There’s nothing like being in the zone: concentrated and working diligently on crossing tasks off your “to do” list — and then being thrown off course by something or someone needing your immediate attention. Distractions while at work are seemingly everywhere — whether you’re being interrupted by email notifications, phone alerts or a coworker stopping by to chat — so it can be hard to refocus once you’ve lost concentration.
Since staying focused while working on a task is imperative to your success, it’s important to understand how to refocus when you’re distracted at work.
According to a University of California Irvine study, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.” It’s not only frustrating to lose that momentum, but it can be detrimental to your work performance. Fortunately, there are many ways to train yourself to refocus after getting off track.
Here are five ways to maintain your focus at work — or refocus when your mind is everywhere but where it should be: on your task.
- Set yourself up for success. When you know you’re going to begin a task that you know will take all of your concentration and focus, get yourself set up with everything you need, like noise-canceling headphones, water, coffee or tea, a sweater and a snack. Eliminating distractions when possible will help you stay on task and give you fewer reasons to stop your momentum.
- When you’re interrupted, take a minute to write down what you’re in the middle of. It’s easier said than done to assume you’ll get right back to where you left off when you’ve been interrupted. It’s also a good idea to write down what you were planning to tackle next, so you don’t have to waste time and brain space trying to recall what you need to refocus on. Studies show that writing things down helps retain information, so give yourself a minute to do so.
- Give yourself a boost with positive self-talk. Sometimes when we’re working on difficult or intense tasks, we can feel overwhelmed and drained. That’s when you need to be aware of your self-talk — are you telling yourself, “I’m never going to finish this” or “This is taking forever”? Or are you being kind to yourself by thinking positively and saying “I’m doing my best” or “I’m almost there”? Letting negative energy flow through you will inevitably make the task more challenging and, in turn, leave you more open to distractions and diversions.
- Take a break. Giving yourself a breather can accomplish several things — it can give your brain time to relax, it can give you something to work toward, and if you spend your break time outside, it can give you a mental boost. Getting away from your computer or phone is important and can make a big difference in your ability to refocus. This would be a good time to go for a walk, meditate or talk to a friend or family member.
- Take care of yourself. It can be challenging to focus when you’re not well-rested, nourished, hydrated and feeling energized. You can experience brain fog, grogginess and low energy when you’re not practicing self-care. Taking care of yourself is always a good idea, and when you are, you’ll notice a difference in your ability to focus and concentrate better. In addition, it’s important to set boundaries with those you work with, so that if you’re interrupted at an especially critical point in your work, you’re able to gently tell them that you’re in the middle of a task and you’ll get back to them when you’re done.