Staying focused in the workplace can sometimes be challenging, as even the slightest thing can distract us in today’s hectic world – it’s all too easy to start checking your social media feeds, or taking a quick look at the latest news, as your attention wanders.
Despite knowing how important it is to concentrate on the job at hand, your ability to focus can waver. Unfortunately, this lapse can be the difference between success and failure. Concentrating 100% on your work is critical to achieving goals, learning new skills and performing well across many workplace situations.
Improving your focus is something you can work on. The more you train yourself to keep focused on the task at hand, the better you become at doing so.
Does everyone struggle to concentrate?
Research shows around 50% of people struggle to concentrate on a regular basis, with people aged under 35 being twice as likely to suffer poor focus as those aged over 55. The age group said to have the worst concentration is the 18 to 24-year-olds. Research shows their ability to focus is worse than people aged over 65.
Of the people surveyed, 25% also said they felt permanently lacking in energy. Before you can hone your mental ability to focus at work, you must ensure you’re at your best physically. Being tired severely impacts concentration.
Eat a balanced diet, including plenty of proteins and healthy carbohydrates and fats for a positive impact on energy levels. Make sure you have enough nutrients such as Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Iron and Magnesium. Once you have combated feeling lethargic, it’s time to concentrate on your mental energy.
A lack of sleep can also lead to poor performance, so try to be well-rested before you go to work. Take steps at home to try and have a good night’s sleep, as feeling alert will vastly improve your focus.
Assess your mental focus
Before you start, assess your current level of mental focus. If you’re finding it easy to stay alert, it’s a good sign. Other positive signs are setting goals for yourself; breaking tasks into smaller parts; taking short breaks and then getting back to work feeling refreshed.
You need to work on it if you find you’re daydreaming quite often; if you find it hard to tune out any distractions and you tend to lose track of your progress, without even realising it’s happening.
Even if you have fairly good concentration, with a little practice you can improve it further. If you identify with the second set of statements, you’ve got quite a bit of work to do. Once you’re aware of how easily you can be distracted, you can start to do something about it.
Employees often don’t realise how many distractions in the office prevent them from focusing on the job in hand. While some people work better with music in the background, others prefer a quieter atmosphere. Similarly, some employees like to stop to chat during the day, while others like to concentrate without chit-chat.
One way of minimising sources of distraction is by simply wearing noise-reducing headphones. When it comes to a coworker who likes to chat, let them know you’ve set aside a specific time to complete a task and request, pleasantly, that no one speaks to you during that period.
Employees can help each other by respecting colleagues’ need to be left in peace from time to time – you shouldn’t be offended if someone asks for solitude. Another option is to seek a calmer location where you can work unhindered.
A coworking space will allow you to indulge in the positive buzz of the workplace, but you can take yourself off to somewhere a little quieter if you are finding it difficult to get your work done. Every good coworking space also offers private meeting rooms, where you can escape for aspects of your job that require greater concentration or privacy.
Some employees believe multitasking is a good way of getting a lot of jobs done quickly, but it can have the opposite effect. Juggling many different tasks can reduce productivity and make it harder to focus on the details that are most important.
If you shine the spotlight on one area, you will see very clearly what needs to be done. However, if you try to spread the light across a large, dim area, you won’t be able to focus on anything particularly clearly. Rather than multitasking, focus on one job at a time and you’ll be able to complete each one quicker.
Researchers have simulated the types of complex multitasking that people engage in at work to see how they cope. They had to complete a series of tasks in 20 minutes including writing memos, answering phones and scheduling meetings.
Information was pouring in from many different sources including emails, text messages and phone calls. One group of participants had received eight weeks’ mindfulness meditation training before the experiment began, while the second group hadn’t.
The group skilled in meditation had much better concentration and focus. Capable of staying on each task longer, they jumped about between tasks less and completed the work more efficiently than the second group.
If you’re struggling to retain focus, learning how to practice mindfulness can be a useful tool. You don’t have to learn how to meditate: when you start feeling flustered, something as simple as deep breathing for a few minutes can be beneficial until you feel calmer again.
Stress and anxiety are the enemies of concentration, so taking a few deep breaths can be more important than you might imagine.
Take a break
Another simple technique to regain focus is to take a short break. No matter the time of day, if you’re losing concentration, a simple ten-minute break can work wonders.
Get up from your desk, walk away from your computer screen and stretch your legs. Take a walk outside, if possible, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes.
While you may think it’s better to devote yourself to the task and finish as soon as possible, you’ll be sharper and more productive if you take time out. Researchers believe this is because the brain has a tendency to start ignoring sources of continual stimulation.
This is why many people prefer a coworking space: if you’re based in a corporate office, it may be frowned upon to wander away from your desk outside your official meal and rest breaks. When you’re based in a coworking space, it’s easier to be more flexible, so you can take a physical and mental break whenever you feel the need.
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