What To Do When You Can't Focus at Work

Feb 5, 2015
4 Min Read

Ever have a day where you just can’t seem to focus on your work? Maybe it’s your coworker’s distracting phone calls, or the lure of social media, or thoughts about an upcoming vacation, but for whatever reason, we all have days where our concentration is shot. Here’s what to do when it happens to you.

1. Change your location. If your environment itself is posing an obvious distraction (like a meeting happening on the other side of your cubicle or an annoying rattle coming through the vent), changing locations will obviously help. But even if your environment isn’t at fault, sometimes simply changing venues can help reset your brain and bring back your focus. Try temporarily moving to a conference room or a coffee shop and see if your focus returns.

2. Make your work area and computer distraction-free. If changing locations isn’t an option or isn’t helping, try eliminating distractions from your immediate work area and your computer itself. For instance, shut down your email program, turn off notifications, file away those papers that are littering your desk, change your IM status to “busy,” and see if your mind feels clearer.

3. Tell yourself that you’re going to work on a project for 10 minutes and then will take a break. Committing for only 10 minutes is pretty easy, and often you’ll find that once you’ve started, you’re able to keep going. And if you need that break 10 minutes in, you’ve still made some headway that you wouldn’t have otherwise done.

4. Stop fighting it, and turn to activities that require less focus. If you try both of the above without success, your brain might just need a break right now. Rather than fighting it, see if you can use the time to do activities that don’t require intense focus, like filing, cleaning out your desk, dealing with expense reimbursements, or anything else that needs to be done at some point but which doesn’t tax you mentally.

As part of doing that, you should also…

5. Prioritize ruthlessly. It’s all well and good to spend the day on low-focus activities if nothing is pressing, but that might not be realistic for the whole day. Ask yourself what the absolute most important things are you for you to accomplish today. Are there tasks where you’d feel terrible if they were undone at the end of the day? Tell yourself that you’re going to do those now so that they’re not hanging over you, but that you won’t pressure yourself to go beyond that if your brain is rebelling.

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