Despite your best efforts, you might find it’s really difficult to stay focused at work. Even if you have a "do not disturb" sign hanging near your cubicle to keep out annoying co-workers, and you avoid hanging around the water cooler, both internal and external distractions can still creep in.
You don’t want to spend more time than you need to working -- so how do you stay focused? It turns out, a little more structure and a little more freedom can be equal partners in your quest.
Accept that interruptions will happen
Spending time getting mad about being interrupted yet again is going to take away even more time from your tasks. Start working on accepting what you can’t change, and taking steps to change what you can. Tell your co-workers you need a certain time frame in the day to spend only on certain tasks. Since mornings are often people’s most productive time, you might block out mornings as conversation-free times. Be firm about your priorities and don’t relent once you’ve set your boundaries. If that annoying co-worker keeps interrupting, tell her calmly once more that you’re not available during that time, and then work on accepting that she might not be capable of getting the message.
Learn the power of "no."
Just because an employee is interrupting you with something they feel is important doesn’t mean you have to take the time to deal with it. Without losing your cool, decide whether the problem is urgent enough to handle right away, and if not, inform the person when you’re available to handle that task. Likewise, if your boss asks you to take on something that will take you away from a more important task, it’s OK to tell her no, at least while you finish more urgent tasks.
Create your own interruptions
To stay productive, you might think you have to dive into your work and not come up for air until you’ve completed it. But according to research from the University of Illinois, that’s not the way to get the most out of your work day. Researchers’ from the 2011 study found that taking short breaks can actually increase your ability to focus. Instead of powering through an hours-long session of work, take a brief walk around the office building every 30 to 60 minutes. It doesn’t have to be as significant as that, however. Even stopping for a minute every 30 minutes to simply look out the window can help improve your focus on the task at hand.
Take nutrition seriously
Not only can good nutrition help you live a healthier, happier life, it can also help to improve your memory and help you stay focused. To improve brain health, Harvard Medical School recommends following a Mediterranean diet. That includes eating fish that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and olive oil. On top of that, consuming alcohol in moderation can raise your HDL or "good" cholesterol and lower your resistance to insulin. Since insulin resistance is associated with dementia, keeping it in check is thought to improve brain health.
Block social media sites
Your co-workers and clients will offer you enough challenging distraction, so don’t make it worse by creating unnecessary distractions during the work day. That walk around the office building is good for your mind and body, but when it comes to social media, it’s too easy to get sucked in. To stay focused, use social media blocking apps during the parts of the day when you want to be most productive.
Study a mindfulness discipline
According to research detailed in the journal Psychological Science in 2010, meditation can help improve focus. Whether you practice yoga, transcendental meditation, Buddhist mindfulness or another discipline, the study suggests that training in mindfulness can help train your brain to focus on tasks for a longer period of time. On top of that, having training in meditation and relaxation techniques can help you get through those really stressful times that are inevitable in most workplaces.
While distractions in the workplace are hard to avoid all together, you can make things easier by taking these simple steps in the office and in your personal life.
Image: by Nickolai Kashirin, via Flickr