end of 2017 is firmly in our rear-view mirror and we’re well into 2018, one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions is to “Be More Productive.” Being productive gives us the ability to be more present with our work and tasks at hand, spend less time with busy work and we might even feel like we have more time in the day as we devote less time to distractions and procrastinating! With our attention and lives being pulled in so many directions, what are some easy ways to try to stay on task and focused?

Block Out Distractions. 

I know, this one is the hardest. There’s Facebook, breaking news, Instagram, Snapchat. And that’s just from the phones in our pockets. But there’s also the voicemails that need to be answered, the inbox that has unread emails and the push notifications vying for our attention. Turn them off! Turn off those push notifications! We don’t need to read every breaking news update or notification that a friend is nearby. Because once we check those, then we’ve spent 45 minutes on Candy Crush, CNN and Facebook. Psychologists call this the “ludic loop.” It’s a trance-like state where we’re lulled into doing the same thing over and over. It’s the same mechanism that causes people to sit in front of a slot machine for hours. You can easily spend 1/3 of your day in this trance-like state; I know I have!

Our phones provide tons of distractions, but do you find it hard to work when there’s a little yellow envelope in the corner of your screen beckoning to be read? Our inboxes can be a huge source of distraction, stress and anxiety. Try logging out of your inbox for an hour. No notifications, no buzzing from your phone, no distraction. Any email that you get in that hour can wait until you’re finished working to respond. Then, when you’re ready to respond, set aside 30 minutes to respond, file or delete emails. Keeping a tidy inbox can make you feel less distracted!

Speaking of deleting emails, try setting up rules in your inbox to prioritize and move emails as soon as they come in. We all have the emails that we don’t need to read the minute we get a new email notification. Set up rules in your Outlook or email server that puts those emails into a specific folder to deal with later.

Set Time Limits.

One of my pet peeves (and one of the biggest time wasters, in my opinion) are meetings that go on way too long and have no resolution. All meetings should have a measurable outcome, set duration and even an agenda if you want to make it more formal or if there are a lot of attendees. It helps keep your discussions focused towards an end goal and folks tend to stay on point.

Setting time limits can also work for distractions (I know, I know, I told you earlier to get rid of distractions—but hear me out). The problem that we mentioned above is that we can easily fall down the rabbit hole of distractions and half the day has been lost. Getting distracted or watching cat videos for 20 minutes is fine, as long as we have temporal parameters to our distraction. In fact, looking at celebrities’ Instagram pages can provide our brains with a much-needed break.

Take a Break

Now that you’ve cut out distractions and scheduled a time to take a break, it’s important to get the most out of your 15 minutes of rest. Get up from your desk and walk around, get a fresh bottle of water, do a little meditation or focus on your breathing. Not only will you feel physically refreshed, but studies have shown that after a mental break, creativity and problem solving abilities increase. When we concentrate, we’re using the heavy hitter of our brain, our pre-frontal cortex. Our pre-frontal cortex can become habituated to work and strain. Have you ever been in a room with a musty odor, or next to a woman on the train with overpowering perfume? After a while, your brain “forgets” the smell and you’ve stopped paying attention to it. That’s because our ol’ factory sensors, after a while stop paying attention to the offending odor—just like our pre-frontal cortexes!

We know we need to eliminate the overwhelming distractions, set aside time to work, to play and to rest. Doing these things can help keep us focused and productive. But, the number one way to be productive, task-oriented  and focused is...

Eat Healthy. Drink Water. Sleep Enough. Exercise. 

The best thing we can do for our bodies is to take care of them. Most of us wouldn’t drive our cars for 100,000 miles without changing the oil, checking the tire pressure or at least adding washer fluid—but yet we do that with our bodies. How many of us don’t get enough sleep? Or exercise? Or Brussels sprouts? (Admit it!) Taking care of your body and mind will allow you to be more productive, focused, and successful.

Bianca Zaklikowski
Bianca has a Bachelor's degree in English Literature from DePauw University. Naturally, Bianca loves writing.

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