It happens to us all at some point—we have a thousand and one tasks to complete in less than 24 hours, but we have trouble gaining the focus necessary to get things done. Or perhaps the day is especially pretty, and you want to get out and enjoy it, leaving all your cares and work behind. It happens.
But if you find yourself in this situation on a regular basis, you may have trouble focusing. You could be easily distracted by the day’s news, a phone call from a loved one, etc. While this is normal once in a while, you may need to find some method to help you gain and keep your focus in order to get work and personal tasks done. Remember that it’s not entirely necessary to “clear the decks,” so to speak. You just need to focus and start on your to-do list, and stay focused as you work.
Common Reasons for Losing Focus
OK, let’s be honest. There are times when losing focus becomes an avoidance habit. What causes this?
Possible causes include:
1). You have other things to get done: you may have a long list of things that do need to be done. This can make you feel exasperated, causing you to give up before you even start. Or you give in to whatever seems the most attractive or easiest distraction in the moment.
2). You may feel overwhelmed by everything: your list is long and daunting, making you feel completely overwhelmed. How do you even begin to tackle that longer-than-your arm list? We’ve all been there. It’s easier to put things off than to face them. Feeling like everything’s out of control is horrible; no wonder that pretty day’s beckoning and you just have to go out and enjoy it.
3). An important task is overwhelming: maybe you’re not facing a long list of to-dos, but instead you’re facing one important task you just want to avoid at all costs. Perhaps it’s a medical test, or something that seems impossible to accomplish, or maybe it’s getting your taxes done. Whatever it is, feeling overwhelmed is normal. So, you do almost anything to get away from this stress by putting off this one important task. We’ve all done it.
4). Habits are hard to change: perhaps you’re trying to change your habits from being distracted to focusing on the task(s) at hand. Habits are difficult to change and it doesn’t happen overnight. Habits take time, discipline and dedication, whether it’s starting a new diet or changing your work habits. Humans like to stay where they’re comfortable, even if this place isn’t convenient to getting things done…and avoidance is your preference.
Don’t think you’re alone in the midst of this avoidance/trouble focusing issue. We’ve all been there at one time or another. You don’t need to beat yourself up or get all negative about your issue. Instead, take some time to consider why you have the issue and how you can deal with it.
Gain Focus at Work
Whether you’re working from home, at the office, or in a coworking space, distractions can really grab your focus away from the work on hand. Here are some things you can do to gain focus again:
Put your phone away: leaving your phone in your purse or brief case is one way to avoid distractions caused by your smartphone. If you must have the phone nearby, turn the phone to the silent setting or just vibrate. That way you won’t worry about missing an important call. However, you will have to be disciplined and avoid picking up the phone when it’s not necessary. Another option is to work for 30 minutes to an hour and then give yourself permission to check your phone for messages, etc. You’ll be able to work without the worry and will have your focus, until it’s time to check your phone.
Turn off notifications: whether on your computer or your phone, be sure to turn off all unnecessary notifications. Close Skype and other communication apps (or set them to Do Not Disturb). Use the same method as you use with your mobile phone—work for 30-60 minutes, and then check for messages. Again, distractions will be kept to a minimum and you won’t worry about missing important messages.
Close unnecessary apps: if you have work to get done, then only use the app(s) necessary for that specific task. Close all other programs and do not open anything else, including a browser, unless it’s needed for work.
Use headphones: sometimes an office setting can be noisy, which can be very distracting for some people. If you find yourself in this situation, then invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. These work to cancel out all background noise; you can even turn on music that helps you to focus. Not only that, but headphones also alert everyone else that you’re busy, so they won’t bother you unless necessary.
Other Methods to Gain Focus
If you feel that distractions are wreaking havoc in your work and personal life, it may be time to sit down and try to understand what’s happening. Turning your awareness to the problem may help you get to the bottom of the issue; in fact, opening up to the feelings you have when trying to avoid tasks can help you reach an understanding of what’s really going on. Don’t be afraid to explore your feelings. It’s OK. Once you’ve considered the reasons for being distracted, you’re ready to deal with these issues.
Next, once you’ve realised what’s happening and why, you’ll be ready to begin creating a new habit. We didn’t say “change an old habit.” It may be helpful to view this process as developing a new habit. As you do this, the old habit will slowly recede on its own, as long as you are dedicated to pursuing the new habit.
It’s possible you just lose focus due to overwhelm, like when facing a long list of tasks and not knowing where to start. In this instance, take a step back and review the list. See how you can break the task(s) down into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Work on one step at a time, one bite at a time, in order to accomplish one task. This makes the whole process easier—you don’t feel so overwhelmed, and you gain a sense of accomplishment as you finish each step and each task.
With a little determination and a method, any task list can become manageable. You can develop a new habit and learn how to focus on your work, rather than using avoidance to distract you from what needs to be done.