“Where did my time go?”
This was me when I sat down to finish writing a blog article but ended up working on something else. This was also me when I realized I’d been mindlessly watching YouTube videos when I had planned to do actual work. My lack of focus cost me precious time that I can’t get back. Have you also experienced this? Let’s uncover the common reasons why people have a hard time focusing on their work and what they can do to change that.
Common Causes of Lack of Focus
Lack of energy
Your brain needs enough energy to perform, especially when it comes to “blocking” things that cause you to deviate your attention. I don’t want to sound like Bill Nye but scientists believe that the job of blocking distractions goes to the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), which needs a lot of energy to fully perform its job. With insufficient energy, our minds tend to wander. Studies show that the mind can only focus on any given task for up to two hours, after which it also needs to recharge. Pushing past your limit can cause your focus to taper off.
Easy access to distractions
What you thought would be just a couple of minutes to check on your friend’s new social media post can quickly become 30 minutes to an hour of your time mindlessly scrolling through your feed. Social media is just one of the many distractions that we have to battle through every day. Other forms of distractions could be gossip or answering unnecessary emails. When these distractions are left unmanaged, we lose control of our time. Instead of focusing on the most important things, we’re left spending our energy on time-wasters.
Steve Jobs said it best, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.” We must treat our ability to focus as a resource that can get depleted. When we multitask, we prolong the time it takes to get something done. Even worse, we often end up stressed and exhausted.
Lack of structure
Without a system to manage and plan your tasks, you more often operate in what David Allen calls “emergency scan modality.” David Allen, known for creating the productivity system Getting Things Done (GTD), describes emergency scan modality as a continual state of “scanning the horizon looking for the next fire to put out.” It’s the “Oh, I need to do this!” moment you get at a time when you’re focusing on another task.
This is because you trusted your brain to remember EVERYTHING. But the reality is our brain is not meant to store information. It’s for creating ideas. Having a system to capture, manage, and process information is important if you want to maintain your focus when doing your tasks.
Improving Focus at Work
Maintaining and improving focus at work can be challenging. But when you can do so, you alleviate yourself from stress, exhaustion, and frustration. Here are our tips on how you can focus better.
Get enough sleep
To ensure you have enough energy for your work, you need to get enough sleep the night before. This allows your brain to recharge and stock up on the energy you need for the next day. Studies show that adults aged 18 to 64 years old need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day.
Plan your tasks
To structure how you manage your work, you need to have a task management system. I recommend you take time before your day ends to plan your next workday. Take this time to unload your mind of all the possible things that will keep you up at night. Put them on your task management system and plan when you’re going to do them. You can do this before you clock out of work.
If you’re using a tool, like a Kanban board, review your board and see which tasks you need to line up for the next day.
Make your work environment conducive for focus
A clear desk is more conducive for maintaining focus. If you have clutter on your workspace, these can be a cause of distraction. Make sure that you also get rid of other possible distractions. Close unnecessary websites on your browsers. Put your phone on silent mode when you work and put them in your drawer or bag when you need to focus.
Focus on one task at a time
Avoiding task switching will improve your focus and deliver results faster for you. If you find that you’re struggling with this, you can use a framework like Kanban to help you limit your tasks. Prioritization is also important if you want to maintain your focus. Setting your goals and identifying which tasks will get you there will help you determine which task is more important than others.
Write it down
You have to learn to unload your mind of the information it constantly gets and creates. When you’re given a new task, don’t quickly jump into doing it. Capture the information and determine when it can and should be done. And when you remember something or come up with a new idea, make sure you’re ready to transfer that piece of information onto your system. You can go analog and put this on a notebook. You can also use a task management app on your phone. There are other options for what to use. The important thing is you unload your mind and process this information when you’re ready to do so.
Ready to take control and manage your focus? Once you become self-aware of what takes away your focus, you can apply the tips above to battle them. When you’re able to keep your attention on doing the most important tasks on your plate, you can reach your goals faster. Stay focused to stay on track of your goals.