So what small, simple changes you can start making today? Here are ten practical things you can do right now that will improve your focus at work.
1. Turn off pop-up notifications, sounds and vibrations.
Every time a notification flashes across your computer or phone screen--whether it's for an email, text or Slack message--your attention is diverted. It diverts for the half-second it takes to read the message, and for whatever time you spend processing it and considering a response. So, just turn off those notifications. Also, turn off the sound or vibrations these notifications make as they come in. More often than not, you don't need to know about a message right away.
2. Respond to people in batches.
Don't keep your email open 24/7. Perhaps you're in a job that requires you to check email 100 percent of the time. If that's you, ignore this. More likely, though, you don't. Be honest with yourself about how often you really need to keep your email app open. Maybe you want to do it two or three times a day, or hourly. Do what feels best for your own productivity.
Personally, I resonate more with checking email two to four times a day. I respond to everybody at those times, if I can. I find it lets me focus fully on those responses when I'm sending them and ignore them at all other times. That lets me get my actual work done the rest of the time without losing focus.
3. Wear headphones.
Whether or not you're listening to music, a podcast or nothing at all, using headphones at work can signal to others that you don't want to be interrupted and help to eliminate those unwanted social interactions.
4. Each morning, clear your head of clutter.
When you're working, the point is to be entirely focused on the work. If your mind is consumed with runaway thoughts about your family, conflicts or anything else, you aren't paying full attention to the task at hand.
Try taking some time each morning to write down those thoughts (or to think about them during a short meditation). Then trust you'll get back to them at the end of the work day.
5. Work on one thing at a time.
I always thought I was good at multitasking. I'd open four tabs at once, each with a different task, and even work on one thing while I waited for another webpage to load.
However, now I'm a big believer in taking things one at a time. Sometimes multitasking is necessary, but often it's more of a distraction. I find it's overwhelming to have four things in your head at once, and it prevents you from giving any individual task the energy and focus it needs.
6. Don't work next to your phone.
This is a tough one. It's very similar to how computer notifications distract us from our work. In much the same way, checking your phone destroys your focus. I find myself grabbing my phone for no reason at all while I'm working, since it gives me an immediate hit of the feel-good hormone, dopamine. When I put my phone out of sight, though, the temptation disappears.
7. Remove the notification number above apps.
Those glaring notification bubbles hovering over apps sit there, taunting us, creating anxiety and demanding to be dealt with. The reality is they likely don't need to be addressed immediately. You'll get there when you get there, so eliminate those bubbles through the app's settings.
8. Take a break and stretch your legs.
Instead of jumping on your phone for a break, go stretch your legs. Walking helps revive my mind. Even better, take a short walk outside.
9. Don't keep open unnecessary tabs.
Extra windows and tabs on your computer screen tend to distract and often serve no useful purpose. How does a webpage discussing the concert you're going to that night doing you any good in focusing on the work at hand? Close those tabs and keep your computer as clutter-free as you can.
10. Communicate voice to voice.
Undoubtedly, it's sometimes easier to message with colleagues about tasks and ideas. However, if the conversation extends past a few rounds, that's a sign that it might be more efficient holding an actual conversation, voice to voice. You could spend 30 minutes back and forth over Slack with someone when it could be worked out in five minutes in person or on the phone.