How to Stay Focused At Work and Avoid Distractions

how to stay focused at work

The Internet is a wild, hilarious, obscene playground. If you have to choose between cruising the Internet and plugging data into spreadsheets, you’ll choose adorable kitten videos every day of the week and twice on Sunday. However, watching videos and browsing listicles won’t pay the bills — you’ll need to get some work done occasionally. Learning how to stay focused at work may not be as much fun as goofing off, but it can help improve your productivity and employment prospects.

I have experience working in both an office setting and at home. I’ve found that it can be particularly challenging to stay on task at a home office, since there’s no one around to judge you and your list of 15 pug swimsuit fails. Over the years, I’ve honed these strategies for staying on task and minimizing wasted time. If you don’t mind neglecting work for just a few moments more, you might find these tips helpful.

1. Get Comfortable

It’s hard to stay focused when your neck and back are killing you. Crafting an ergonomic workstation isn’t just important for comfort, but for your health. There are several schools of thought on how to make your station as ergonomic as possible — standing desk, yoga ball, treadmill, chair with lumbar support, etc. If you have the means, you might adopt all of the above and employ them at different times throughout the day.

2. Set a Time Limit

Setting out to work eight solid hours is a fool’s goal. Working for just one hour, however, is much more doable. If you don’t trust yourself to stay on task, you might download FocusBooster, an application that challenges you to stay on task for just 25 minutes out of 30. I don’t care who you are, you can stay focused for 25 minutes, then reward yourself with a video of Chewbacca reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

3. Break Work Into Increments

If breaking your workday into time increments isn’t effective, try breaking it into project-oriented increments. While it might seem daunting to fill out 19 TPS reports (or whatever), it’s definitely not daunting to fill out just one. It’s much easier to stay focused when the finish line is in view — so you might as well bring the finish line a little closer. After finishing the project, give yourself a well-deserved break and start the process over again.

Related: Job Interview Tips That’ll Help You Land Your Dream Gig

4. Hide Your Bookmarks Bar

Keeping a visible row of bookmarks on your browser makes it very difficult to stay on task. All you have to do is click a box, and boom, you’re on the on-ramp of the Internet Superhighway. A good roadblock is to simply turn off your bookmarks bar by hitting Crtl+Shift+B (if you use Google Chrome). Hiding the bookmarks bar in Firefox is a little trickier, but doable. With your bookmarks gone, you’ll need to actually type your favorite time-wasting websites into the address bar, giving you more time to think through your choices. You might also delete your browsing history, so the URL doesn’t automatically fill in when you type it (you should probably do that anyway — you know, for reasons).

5. Listen to Instrumental Music

The average workplace can be a chaotic place. Instead of boiling with anger at your coworkers’ shenanigans while trying to focus on an email to Gloria in HR, consider popping on some comfortable headphones and crafting your own personal soundscape. I would recommend sticking with instrumental music, however, as lyrics can corrode your focus. Plus, you don’t want to unwittingly include the phrase “bitch better have my money” in that email to Gloria.

6. Get Your Snack On

Forget coworkers and Internet — old-fashioned hunger can be the most distracting thing of all. To combat this beast within, keep an array of (preferably healthy) snacks within reach and don’t skip mealtimes. If you often get hungry during the day, odds are your coworkers do, too — you might ask your employer to provide snacks in order to boost productivity for the whole office. Pro-tip: Opt for snacks that don’t get your fingers dirty, as that could create a rough situation for your keyboard.

7. Take a Walk

No matter where you work, you’re likely to get stir crazy at some point. Instead of chaining yourself to your desk until you finish, which doesn’t really work, take a few minutes to get up and get out. A bit of fresh air will help clear your mind so you can think up better ways to approach your project. Also, it’s good to get up and walk around every once in a while; according to a rather alarming study from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, sitting all day can be as unhealthy as smoking.

8. Use Productivity Apps

Believe it or not, getting distracted by the Internet is a fairly common occurrence. Imagine that. In an effort to help people maintain focus, folks have developed all sorts of online productivity services. The productivity apps and add-ons that will help you the most depend on your particular productivity demons. Timeneye pays attention to exactly what you spend time on, and can supposedly shame you into staying on task. Self-Control makes it easy to block out the sites that absorb the most time. Check out this site to find the productivity apps that sound most appealing to you.

9. Get Your Eyes Checked

Ironically, optometrists are some of the most overlooked medical professionals out there. If you’re having difficulty focusing at work, or you get a headache after working for a few hours, it could be because your vision isn’t as clear as it could be. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to man up and visit an optometrist. A pair of reading glasses can keep your eyes in good shape and help you focus on the job.

Discovering how to stay focused at work is a constant, frustrating enterprise. Though each of the above suggestions can be helpful on their own, odds are they will break down at one time or another. The best way to maintain focus is to employ all the suggestions simultaneously while discovering a few of your own. Speaking of which — if you have some additional tips for staying focused, we’d love to hear ‘em. Thanks for reading — NOW GET BACK TO WORK.