Workplace research shows that a typical office employee goes only 11 minutes without being interrupted from the task at hand. That sounds about right, considering all the possible distractions (calls, emails, texts, and open-office noise, to name a few) disrupting focus at work.
Although workers can learn to adapt to task-switching, such activity may come at the cost of depleting brain power.
Obviously, that’s something to be avoided, both from a career and personal perspective, particularly in the focus-intensive world of accounting and finance. Here are some tips that could help you stay locked in while on the job.
1) Tackle the tough stuff first.
It makes sense that most people operate at peak productivity during their first hour at work because their “energy tank” is full. Try putting the most challenging tasks at the top of your daily agenda, followed by less stressful work, suggests Lifehack. Routine, more boring assignments can wait until the end of the day.
2) Don’t muddle through adversity.
Americans put in significantly more hours on the job than their European counterparts, but aren’t necessarily happier at work. Productivity expert Carson Tate, author of “Work Simply,” recommends working fewer, more focused hours. “We need to take mental and physical breaks and stop fighting our biology. If we are hungry, stressed or [angry], our ability to focus and concentrate is significantly compromised,” she says. This helps increase focus at work.
3) Cut down on social media.
Cal Newport, author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” observes, “the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media weakens this skill because it’s engineered to be addictive.” He advises abstention from social media during working hours because it diverts time and attention away from producing work that matters.
4) Separate work and personal issues.
As hard as it sounds, it’s important to deal with personal issues on your own time, rather than at the office, according to career management executive Kim Littlefield. “Sometimes, whether the personal issues are positive or negative, we allow ourselves to become absorbed in them while work that needs to be done continues to pile up, resulting in added stress,” she notes.
5) Plug into some music.
There’s evidence that listening to a favored type of music helps people focus at work. It’s even been shown that surgeons perform best when listening to preferred music. Science writer Annie Murphy Paul points out “the popular practice of listening to music with earbuds or headphones not only cuts down on background noise but may give employees a sense of control over their aural environment.” Additionally, “headphones on” in the modern office signals to others that the person listening should not be disturbed.
6) Put technology to work.
They say there’s an app for just about everything, and that’s certainly true for tech tools that help block out distractions. Among the choices are apps that produce audits of your online activities for self-evaluation; automatically close email and browsers for selected tasks such as writing; sync and centralize all your personal notes; allow just one application to appear in the foreground of your computer screen; and set time limits for Internet activities during work, such as using Twitter or Instagram.
7) Practice mindfulness.
Wellness authority Joan Moran emphasizes that attempts to multi-task at work can be misguided. “When your mind is engaged in several activities at once, you can’t fully concentrate or be reasonably productive.” She advocates for the practice of mindfulness — setting aside 10 minutes per day to focus solely on the present without passing judgment. “It will allow you to re-enter the present with clarity of thought and a relaxed physical state,” she explains.
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