Distractions seem to be everywhere we look — our phones, smartwatches, email notifications — making it increasingly difficult to focus at work. “In my mind, maintaining focus is mostly about reducing distractions and interruptions. I call it the curse of immediacy.
“This is when we feel like we have to respond to every email, every [instant message], every text, every meeting request the moment it arrives, which means we’re constantly pulled in a million different directions,” said Ashley Janssen, a productivity consultant at Ashley Janssen Consulting.
In other words, she said, it’s difficult to focus when there are constant interruptions throughout the day. Furthermore, your mind is likely to wander away from work tasks that aren’t particularly interesting or feel endless.
However, experts say there are things you can do to keep your focus at work or refocus when your mind wanders away from your office job. Here’s how to go about it.
Create a ‘deep work’ ritual.
Janssen suggests creating a deep work ritual that calms your mind and body and prepares you to focus to help you get into focus mode.
“The process ends up helping you set an expectation psychologically, as well as for your body, for what’s coming next. And as you do this regularly, it kind of lets you settle into the deep work faster,” she stated.
To create a deep work ritual, she recommends first selecting an environment that meets your focus requirements, such as somewhere quiet and clean.
Next, make sure you have items in this area that will help you succeed, such as noise-canceling headphones, a warm sweater, coffee, and water. Then, clear your mind of all distractions. Turn off your phone or move the TV remote across the room.
She advised following these steps each workday to create your deep work ritual and enter that deep workflow state.
Set boundaries with co-workers.
Setting boundaries with coworkers (or other people in your space if you work from home), according to CJ Bathgate, a licensed clinical psychologist at National Jewish Health, is critical for focus.
“People will continue to do things until they are told not to,” she said, and that includes your chatty coworker who frequently stops by your desk for a chat. When they come over, you can gently inform them that you’re in the middle of something and that you’ll get back to them when you’re finished.
You can even go a step further and establish designated and agreed-upon quiet time with the people in your work area, according to Bathgate. This could imply establishing daily hours for heads-down work or establishing a morning quiet hour to prepare for the day.
If you plan to schedule focus time, Janssen recommends consulting with your colleagues and manager to determine which types of messages (Slack messages, emails, texts) can be ignored for an hour — or instructing people to call you instead of using Slack if they have an urgent need during your focus time.
When you are interrupted, write down what you’re doing.
Say you have an important meeting in the middle of the day and don’t want to return to your desk and be completely unaware of what you were working on.
In situations like this, Janssen recommends writing down what you’re working on as well as the next thing you intend to do. When you return to work, you won’t have to waste time looking for your place in a presentation or trying to remember what else was on the day’s to-do list.
Drink enough water.
“This may sound simple, but drinking enough water [is important] — when we aren’t drinking enough water our body is more fatigued,” Bathgate said. “Dehydration causes us to conserve energy.”
When you’re conserving energy, it can be difficult to focus on work because you’re tired and dragging, she explained.
Staying hydrated “will also make you have to pee more during the day, so it’s also forcing you to get up,” Bathgate said. “Sometimes you need to get away from whatever you’re looking at [on] your screen.”