No matter how hard you try or no matter how much time you spend on a task, it’s nearly impossible to complete a task if you’re unable to focus on it. Being able to focus on what you’re working on doesn’t come easy, as our lives are full of distractions that are constantly demanding our attention. Here are 10 tips that will help you focus better and allow you to work more efficiently.
1. Plan Your Day In Advance
One of the easiest things you can do to stay focused on your goals is to plan your day early. A lot of people waste their mornings by spending time on planning and setting up tasks for the day and splitting the day up into multiple segments. I have seen most people have a habit of firing up their email app and To-do list and spending an hour or more going through the backlog of emails and creating to-dos. When you do this, you’re unnecessarily utilizing a fresh and calm mind that would instead be best suited for doing actual work and achieving your goals.
Instead, it is a far better idea to plan your day a day earlier. Take a moment to sit down and list out all that you need to do tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what tools you use to plan your day — you could use a pen & paper, a To-do list app, a Calendar app, a scheduler (or you could use an all-in-one app like Readdle’s Calendars) or even a basic notes app. The benefit of using Calendars on your iPhone or iPad is that with natural language event creation, you can simply type out your thoughts like, “Meet Nancy Adams at Starbucks tomorrow at 5pm” and create events on your calendar. Calendars are other such amazing features to help you schedule your day, so I urge you to check it out. You should download it for Free from the App Store.
This way, when you begin your day the next morning, you have a ready-made overview of your tasks and goals for the day and are in a better position to focus on completing what you have planned for the day.
2. Ensure You Get Proper Sleep
This is way too obvious, yet is something that is often overlooked by a majority of people. The human body isn’t some piece of software code that is able to continuously run & churn out results. The body needs to rest and revive itself every night so as to give its best the next day. The lack of sleep has several adverse effects on our body, including fatigue. If you’re trying to work with a severe lack of sleep, both your mind and body will constantly keep demanding your attention, causing you to lose focus all the time. I highly recommend that you give this amazing TED Talk by brain scientist Matt Walker a watch. Titled 'Sleep is your Superpower', it dives into scientific insights about why a good night's sleep is so important for your well-being.
[by @drawlab19 on Freepik]
It is critical that you get proper sleep every night so as to give your body & mind a good amount of rest. There are several good apps available today that will help you track your sleep and help you sleep better, so fire up the App Store or Google Play on your respective smartphones and try them out.
With enough sleep, you are able to wake up every morning without any grumpiness and frustrations with almost certainty. A relaxed mind and body are able to perform better, faster and are also much more effective in making you productive. As a result, you will be able to stay focused on your work much longer and achieve your goals much faster.
3. Establish a Designated Work Area & Schedule
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the answer to “How to stay focused?” is “Get rid of distractions.” But when you think about it, practicing this is far more complex than you might think. It is impossible to stay focused on your work or task when you have distractions constantly demanding your attention. There are certain things that you must attend to every time they knock, such as emergencies or family needs, and there’s nothing you can do to avoid them. However, you can and certainly should get rid of all the distractions that are easily avoidable.
If you’re working from home, you can start by designating a ‘work area’ that is strictly dedicated for your work. Establish stern rules in the house, especially with kids, that as long as you’re in your work area, everything else takes a backseat unless it’s absolutely important.
You should also choose your work area such that it is in the quietest part of your house. Set your desk away from the street that is usually prone to loud vehicle noises and construction work. I highly recommend picking up a copy of the book 'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg, where he explains how the environment we work in has a very strong impact on our habits and behavior, and thus how we shape our environment directly impacts what habits we cultivate. A quiet work environment will do wonders for your concentration and focus.
[by @ramcreative on Freepik]
Now that you have a dedicated work area, it’s time to establish your official work time. Doing you work whenever you “have time” or “feel like working” is a very bad idea. Working on an abnormal schedule and at odd hours will never let you stay focused and instead it’ll be very easy to be distracted by things around you. Those around you need to be aware that you’re “at work” so that all distractions are kept to a bare minimum. A proper work schedule also conditions your mind & body to output its best.
