Staying focused at work can be a challenge. Between office chatting, personal email, texting, and every single site on the Internet, it’s a wonder anyone ever gets anything done. I struggled with focus for years, and I assumed I was simply doomed to a goldfish’s attention span. But it turns out I just had to adopt some simple behavioral changes. Here’s what worked for me.
1. Make short-term and long-term to-do lists.
While having a sense of long-term projects is necessary, it can be overwhelming to approach each day with a giant mountain of tasks. Breaking down your bigger projects into daily to-do lists makes your work manageable. Added bonus: You get to check things off every hour instead of once a week.
2. Create a routine.
You can set a watch by our DailyWorth managing editor, who stands up at exactly noon every day for lunch. If you know that something is supposed to happen at an appointed time, you’re more inclined to work toward it, instead of letting the hours fritter away. At my first office job, I was most productive in the two hours leading up to my daily 4 pm hot chocolate break with my deskmates.
3. Take breaks and move around.
I get up and leave my desk at least once an hour. I find that walking around the office energizes me, and that I come back to my desk refreshed. Here’s what I don’t do on short breaks (except lunchtime): Facebook, Instagram, or the Internet in general. Walking around clears my head; diving down an Internet rabbit hole ruins my focus — and it takes ages to get back in the game.
4. Cut out Internet distractions.
If you can’t tear yourself away from checking blogs, Facebook, your personal email, or other distractions, get yourself an app to handle it. There’s no shortage of apps and extensions that will block you from Internet browsing, like Cold Turkey and Self Control — and you can customize by the specific site(s) you want blocked and how long you want to stay offline.
5. Snack and stay hydrated.
I don’t know about you, but I can hardly function when I’m hungry. Hunger pangs are just as disruptive as a constantly pinging phone. So if your job allows it, snack. What works best for me is to eat three small meals spaced out every few hours, instead of one bigger meal at noon. I find that I have more energy as the day progresses, and I don’t fall into that afternoon slump. And don’t forget to drink water as often as possible. Frequent restroom trips fit in nicely with walk-around breaks.
6. Use headphones.
Headphones signal to your coworkers that you need to stay focused. In fact, our art director says she weighs the importance of what she has to tell coworkers against having to tap someone and ask them to remove their headphones. I tend to listen to music I’ve heard a million times when I’m writing, so it functions like white noise. Otherwise, you might get tripped up on unfamiliar lyrics and end up losing your concentration.