How to Stay Focused at Work
May 1, 2014 8:18 AM   Subscribe

I tend to have short bursts of focus at work which results in super productivity, followed by days where I just can't seem to stay focused and be productive. I personally work at a desk job but think there must be some tips to stay focused that can come from any range of jobs. What are your tricks to stay on track and not give in to the distractions of the internet, social media, wandering mind full of to-do lists, etc?
posted by kmr to Work & Money (13 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
The Pomodoro Technique!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:23 AM on May 1, 2014

If you use Chrome, the Stayfocusd Chrome app allows you to block non-work related websites for set times. Also, I find Wunderlist invaluable - not just for keeping track of my to-do lists, but also for keeping me in a productive mindset.
posted by littlegreen at 8:47 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I do modified Pomodoro - when I feel like I'm getting off-track, I just set my phone timer for 20 minutes, and tell myself that all I have to do is work on something on my to-do list for the next 20 minutes. No flitting between tasks, no quick checks of FB or MeFi, just 20 minutes of work. And then I do another 20, and another. Just getting focused and productive for the first 20 minutes really makes a huge difference, I find.
posted by sabotagerabbit at 8:48 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite] has a way to track your 20 minute spells of activity. Kinda fun to watch the points add up and see which of your tasks take the longest.
posted by travertina at 9:14 AM on May 1, 2014

It helps me immensely to start the moment I sit down at my desk. I can get a cup of coffee, but other than that, zero distractions, absolutely no "just checking" personal email or any non-work website until I've finished the first thing on my plate or a half hour has passed, whichever comes later. If I'm focused and productive the first half hour of my day, it sets the tone for the rest of the day, even when I don't stick to a Pomodoro-style schedule.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:26 AM on May 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Listening to high-energy music on headphones helps me with this a lot.
posted by something something at 11:14 AM on May 1, 2014

To-do lists with small tasks help me quite a bit, largely because I like knocking things off the list.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:56 PM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

2nd to do lists. I think our given energy cycles (whatever they are for any person) just don't sync perfectly with job demands. It's a little easier to meet a demand when you're not into it if the physical setting of the task changes, eg you have to get up to put out an actual fire or calm a child or animal, where there's a clear need and obvious outcome and you have to move around a bit, which changes your physiology slightly. When you're desk-bound for 8 hours, your physical world is static so you're relying exclusively on internal motivation and engagement.

The to do list lets you pick off the things you feel like taking on, assuming you have some control over scheduling. To whatever degree you can shift monotonous, repetitive tasks to a rainy day you're just alert enough to cope, do it. Save more intense work for times you're feeling jammier. If you know you've got a big project over Monday and Tuesday, leave Wednesday for the small things, as was said above.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:13 PM on May 1, 2014

I think varying your activities helps. Trying to focus on the same damn thing that you've done a million times before is difficult, but focusing on something new, or which you haven't done in awhile, is much easier. If it's possible with your job, I would try switching to a different kind of activity when you're finding it hard to focus on what you're doing.
posted by sam_harms at 8:58 PM on May 1, 2014

1. coffee
2. ambient (no vocals) (techno, noise or new age, depending on your taste) cranked loud.
3. reduce distractions, turn off or put away your phone. Turn off instant messaging and email alerts. If your desk is in a high-traffic area ask to be moved, if that's not possible do what you can to block visual distractions with motivational posters or whatever.
4. short, focused, list of specific tasks you can accomplish now, during your immediate shift. No general long term projects, but broken down pieces of one that can be checked off in a reasonable amount of time. Create a new fresh list every day so you don't get complacent looking at all those tasks you checked off the day before.

For me this combination works 60% of the time every time. Some days are just hopeless no matter what you do.
posted by j03 at 5:57 AM on May 2, 2014

Along with the other techniques suggested above, if I'm really having trouble concentrating, I find it helps to simplify the tools I'm using. For instance, if I'm trying to write something, it's much easier to do in a simple text editor then Word or Google Docs. By preventing myself from using formatting options, I usually stop thinking about them as well. This stops me from breaking my train of thought to add bullets or indent something, for example. (Though I also heavily rely on keyboard shortcuts when using GUI programs.) Of course, this means you have to add the formatting back in later which will require some time. Even so, the work seems to flow more smoothly and, I think, is ultimately more successful.
posted by ungfru at 9:42 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Personally, getting screened for ADHD and using Dexedrine pretty much eliminated the problem altogether. I have never been more productive in my life.

I found that I procrastinated because figuring out the particulars of every task was so hard with an ADHD brain, that I avoided work that I actually enjoyed. I really do love my job. It just was super overwhelming to try to figure things out when my capacity to focus was almost zero.

I am off work right now because I worked too much during the week. That shit would NEVER have happened were I not on amphetamines.
posted by Tarumba at 12:03 PM on May 2, 2014

Tarumba wrote:
Personally, getting screened for ADHD and using Dexedrine pretty much eliminated the problem altogether. I have never been more productive in my life.
Do you happen to know how Dexedrine compares to Vyvanse or Adderall?

(I currently take 70 mg Vyvanse a day—and it helps tremendously compared to taking nothing at all—but there’re some days even Vyvanse can’t get my ADHD-addled brain going.)
posted by Handcoding at 2:17 PM on May 2, 2014

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