In the first few weeks after the holidays, it can be difficult to transition back into work mode. Maybe you are having a hard time getting back into the swing of things, or maybe you’ve committed to keeping concentrated at work this year and are trying to figure out how to accomplish your goal. Whatever you are experiencing, this is a great time to make changes to your habits that will boost your productivity in 2020.
If you have a hard time focusing at work, you are not alone. According to this Gallup poll, only 13% of the workforce is actively engaged in their job -- just one out of eight employees! 63% of workers report themselves as “not engaged” and 24% describe themselves as “actively disengaged”. You don’t become a CEO, make partner, or grow in your career by being disengaged, so if you’re looking to develop professionally, it might be time to plug back into your responsibilities. The big question: how can you make the most of your time at work and boost your productivity? Here are BINTO’s top tips for staying focused at work:
1. Limit multitasking.
With competing demands in the office, you may be tempted to try and work on multiple things at once. However, research indicates this can actually hinder rather than help you. One Stanford study identified heavy multitaskers and asked them to perform cognitive tasks. They found that these multitaskers had a harder time completing the tasks because they struggled to filter out irrelevant environmental information and strained their attention capabilities by trying to attend to everything at once. As a result, they performed worse and also tended to misremember important information related to their goal. Multitasking makes it harder to filter out distractions that interfere with accomplishing your goal, so try to work on only one task at a time.
Studies indicate that practicing meditation can improve attention. One UNC study found that students who meditated for 20 minutes a day for 4 days performed better on cognitive tests. If you are trying to improve your ability to focus at work, download a meditation app like Calm or Headspace and use one of their guided meditations to help you settle your mind before buckling down on the task at hand.
3. Exercise regularly.
Exercise is not only important for keeping your body at its best, but it also has numerous documented benefits for your brain. According to a Harvard health publication, exercise releases many of the brain chemicals that are critical for memory, concentration, and mental sharpness. Try to build a workout into your daily routine, even if it is just a brisk walk or some yoga. Staying active will help boost your productivity at work.
4. Make a to-do list.
Making a record of the tasks you want to accomplish can help you stay focused on the steps needed to complete them. A to-do list plays on a psychological mechanism known as the Zeigarnik effect, or the tendency to remember tasks we have not completed, rather than tasks we have. With a physical reminder of the tasks you still have to do, you will be able to stay more focused on finishing them. Try breaking down your goals into smaller steps in order to make this even more effective.
5. Find a quiet place to work.
While you might love listening to your Spotify playlist at your desk, it could actually be hindering your ability to be productive. Research indicates that ambient noise in your surroundings such as car horns, children screaming, or fast-paced music can stimulate the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. The effects of cortisol or stress on concentration are well documented, with effects including impairing your ability to think clearly and hindering your focus. So, maybe ditch the music and see how your concentration improves. If your workplace is particularly noisy, it may be time to invest in some noise cancelling headphones so you can make sure your performance is at its best.
6. Combat strain on your eyes.
If you tend to stare at screens for most of the day, you may be familiar with the dull throbbing headache that accompanies eye strain. This discomfort makes it difficult to focus, so try the 20-20-20 rule throughout the day. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at an object at least 20 feet away. This will help refocus your eyes and reduce the strain of the screen. You can also purchase blue light glasses which block the blue light emitted by screens and can relieve the symptoms of digital eye strain.
7. Get a good night's sleep.
According to NIH, one of the main symptoms of chronic sleep loss is poor concentration. Sleep is critical to give your brain time to rest and recharge for the day ahead. If you find it difficult to focus throughout the day, make sure you are getting your eight hours of beauty rest every night.
8. Do work you are interested in.
Another factor that makes it difficult to focus is boredom. Studies indicate that the top motivating factor for employees in the workplace is doing work that interests them. Take initiative, and make sure that your talents are not going to waste on projects you do not care about. You don’t have to quit your job, just ask your boss for a new project, or ask to get more involved in areas of your work that you do find interesting. Make it work for you.
9. Take regular breaks.
Research has shown that brief diversions from the task you are working on dramatically improves your ability to focus on the task for prolonged periods of time. Give your brain a chance to rest and recharge by trying the “52/17” method. Employee productivity tracking software DeskTime did a study which found that the most productive employees work for 52 minutes straight and then take a break for 17 minutes. Using this method gives you the time to concentrate completely on what you are working on while also providing for brain rest, and actually helps people accomplish their goals in shorter periods of time.
10. Eat right.
As with most other brain functions, what you put in your body has a huge effect on your ability to focus. Coffee can be a deceptively easy fix if you’re feeling low energy. Instead, opt for another snack that will actually help you concentrate. You can try dark chocolate, which boosts serotonin and endorphin levels and is associated with improved concentration. Also, make sure you are drinking plenty of water. Dehydration causes fatigue, and drinking coffee only makes it worse. If you feel the urge for a caffeine fix, drink a large glass of water and see how you feel. Water composes about 75% of your brain, and research indicates that when it is fully hydrated you will be able to think faster, be more focused and even improve your creativity. If your craving for caffeine doesn’t dissipate, switch out your coffee for green tea. Studies have shown that green tea, which contains a moderate amount of caffeine, has the added benefit of theanine, an amino acid that improves mental alertness and focus.
11. Make sure you are getting your supplements.
There are a number of supplements you can take to improve your brain function and focus capabilities. The first is DHA or fish oil, which contains Omega-3/6/9 fatty acids to help support mental sharpness, fatigue, vision, and inflammation. Studies have shown that DHA is also linked to improve thinking skills and memory. Next is your B vitamins, which are key for maintaining and improving cognitive function. Specifically, look out for B6, which can increase alertness, and B12, which is critical for fighting chronic fatigue and providing energy throughout the day. Your Binto daily supplement packs come with all the DHA, B6, and B12 vitamins you will need to stay focused, so if you haven’t taken our personalized survey yet, get started here!
It's not too late to commit to improving your focus at work this year. Hopefully, these tips will set you up for a year of success!