Can’t focus at work? 5 Surprising Tips and Tools to Boost attention.

If you can’t focus at work, somewhat it’s not your fault. The modern workplaces’ are not designed to give you peace and ultimate productivity.

When I started working around 15 years ago the cubicles were big and with high walls, so if you have to see or talk with someone you’ve to get up. You wouldn’t see if someone is picking there nose or playing candy crush saga (yes it was not available at that time) but the point is the environment gave you privacy.

Now a days there is open office concepts. Hot Desking is the new age corporate thing, to save money on real estate is my take on this. Your manager would say  “this increases collaboration as you don’t have same person sitting next to you.” I hated having different people sitting next to me everyday and changing desk. So I used to go before anyone reaches office to get same desk.Those days are gone for good.

I bumped into this interesting study by Steelcase which shows some interestingly scary numbers. How much distraction is around, no wonder you can’t focus.

  • 3 minutes is How frequently the average office worker is interrupted or distracted
  • 23 minutes is How long it takes to return to a task after being interrupted
  • 204 million Emails sent per minute
  • 8 Average number of windows open on worker’s computer at the same time
  • 30 Average number of times per hour an office worker checks their email inbox
  • 221 times the average smartphone user in the UK checks their phone every day
  • 4.9 billion Connected devices in use in 2015
  • 200 percent Increase in average time spent on mobile devices since 2012
  • 49 percent Workers who can’t choose where to work depending on the task

Here’s the 5 Tips personally I use to Keep My attention while working.

  • Define Time Slots

My work calendar used to be almost full and people had hard time getting meeting slots with me. To improve my productivity I used to allocate meeting slots for work I’ve to do. If I have to work on a report, instead of keeping my calendar free and giving someone chance to book a silly meeting. I’ll put meeting in my calendar “Create Report”. This ensured that I don’t get booked by someone and have my work done in allocated time.

This also helped me schedule the work I’ve to do besides the meetings. By allocating the time you are committing to the task. Use Calendered not only for meetings but your work too.

I’ve tried The Pomodoro Technique On and Off, which is based on short bursts of focus to complete a task. The idea is to remove all distractions, choose the one task to focus on, set a timer for 25 minutes, and work through that period until you reach a 5-minute break. There are lots of free apps to track promodoro, this paid app does have some extra features FocuseBoosterApp

  • Shut off the Notifications

Turn of all the notifications. I was having all the notifications ON in computer and phone. That made me really anxious as soon as I see the light blinking or hear the sound. To be honest with you, besides knowing and practising  Mindfulness the fear of missing out was too over powering. I was not able to concentrate for longer period of times.

As the study suggested, 3 minutes is How frequently the average office worker is interrupted or distracted. The notifications are killer. They make you stressed and anxious. Turn all or most of the notifications when you want to do real work.

  • Shut off the Internet

This one is hard but believe me this is worth it. Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Feedly used to take a lot of time. They are never ending cycle of distraction, once you are on it you are gone for long time.

Now I use the chrome extension called Stayfocused  which gives you ability to shut of the Internet for certain period. It also gives you ability to keep few sites open if they are part of your work.

  • Inbox Zero Approach

I used to have a rule in my mailbox, every CC (Carbon Copied) emails to go in a specific folder. If I’m CCed into an email, that is just sent to me as courtesy and not required for me to respond. It is not a direct inquiry or question sent to me. That reduced my email count by atleast 40%. I check this CC folder only once a day and respond if required.

I’ve also seen people keeping their mailboxes full to show how busy they are although that is just inviting disaster (personally). You have so many emails, you don’t know what is important and not. It’s a battle to find specific emails, when the mailbox is not organised or cleaned up.

Try to keep your mailbox clean as possible.

  • Use Headphones

With this new type of open offices, you’ll hear a guy from other side of the office. It becomes like a market where everyone is trying to speak over each other. Headphone’s were the most awesome thing for me at workplace to avoid distraction.

Once I put headphones, people do hesitate to disturb you. They’ll know that you are doing some focused work. They were kind of stop sign for others to not come closer.

We are emotional fools, so when the emotions are high we can’t control our behaviour. By restricting the environment from distraction, we can help ourselves.

Let me know how you avoid distraction at workplace? Your tips might be useful to me (and others).

Mrugank Patel
mrugank.patel@gmail.com