Just a regular day at the office, and, first thing in the morning, your to-do list is at least a mile long. You hit lunch break and see that nothing has changed: you still have the same number of tasks on your list. Suddenly, it’s time to go home, and you might have crossed a thing or two off, but you’ve also added five for tomorrow. You sat diligently at your desk the whole day, so why didn’t you get anything done?
Many people visit and revisit this scenario all the time. And sadly, it becomes a cycle that can be hard to break, which is a problem in companies that reward performance and productivity and penalize tardiness and inefficiency. Usually, the issue is a matter of focus. Which is easy to identify but could be difficult to fix. If you’re in that boat, here are a few tips that might help improve your focus (and productivity) at work.
1. Start with what’s physical. If your body isn’t at its peak, it’s nearly impossible for your brain to concentrate on any task. Number one: fuel. Be sure that you’re eating healthy foods, and try to avoid skipping meals, even if you feel pressed for time. Without the right fuel to boost it, your brain functions in a haze, and you’ll ultimately slow down, no matter what you’re doing. Next: water. When your body is hydrated, your brain can more easily perform at its peak. Try to keep a bottle of water at your desk, and refill it regularly. Third: sleep. Burning the midnight oil might be required now and again, but if that becomes the norm, your body and your brain will suffer. The CDC recommends seven to eight hours a night, but some adults might need more. Be sure that you’re listening to your body and giving it the proper rest and recovery each night. Finally: ergonomics. Ensuring that your work station is fit to you will reduce stress on your body, which will allow you to be more efficient and focused on what’s at hand.
2. Think about how you approach your work. Do you multitask? You might think that that’s the only way to plow through the vast number of chores in front of you, but if you try to tackle them by doing several things at once, it could be killing your efficiency. In truth, according to Psychology Today, there’s no such thing as multitasking when it comes to office work and that, instead, what you’re doing is “task switching,” which they say can “add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.” You’re better off working on and completing one task at a time, to get more efficient results. Furthermore, this phenomenon includes distractions like social media, personal phone calls, and even emails. If you like to check in on what’s going on on the internet, you might consider setting specific times to do that, keeping only the necessary browser windows open for the task that you’re doing at the given time.
3. Remember Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” It’s an observation that essentially means that, if you give yourself a day to finish what should take an hour, the project will drag on and on and will likely become more complex (or perhaps more stressful and mentally consuming) as you let it stretch out. Instead, if you set realistic deadlines, you will be driven to be focused and to efficiently finish the task in a shorter time.
All told, your to-do list might seem daunting at 8:30 in the morning, but setting some physical controls, removing unneeded distractions, and creating task-centered deadlines can help you focus and plow through some of those items in record time. Good luck!