Seven Ways to Reclaim Your Focus at Work

By: Gerri Mason Hall
Feb 26, 2016 8:45 AM ET

In the modern workplace the feeling of being overwhelmed is the new normal.  And it only gets worse when we don’t organize our thoughts, projects and to-do lists. From the most senior leaders to the frontline staff, we simply don’t take the time to get organized because we’re too busy (and maybe also because we’re using being “busy” as an excuse).  The stress resulting from this only grows and grows, eventually forcing us to face it at its most demanding peaks.  This is by no means mentally, emotionally or physically healthy.  But with the right amount of focus, it is completely preventable.

Fast Company suggests seven ways to regain focus by revising your work habits. I’ve added some of my own suggestions as not all employees work in an office. But regardless of where we work, we may struggle because our brains get accustomed to operating in a rapid-fire, reactive mode. These strategies can help you slow your mind down in order to focus on important work.

Take time now or stress out later.  It’s a simple choice.

  1. Stop, Think and Plan.

Schedule a high-priority meeting with yourself to work on nothing but an important project or other deliverable instead of waiting until the deadline is looming and you’re stressed out. This strengthens your ability to focus and avoids the trap of delaying the big project or responsibility because of all the smaller, more urgent things you could do quickly. What’s more, you’ll have primed your brain in advance to anticipate the times in which you want to be focused.

  1. Vital Work First

Dig into the most important work before you get distracted. Is first thing in the morning the best time to focus with few interruptions, or perhaps after lunch or right when your shift begins? If so, schedule that time and don’t let email, conversations or other distractions grab your attention.

  1. Break Time

Clear your mind before you begin a project to signal you’re switching gears. If possible, a quick walk outside can do wonders in relieving stress that may have built up over the day.  Also, taking breaks can inspire more open, innovative thinking when you experience new surroundings besides your everyday environment.

  1. Go To Your Happy Place

If you work in an office, you can work at home or reserve a conference room when you have a big project.  If you home-office, go to your favorite coffee shop or to the Library.  If you work in a service-oriented environment, try closing your eyes and focusing on taking a few deep breaths.   For all intents and purposes, find a place, whether mentally or physically, where you can best focus on preparing yourself to do your best work.

  1. Getting Started

Outline what needs to get accomplished on paper, on your computer, or on your smart phone.  Capturing the days’ work priorities  can make achieving them very doable.

  1. Divide and Conquer

If the call of the urgent is overwhelming, put out the fires, then focus on the big project for a half hour and complete a major step. Breaking projects or responsibilities into steps is not the most efficient approach, but use whatever works.

  1. Call In Reinforcements

Work with a coworker to tackle your major projects or responsibilities simultaneously; if it’s on your schedule, you’re likely to do it. Or set up a regular schedule with your supervisor to check in on the project as an added incentive.  Call in help that will keep you focused and on task.

Focus is an essential part of any of the work you’ll ever do.  It is important in that it dictates the quality as well as the quantity of work you’ll get done.  That is why it is so important that you are focused when working.  The stress of an average work day is more than enough for the normal worker.  Why add to it with unfocused work when you can use these seven methods and be at your best every day.

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Gerri Mason Hall is Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer for Sodexo North America. Sodexo’s 133,000 employees in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico provide more than 100 unique services that improve performance for 9,000 client partners and improve Quality of Life for 15 million consumers every day.