As much as possible, try to work on the most important and/or most difficult things in the morning. As I’ve mentioned above, your mind & body are newly refreshed after a good night’s sleep, and will help you do your best work. Your creative juices also flow best in the morning. So make it a habit to:
- wake up early
- grab a cup of coffee or tea (or similar hot beverage)
- sit down to work from your dedicated work area
- start working on the work schedule you’ve established
All these things combined will not only help you stay focused, but also tremendously increase your productivity. Here's a fantastic article by Denys Zhadanov on how to make your mornings phenomenally productive.
4. Ask Your Phone to Shut Up
One of the most obvious sources of distractions is your smartphone. Thus, you can easily focus on your work by separating yourself from your smartphone activity. These days, there are many “growth hacks” rampant in apps that are designed to constantly demand your attention with the help of notifications. In order to build up the number of active users, apps will notoriously display notification badges that make you tap on them to dismiss. By enabling the “Do Not Disturb” mode on your phone, you can temporarily silence all non-essential notifications and stay focused on your work in a better way. You should especially turn off notifications for all social media activity while you work, which will have the most effective impact on your focus.
A simple habit that I’ve picked up to help me stay focused on work is to keep the phone screen-side down on the desk. By doing this, even the screen lighting up with notifications doesn’t bother me while I work. Additionally, it is also very helpful to quit all apps that you do not want to currently use. Close all apps or programs that aren’t essential for you to work, so that you can focus directly on the task at hand and not worry about any apps distracting you.
Unfortunately, a recent study has shown that the mere presence of your smartphone in the same room (even when it's switched off) reduces the available cognitive capacity. So in order to focus 100%, avoid keeping your phone on your desk or if possible, in a different room altogether.
5. Take Control of Email Distractions
Emails are an essential part of our work lives, so it’s impossible to stay away from emails. This is especially true when you’re part of a team. As much as you like it or not, a lot of our communication today happens over email. I’ve seen many users having a habit of checking their emails early in the morning, and throughout the day. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t have the right tools to take control of their inbox and this daily activity ends up taking a lot of time. Once you check email inbox, you end up taking on additional tasks of responding, filing, & organizing emails when you already have a plateful of tasks scheduled for the day.
Instead of checking emails early in the morning, I highly recommend starting the day with a complex task first. Your mind is freshly active, which gives you a lot of energy to give your best. However, there are still some important emails that need to be answered in time. In order to handle and manage your important emails without any distractions, you should download Spark Mail app.
Spark is a terrific email app by Readdle that automatically sorts all your incoming emails for you, and classifies them as Personal or Important emails, Notification emails, and Newsletters. This Smart Inbox feature in Spark is a great way to ignore all non-essential emails and focus directly on the emails that are important.
Spark also has an amazing Smart Notifications feature that will only notify you when you get an important email, and suppresses all unimportant notifications till you’re actually ready to handle them.
Spark is an incredibly powerful email app that is designed to help you stay focused. It does this by doing all the heavy lifting, such that you only have to care about the emails that you want to open and respond to. This leaves you with ample time to focus on other important tasks.
And when you do feel like checking your emails, here are some handy tips to help you organize your email inbox and get to Inbox Zero.
6. Take Periodic Breaks
In order to avoid exhausting your mind and body, you should take periodic breaks from your work. Without breaks, you’re pushing yourself on the same kind of tasks for too long, which leads to frustrations. Taking regular breaks during work allows your mind and body to rejuvenate and refresh themselves, so they’re ready for the next task at 100%. It also helps your posture and avoids problems with your back.
A good way to remind yourself to take a break is with the Stand Goal on the Apple Watch. The watch automatically reminds you to stand up and walk around for at least a minute every one hour, and you’re supposed to complete the task for 12 hours in a day to complete the daily Stand Goal. If you don’t have an Apple Watch, don’t worry. You can download and use the Stand app on your Mac to get those reminders. Stand app uses a ‘Pay what you want’ pricing model, and is a great way to remind yourself to take periodic breaks.
