Trying to figure out how to stay focused at work?
Don’t worry: you’re definitely not alone.
Right now the majority of workers are dealing with burnout in some way, shape, or form.
And while many of us have been fortunate enough to work from home or remotely recently, there are still plenty of well-documented distractions to contend with.
Listen: losing focus happens. That said, constant interruptions are stressful and represent a massive drain on your productivity.
Despite popular belief, the greater focus at work doesn’t mean relying on quirky “lifehacks.”
If you’re struggling with how to stay focused at work, you should start by creating a process to tackle your tasks and talk with your team in a way that eliminates distractions. This guide breaks down the steps to make it happen.
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1. Document your to-do list and deadlines (and encourage your team to do the same)
You might be surprised at how much more you can get done just by sticking to a defined schedule. This especially true if you don’t consider yourself much of a “calendar person.”
Treating your workweek like a free-for-all means you inevitably wind up working around the clock. On the flip side, setting deadlines and milestones gives you a big-picture snapshot of what you need to tackle and how to budget your time more efficiently.
Beyond a personalized traditional to-do list, you should consider the importance of sharing a public calendar among the rest of your team. Doing so ensures that employees’ schedules are aligned and in sync.
This is where project management platforms (like Teamwork!) and kanban boards come in handy. Serving as both a calendar and place to track the progress of any given project, users have a birds-eye view of who’s working on what.
This creates a much-needed sense of accountability and transparency for getting projects done on time. You’re much more likely to focus when you know that your team is relying on you to move something forward (and vice-versa).
If nothing else, such boards are helpful for creating a sense of teamwork among remote workers that don’t see each other face-to-face.
2. Prioritize your tasks based on importance and urgency
Pop quiz: what should you be working on right now?
Ideally, you should be able to answer this question without racking your brain.
But let’s get real: you’re probably juggling a ton of tasks on a day-to-day basis. When you’re jumping from email to email and project to project, prioritizing your tasks is key to reining in the chaos and keeping your focus.
Figuring out what your high-priority tasks are in an exercise by itself. An Eisenhower matrix serves as a pretty straightforward framework for figuring out what can wait and what needs to be done ASAP.
The concept here is simple: rank your tasks based on importance and urgency. In this case, “importance” is defined by the business impact of a task while “urgency” is based on timeliness.
For example, is a task going to result directly in (gained or lost) revenue? Is a task impacting the schedules of others? There’s obviously a big difference between ironing out time to plan a company-wide presentation versus, say, picking out office snacks.
You aren’t realistically going to bust out the ol’ Eisenhower matrix each time you look at your schedule. However, practicing prioritization over time can make it much, much easier to manage your schedule to identify important and urgent tasks at a glance. In turn, you can figure out which tasks deserve your immediate attention.
And piggybacking on our previous point, project management tools like Teamwork can help you organize and prioritize your to-do list by assigning priority tags to any task.
3. Eliminate needless meetings and establish boundaries for team check-ins
No surprises here. The fewer interruptions, the better.
But while there’s no denying the necessity of (some) meetings, they represent a notorious distraction for workers. Here’s some food for thought: more than half of workers note that they’re distracted during virtual meetings.
What are they doing? Well, they're certainly not paying close attention to whoever is talking.
This speaks to the importance of not only holding fewer meetings if possible but also ensuring that the ones you do have are short and engaging. Instead of the 2-hour slog, try 15-minute check-ins, stand-ups, and break-outs to keep everyone's attention.
Tools such as workplace chat are crucial to reducing lengthy meetings and interruptions. Chat tools offer an avenue for teammates to check-in and ask questions in real-time without forcing anyone to drop what they’re doing. This provides a balance between open, timely communication and actually getting work done.
The key here is to make sure that your team chat doesn’t serve as a distraction itself. It’s important to set expectations so your teammates aren’t drowning in notifications or messages.
For example, your company might establish a rule to try to respond to DMs within 24 hours or prioritize emails over chat responses. Particularly for those working from home, you should consider creating hard cut-off times for office communication to prevent burnout.
Maybe try to turn off your notifications after 5:00 PM or make a point to not respond to emails on the weekends. This might contradict workaholic startup culture, but will ultimately help you focus more on work during your actual working hours.
4. Consolidate as many of your workplace apps as possible
Again, so much of how to stay focused on work at home means eliminating distractions.
Although offenders such as social media are obvious, also note that sometimes the apps built to keep you on task can have the opposite effect.
Consider that the average worker is juggling at least eight apps at any given moment. Bouncing between tools means more opportunities to lose focus.
Think about how often one email has led to a dozen or how quickly a single Google search can turn into eight open tabs. And when you get distracted during a task, it takes over 20 minutes on average to get back on track.
Anything you can do to consolidate your work tools is a plus. That means establishing a “control center” for your workday that keeps all of your essential communication and notifications in one place.
This is yet again where Teamwork Chat comes in handy, allowing you to keep your inbox, project management, and messaging side-by-side.
5. Avoid scope creep and prioritize work you’re actually good at
Research from Gallup discovered employees who do work that emphasizes their strengths are more focused and engaged.
This might seem like a no-brainer, right?
However, this speaks directly to the importance of documenting your workload and ensuring that the right tasks are going to the right people. Teams need to consciously make sure that nobody is needlessly saddled with the bulk of the work on any given project.
Transparent schedules and seamless communication can help in this department. When you’re open to communicating and collaborating, it’s easier to delegate tasks, ask for help, or provide feedback. Workers should be comfortable going back and forth for the sake of helping each other focus on their strengths.
If you're struggling with keeping things on task, check out our free project scope template to better manage and execute with everyone on board.
6. Batch your tasks to maximize your productivity and focus
Reality check: the average worker only has between two and three “productive” working hours per day. And those productive hours should be spent on the must-do, high-priority tasks that we talked about earlier.
As such, you need to mind how you structure your schedule to ensure that your brain doesn’t get fried by tedious tasks. For example, many workers will reserve follow-ups and responses that aren’t time-sensitive for the end of the day.
Mostly it's because they’re relatively low-effort. On the flip side, finalizing a piece of content or drafting a campaign might require a few hours of uninterrupted focus.
How you batch your time and tasks is totally up to you. Maybe you knock out the bulk of your biggest tasks before lunch. Perhaps you get your second wind during the afternoon.
Either way, you probably have a good idea of when you’re most productive. Capitalizing on that window of time means planning your schedule and likewise understanding how long it typically takes you to complete tasks both big and small.
With the help of time tracking software, you can double-check that you’re spending an appropriate amount of time on your work.
This can be an eye-opener to help you understand where your precious hours are actually going and if your schedule makes sense. If nothing else, you can document your workday for the sake of accountability and understand when it might be time to take a break and refocus.
Do you have a game plan for how to stay focused at work?
From doom-scrolling to dealing with daunting projects, there’s plenty that can get you off task these days. We totally get it.
Digging in and getting deep into your overall workload management starts with establishing a sensible schedule. Coupled with streamlining communication with your team, you can empower yourself and others to get things done and foster a more open company culture at the same time.
Using these tips and trustworthy tools like Teamwork is key to instilling a more collaborative organization.