10 Tips to Increase Productivity When You Can’t Focus at Work

Macgill Davis

Do you often lose focus during the workday?

Have you ever been in the groove, making significant progress during a focused work session, when a co-worker popped their head in the door and stole your precious flow with their interruption?

Or perhaps you've been wrapping up at the end of the day when boom — you're suddenly thinking about having to swing by the store when you leave the office, grab that missing ingredient for dinner, and oh, speaking of dinner, did you call to make reservations for your anniversary next weekend?

If you can't focus at work, you're not alone. Whether it's an interruption or a wandering mind, many things can cause a lack of focus in the workplace. In fact, 76% of workers say that they avoid going to the office if they need to focus and complete important work.

But you don't have to stay away from your workplace to get things done. Sometimes, it takes just a few simple changes to get back on track. This article will discuss 10 tips for staying focused and getting the most out of your workday.

What Is Focus, and Why Do We Lose It?

Can't focus at work: stressed man using a laptop

What does it mean to focus at work? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, being focused is defined as "giving a lot of attention to one particular thing." At the workplace, this means paying attention to what must be done and concentrating on the most important tasks.

It may seem like some people have no trouble focusing on their work, but the truth is, most of us have to put in a lot of effort. After all, the brain is wired to be distracted, and we're surrounded by a ton of distractions at work.

There's a natural tendency for the mind to wander, regardless of what we are doing. Studies show we're distracted 37% of the time we're at work. The mind wanders when we're stressed, suffering from a lack of sleep, or are uninterested in our work. Some employees, like those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), have additional factors that influence their struggle to focus, pay attention, and get things done.

The office work environment has plenty of external distractions that detract from our focus. Research by the University of California (UC) shows we're interrupted every three minutes in the office due to distractions. Besides the cute cat videos your colleagues keep sharing on your Slack chat, other distracting activities can include:

  • Excessive office noise
  • Chatty co-workers
  • Cellphones and other devices
  • Social media and email notifications
  • Meetings and other interruptions
  • Uncomfortable working conditions

Considering all the competing demands for our attention, which research has already found to be limited, it's no wonder we struggle to stay on task at work.

The Impact of Losing Focus at Work

You may think, “I get my work done eventually, so what's all the fuss about focus?” Focus is essential for various reasons, primarily because losing our attention span has many downsides.

Our productivity at work relies on the ability to focus. It's difficult to concentrate in a distracting work environment, and as a result, our performance suffers. In fact, research has found that office workers are only productive for a few hours per day. We lose around six hours of productivity thanks to workplace distractions.

Focus is also vital to producing high-quality work. If we can't focus at work, we're more likely to make mistakes and have to spend more time on our work. Multitasking and procrastination are often the results of feeling overwhelmed, which slows down our workflow even more. This could lead to missed deadlines and, in some cases, a negative performance review or termination.

Having time to focus is also fundamental for mental health and a work-life balance. In the UC study mentioned above, just 20 minutes of interrupted work increased workers' stress levels, frustration, and pressure — factors that make us more vulnerable to burnout. 

We can reduce their impact by addressing the factors that lead to losing focus at work. If our work environment is conducive to cognitive function and improved focus at work, we can complete our tasks on time and enjoy our personal lives.

Try These 10 Hacks When You Can’t Focus at Work

Can't focus at work: architect looking at a blueprint on his computer

Workplace distractions can be frustrating. A lack of focused work time disrupts workflow, impairs time management, and creates a less enjoyable work environment. However, you can get back on track and regain your focus by taking a few steps. Here are 10 ways to hack your day and discover how to stay focused at work.

1. Optimize Your Workspace

You may have limited options for organizing your workplace, but there are some things you can do. For one, improving ergonomics can increase productivity and decrease discomfort. Make sure to place your chair and monitor at a comfortable height. 

Also, consider bringing in a few potted plants. Studies have demonstrated that greenery reduces stress and increases productivity in the office. If you can, sit near a window with natural light. Natural light at work is proven to reduce eye strain, relieve headaches, and boost alertness and energy.