[by @stories on Freepik]
That said, don’t just take a quick break to check social media or watch a video. If your work involves staring at the screen (which, if you think about it, almost all work does), then you should utilize your break to do something that relaxes your eyes too. Try reading a magazine (such as Offscreen) or newspaper, organize your desk, or peek out your window and watch what’s happening outside. If you haven’t spoken to a friend or family member in a while, give them a phone call. All these tasks help you relax and refresh your mind, so that when you’re back to work, you are able to focus better on the next task on the list.
7. Meditate Daily
Working for long periods of time and continuously on the same kind of task leads to severe exhaustion. Many times, it also leads to frustration, as your mind just does not cooperate with you. It’s nearly impossible to work effectively with a frustrated mood, and any little work that you will do will likely be full of errors.
To avoid this, you should spend some time every day on meditation. Daily meditation has a lot of benefits, and helps you relax your mind and body much more effectively. A good meditation habit also helps you improve your cognitive skills, which ultimately results in better work output.
[by @studiogstock on Freepik]
These days, there are plenty of meditation apps available for iOS and Android that help you get started with meditation and guide you from the basics to the advanced. Although many of the popular meditation apps like Headspace and Balance come with a recurring subscription, there are apps like Unwind that help you with breathing exercising and mindfulness at a pretty low cost.
8. Set Definitive Daily and Weekly Goals
A good way to stay focused and is to set daily goals for yourself. You can start by something as basic as setting a goal to wake up at 6 AM every day for at least a month. We’ve already detailed the benefits of waking up early in the morning. Similarly, you should set goals to aid you in your work. Break down longer tasks and assignments into smaller goals that are achievable every day and measurable quantitatively.
[by @stories on Freepik]
For example, you can set a goal to write at least four articles in a week. By setting goals for yourself, you have a fixed target in front of you and better motivation to reach the target. This lets you focus much more efficiently and effectively.
9. Work on Groups of Similar Tasks
Do you find yourself jumping from one task to another multiple times throughout the day? If these tasks that you’re jumping between are very unlike-each other, you’ll find yourself struggling to focus every time you start working after switching. Your mind finds it very difficult to focus when the task at hand requires completely different skills and cognition.
Instead of binding yourself with different tasks, try to schedule your day such that you have a group of similar tasks on your goals. It becomes much easier to switch from one task to another when they’re of the same type, leading to a much better ability to focus on the tasks.
10. Create a Framework for Frequent Tasks
When you’re spending the day working on the same kinds of tasks, it is a good idea to create a framework to help you work more efficiently. By creating a framework, you create a process flow for the tasks that is much easier to oversee and track progress of. A framework essentially offers a structure to your frequent tasks by splitting up a larger task into smaller, quantifiable tasks and thus, helps you stay focused on each task. For example, let’s say you frequently have to organise get-together events for your company’s partners and affiliates. You can make your task easier by creating a framework support system for everything you need to plan each get-together. Make a list of actions that are needed to be done for each event. Organize them into tasks and subtasks and lay them out from the beginning to the end. Structure this into a framework such that you are able to pick up this framework for the next event and you have a readymade structure to follow instead of scrambling around each time.
Equipped with a framework, you will find that it is much easier to work on the tasks this way and your focus will improve enormously.
Now that you have learned how to stay focused and work more efficiently, you’ll find yourself finishing your work much sooner. This leaves you with more time to spend with your family and friends, and also lets you take up a new hobby or recreational activity. As everyone across the globe has pretty much spent the last few months stuck at home, some of the tips we’ve detailed above will also help you maintain some peace of mind and lead a healthier life.
Let us know in the comments below what are some of your own tips to stay focused and work better. You can also reach out to us on Twitter @Readdle.