How to stay focused at work

8 min read

In this connected, digital age, we are surrounded by things that are constantly nagging us for our attention. In all the noise it’s becoming harder to focus on the things that we need to be concentrating on – like our work.

Today we are going to tell you about the tips and tools that successful people use to stay focused. You’d be amazed at what just a few small adjustments to your work habits can do to sharpen concentration and improve output.

If you’re ready to get things done, let’s get started.

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What are you doing wrong?

If you’re here you probably already have some ideas of where your time is being wasted. Before we engage in solutions to fix the problem, take a few days to more deeply analyze your everyday routine.

Use an easy note-taking application like NotePlan for Mac to estimate the time spent on tasks away from the work desk. Then combine that with the app, Timing, which will automatically track the time spent on your Mac. Without you having to lift a finger, it will break down how long you spent on specific websites, apps, and documents.

Used together you’ll get a clearer picture of your wasted time. Once you know the problem areas, it will make solving them so much easier.

Limit email and block distractions – Try and reduce your use of emails by turning off push notifications and logging out of your email accounts. Using Focus, create your custom block list – you can add any apps or websites that affect your productivity at work and they’ll stop bothering you.

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Manage your tasks

The biggest area for improvement is how we deal with our tasks.  Work schedule problems typically fall into two clear camps:

  1. An unorganized list of tasks that keeps growing and feels overwhelming. You are frozen, not knowing where to begin.
  2. Having no list of tasks at all. Because you don’t have a clear picture, you aren’t sure what to prioritize, and some tasks get overlooked entirely.

The key to forward momentum is creating a system that makes it as easy as possible to know what you need to do and an orderly work schedule for completing tasks.

The obvious first step is to write those tasks down. You can go for the manual pen and paper approach, or you can get help from a modern task management app – just be sure to choose the one that adjusts to your work routine and not the other way round.

If you think simple is the new smart, try TaskPaper. With its elegant design, anyone can be up and running in minutes without any hassle. Looking like a plain text editor, TaskPaper has many features for customizing task management under the surface.

Small steps achieve big results, they say. If that sounds like you, Taskheat is your perfect choice. Breaking big tasks into bite-sized pieces, the app helps you navigate through the most complex projects.

GoodTask is great for those who are already technology converts. The app also has a simple interface, but it goes further by integrating seamlessly into your Apple Calendar and Reminders apps. Use smart lists and quick actions to quickly line up what you need to do and start getting things done. 

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Don’t take on the world - take a break

The human brain has a limited amount of attention at the best of times. Faced with a challenging or boring work task, your attention span goes through the floor. Taking regular breaks and dividing up tasks into smaller chunks will help you to stay focused throughout the day.

Some people try to manually keep track of time by having their clocks chime at certain intervals (like every half an hour) but this can get annoying for co-workers and it’s a bit too simple for our tastes. Instead, you could take a look at Be Focused for macOS.

Be Focused is a task app that is perfectly named. The app doesn’t just let you manage and track tasks; it allows you to set a duration for both tasks and breaks.

Use the apps to schedule in some short, fun tasks like checking social media as a reward for completing a big assignment. Play around with a different number of intervals every day until you find your most productive balance.

Sideline your cell phone – If you thought email was bad, our phones are even worse. Put your phone into Do Not Disturb mode for some peace and quiet. Schedule phone checking (email, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) as one of your rewards.

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Tech shortcuts to focus town

Innovation has created more efficient ways to get things done. For every old manual method of doing something, there are probably several tools that can do the same thing only faster.

Finding these tools and working out which ones are worth buying can be tiresome, which is why Setapp was launched to offer a shortcut to a hand-picked collection of the best Mac apps. 

Depending on what your work routine looks like, you’ll find lots of tools that change the game for you. Save time on project management. Reduce distractions. Write and edit. There’s a stay-focused recipe for everyone.

For example, writers can use the elegant writing app Ulysses to handle any writing job. It has a ton of features (like automatic sync), but they remain out of the way so you can focus on churning out excellent text. When you’re done, you can export in whatever format you want such as PDF, ebook, markdown file, or even publishing directly to a blog.