2. Minimize Disruptive Noise

Even though you can't always control noise levels in your office, you can minimize its impact with a few strategic measures. If you have a door, shut it and post a "Do Not Disturb" sign when you need to concentrate. Noise-canceling headphones, earplugs, or a white noise app can also help drown out excessive office noise. 

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries at work. It’s OK to politely inform chatty co-workers when you need to concentrate and can't talk.

3. Say Sayonara to Social Media

If technology is to blame for your inability to focus, you're not alone. Over a third of millennials report using their phones for personal reasons while they're at work. Establishing limits is crucial. Some things you might try:

  • Put your phone on silent so you don't get interrupted by phone calls or texts. 
  • Disable email, social media, and other app notifications, so you aren't tempted to open them. 
  • Sign out of these accounts and any other distracting websites from your computer.

4. Create a To-Do List

A well-crafted to-do list can help you start your day off right and remain focused throughout until closing time. Make a list of everything you need to do, then categorize each task according to its urgency and importance. With proper prioritization, you can tackle the most important tasks first, then move on to other projects feeling relieved and accomplished.

5. Break up Large Tasks

An overwhelming project can cause procrastination or a lack of focus. The easiest way to manage large projects is to break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks. You can then work on one subtask at a time, segment your work sessions using the Pomodoro technique, and cross them off as you complete them. You'll be more likely to reach your larger goal if you focus on one small step at a time.

6. Take Breaks

Can't focus at work: entrepreneurs drinking coffee

Taking breaks during the workday may seem counterintuitive, but it's actually highly beneficial. Working long hours can leave you with mental fatigue and brain fog, making it more challenging to focus. 

Rest shouldn't be confined to just your lunch break. Take breaks during other periods of time as well, even if it's just for five minutes. Use these short breaks to enhance your well-being. Avoid checking email or social media apps, and instead, opt for physical activity like taking a walk, meditation, or anything that promotes relaxation.

7. Mix It Up

Having a routine can help signal our brain to focus, but overdoing the same thing can eventually lead to boredom, which decreases our attention span. You can avoid this by changing your routine in some way, like:

  • Taking a different route to the office in the morning so you can get your favorite cup of coffee
  • Working in a different part of the office or arranging your desk and chair differently 
  • Collaborating with someone else if you usually work alone 
  • Choosing a spot farther away in the parking lot, so you can exercise on your way into the office

These are just a couple of ideas to get creative and switch up your workday. Changing your routine from time to time can help your mind stay fresh and reduce boredom.

8. Limit Multitasking

Although multitasking may seem like a great option to get more done, it isn't. The mental strain caused by context switching (or task switching) can cost you 40% of your productivity and make you more prone to errors. Try to limit your work to one task at a time. 

If you must multitask, consider batching similar jobs. For example, make a phone call while walking the office halls or do all your administrative work in one afternoon.

9. Find a Focus Buddy

A focus buddy can help you stay on task by holding you accountable and providing advice on how to focus at work. If you struggle with a lack of focus or procrastination, having a colleague or friend check in with you throughout the day might be what you need to keep your attention span on track. You're more likely to spend less time playing on social media and more time working on important tasks when you know you have to report to someone.

10. Take Care of Yourself

Group of people practicing yoga together

Any suggestion on how to stay focused at work should begin with maintaining your mental and physical health. Focus is directly impacted by sleep deprivation, so make sure you get the recommended eight hours of sleep every night. 

In addition, exercise regularly, eat healthily, and practice yoga or meditation to reduce stress and boost energy levels. Spending time with family and doing things you enjoy outside of work can also help you reduce the risk of burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Take Charge of Your Workday and Stay Focused With Rize

Focus plays a key role in your productivity, creativity, and clarity. If you're struggling because you can’t focus at work, tracking your time may help. 

Rize can help you identify the times when you have the most difficulty concentrating so you can make positive changes. You can also set up Rize to remind you to take breaks to boost your productivity. Sign up for a free trial of Rize and see how you can improve your focus at work.