How to Stay Focused at Work in a Distractive Environment

4 min read
Evidence based
Dainius Jakucionis, MD
By Dainius Jakucionis, MD Updated on 2024 Jan 22
How to maintain concentration at work

In a world full of notifications, flashy ads, and various other attention-grabbers, keeping focus laser-sharp is becoming more challenging than ever.

While concentration is one of the critical elements that help us reach our goals, all the other shiny and seemingly important things distract us so much that it begins to affect our work performance.

Surely, it’s all fun and games until work gets done sloppily or forgotten altogether.

While mental health issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) make it extremely difficult to refrain from distractions, plenty of people without it deal with concentration issues.

So, the question remains: how are you supposed to focus on work when everything else wants your attention right now?

Luckily, there are ways to help yourself focus better and, thus, improve your performance at work. Yes, really!

Eliminate pointless distractions

This one goes without saying – if your devices are constantly buzzing with notifications, no wonder you can’t focus on one thing at a time.

Turn on the “Do Not Disturb” function during work hours or put your phone on airplane mode to avoid constant interruptions. You can also turn off notifications for specific apps unrelated to your job.

Of course, be understanding and inform your coworkers if you don’t want to be disturbed during work hours to avoid any problems.

Additionally, set your work environment to be as least distracting as possible. For example, if your coworkers often blast music in the office, move to a quieter area, or invest in a set of noise-canceling earplugs.

Keep your workspace neat

Clutter is unavoidable sometimes, but it’s also full of distractions. Have you ever caught yourself staring at something on your desk or playing with a pen?

Clutter is full of pointless distractions – half-full mugs, dozens of sticky notes, tangled cords, and even dust is asking for your attention without you even noticing it.

Your work desk does not have to be empty, but take time to ensure it’s neat. This way, you’ll be able to shift your focus toward the main object on your desk – your computer screen, papers you’re working on, etc.

In addition, make sure your phone is out of sight when working. Not seeing your phone will let you forget about all the attention-grabbing social media and notifications and focus on working.

Set daily goals for yourself

Brains love dopamine – a hormone responsible for motivation. Among other things, dopamine allows us to feel pleasure, and don’t we all enjoy feeling good?

Do you know the feeling when you finish a big and super important task and get that sense of relief combined with pride? That’s dopamine rewarding you!

Unfortunately, getting things done is trickier when you’re distracted. But, by setting yourself smaller achievable daily goals, your brain will reward you with motivation.

Write down a to-do list of things you want to accomplish today, and combine similar tasks. Tackle urgent tasks first, and then move on to less important ones.

This way, you’ll have more motivation to actually get things done.

Take occasional breaks

It’s nearly impossible to stay productive and focused for hours to end.

Taking breaks is just as important as actually working. Taking 5 minutes every half hour to walk around or have a quick chat with your coworkers lets your brain relax.

It’s much easier to get back to work when your mind is refreshed because you can perceive work issues through a new lens.

You might also want to try the Pomodoro technique:

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes and keep working until the timer runs off
  • Take a 5-minute break, after which set a new timer for 25 minutes again
  • After 4 rounds of working and taking breaks, take a longer (20–30min) break and repeat the cycle

This technique works through a reward system for your brain – you train yourself that after being focused and productive for 25 minutes, you’ll be rewarded with a short break.

Take care of your sleep and diet

Surely, everyone wants to be healthy and get enough rest, but did you know that sleep and diet can tremendously affect your focus?

Lack of sleep negatively impacts your short-term and long-term memory and concentration.

Diet plays a huge role too. Not eating enough or eating nutrient-lacking foods result in low energy. Your energy levels have a massive effect on your ability to focus. Incorporate healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and various fruits and veggies into your diet.

To keep your body energized, make sure that you get at least 7 hours of sleep every night and eat nutritious meals when you’re hungry.

Proper sleep and diet will not only help you concentrate better but will positively affect your overall health as well.

Distractions are unavoidable, but our brains are not wired to simultaneously deal with so much different information. Therefore, we have to help ourselves focus – and making a conscious effort to concentrate can work wonders.

Dainius Jakucionis, MD

Dainius is a renowned psychotherapist, holding a Master’s Degree in Medicine and additional training in Cognitive and Behavioural Therapy.