Focus is one of the biggest obstacles to productivity faced by the average American worker. Theoretically, you can have the skills, the incentives, the time, and the resources to do your job completely and well--but if you can't focus your efforts on it, you could end up producing shoddy work or fail to get it done in time.
We've all been victims of a lack of focus at one point or another. It could be a poor night's sleep preventing us from concentrating effectively. It could be self-doubt or an independent worry that's preoccupying us. It could even be trivial distractions, like internet articles, keeping us from focusing on the task at hand. Whatever it is, the culprit to your lack of productivity is typically a lack of focus, and there are a handful of useful brain hacks you can use to restore that focus to its proper levels:
Isolate Your Task
If you want to focus exclusively on one item, then isolate that item from virtually any possible distraction. You'd be amazed how many distractions are around that you don't even notice. For example, if you're working on drafting a service agreement, get rid of anything on your computer or desk that doesn't have to do with that service agreement. Close out your email client, your Web browser (and disconnect from the internet if you can), and any other programs you might have running. Turn off your phone. Close your planner. Move your task list and any other to-do items in front of you. Once your task is literally the only thing in front of you, you'll have no choice but to focus.
The brain doesn't work well without proper fuel. Eating breakfast, lunch, or a healthy snack can help your brain focus on important things--just be sure to eat nutritious food rather than junk you plucked from a vending machine. You can also drink coffee or tea for the caffeine, to give yourself an extra boost of attention, as long as you don't overdo it; too much caffeine can make you jittery or make it more difficult to focus. One cup of coffee or tea is plenty to reap the benefits. If you're not in a position to eat or drink these things, try chewing gum--it mimics the act of chewing food and provides your brain with a similar boost in focus.
Take a Walk
Walks are the most popular choice for busy workers, but any exercise is good for improving your focus. A walk gets you away from the hustle and bustle of your desk--including the distractions responsible for breaking your focus--but more important, it stimulates blood flow throughout your body. This, in turn, sends more oxygen to your brain and causes the release of endorphins, which help introduce a feeling of euphoria. Serving as a platform for both stress relief and brain stimulation, any exercise should help you return to your job with greater focus and mental capability. Even 10 minutes of exercise should be plenty to yield a favorable result.
Make Tighter Deadlines for Yourself
Deadlines are stressful, so introducing new or stricter deadlines for yourself may seem like a counterproductive strategy. However, the human brain is designed to work well under imposing limitations, so introducing even stricter limitations--with softer consequences--is a great way to trick yourself into focusing better. For example, if you have a week to complete a given project and you find yourself unable to focus on it long enough to make any meaningful progress, shorten your deadline to a day. Force yourself to complete the project within that narrow timeframe, and you won't be able to afford the luxury of distraction. In this strategy, you're artificially creating a sense of urgency; it should give you the same benefits of a real push, but without the possibility of failure and its severe consequences.
Segment Your Time
Many people find it useful to segment their time. Rather than looking at the broad sense of the work in front of them, such as two big projects and nine small tasks that need to be done in an eight-hour period, they break everything up into smaller pieces, such as one hour for one project, an hour and a half for another, and half an hour for each of those smaller tasks. Of course, how you structure your time and tasks is completely up to you--you can even schedule time for breaks, snacks, or other activities to get you away from work. The point here is to create a plan, and to compartmentalize an otherwise massive group of considerations.
Sometimes our lack of focus is a symptom of a restless mind. You're stressed and overwhelmed with other work or other worries, and it's only natural that those preoccupations interfere with your ability to focus on meaningful tasks. The best way to clear your head of these wandering thoughts is to drive them away with meditation. Find a quiet spot to sit, close your eyes, and start clearing your head of the unnecessary clutter. The goal here is to think of absolutely nothing; anytime a thought pops into your head, simply acknowledge it, then picture yourself letting go of it. It may take some practice, but effective meditation can serve as a Reset for your mind and allow you to focus on your work more effectively.
Experiment with these brain hacks in your job, your hobby, or any area of your life where you could use some additional focus. You'll be surprised how quickly your mind is able to adapt. With greater focus, you'll get more done, you'll get it done faster, and you'll feel better by the end of it.