But what if you have to focus on something you don’t particularly enjoy? Like reading the most boring textbook in the world to prepare for the test. That’s where tools like MarginNote come to help. A multifunctional e-reader, MarginNote is right on the cutting edge with its mindmapping, annotation, and flashcards. The only risk – you’ll never want to stop being a student.

If you feel like you could get things done faster with an obedient Mac, make it behave. There’re tons of ways to gain control over all input devices – from a touchpad to mouse to keyboard. BetterTouchTool is a king of when it comes to customizing Mac gestures and shortcuts, so we suggest you look no further.

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Multitasking is asking too much

The benefits of multitasking are a myth.

That’s right, studies have shown that even people who are better than most at multitasking, and who think they are highly productive, are much less efficient than an average person focused on a single task.

In short, even though it doesn’t feel like it, your brain is taking a lot of effort to shift your focus constantly.

Among other things, multitasking is bad for:

  • Creativity – We never get far enough down the creative path when we continually reset by jumping to other jobs.
  • IQ – The University of London found that extended multitasking lowered IQ in men by 15 points. The same as staying up all night.
  • Absorbing details – If you’re on the phone and reading an article you’re going to be missing out on significant details from one or even both sources.
  • Stress – When multitasking the body is in a “high alert” mode, which comes with a higher heart rate. Yikes!

Staying away from multitasking is easier said than done at the best of times. When you have a job that requires project management, it becomes nearly impossible. That’s when you need professional project management tools like Merlin Project or Aeon Timeline to help you to organize your plans and events. Link events, group projects, add detailed subtasks, customize to your heart’s content – this app does everything it can to help you stay focused.

It’s hard to concentrate on one thing at a time if there are five things you should accomplish. All urgent. To make task transitions a smooth process, you can try Workspaces. The app allows you to bring all task-related files and emails to one custom grid, which eliminates the most unpleasant part of multitasking – resource hunting.

Create room for flexibility - When creating schedules make sure you allot free time that isn’t linked to specific tasks. This will allow you to be more responsive by using this time on things you couldn’t plan for.

Freelancers and remote workers - we’ve got you covered

More and more people are choosing to work remotely. Working remotely presents a different set of challenges (not just whether to stay in pajamas all day) so here are a couple working from home tips for those of you who are living the freelance life.line place

Supercharge your productivity - anywhere, anytime

More and more people are choosing to work remotely. The joy of being a freelancer is that you don’t have to show up to the same desk every day. You can work in different parts of your house or apartment. You can work in a nearby coffee shop. You can even work from bed!

As tempting as staying in bed all day sounds, you’ll be a lot more productive working in a well-lit area with a comfortable and ergonomic chair and desk setup. Clutter and noise are to be avoided, so busy public places are not ideal due to the distractions you’ll face.

Wherever you choose to work, realize that your Mac is also an important part of the environment. The developers of HazeOver realized this by creating an application that automatically dims background windows, eliminating desktop clutter and helping you to focus on the single window from which you’re working. 

Here is the full list of remote work apps.

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Communicate before you guesstimate

When you’re in an office environment, you face the challenge of personal interactions distracting from work. When working remotely, you face the opposite problem – isolation. It’s true that isolation can be good for focus, but a lack of communication can also make it unclear what you’re supposed to do.

Regular meetings over video chat or being active in a communication channel (Slack, Hipchat, etc.) will not only help you feel more connected to your team; it will save you from wasting time working on the wrong thing. Just make sure you find the right balance between communication and getting stuff done.

To help find that balance:

  • Schedule meetings in one big block. Jumping from a meeting to work to a meeting and back again is disruptive.
  • When focusing on work, use the “Busy” or “Do not disturb” option in the team chat platform of choice.

If your work involves switching between communication channels, you should look into tools that can bring it all together. IM+ is a perfect example. Basically, it builds an all-in-one platform that has every messaging app you use. A single window, any number of apps and accounts.

What’s great about centralized messaging, it makes time management easier – you know exactly how much time you spend on online communications every day.

Speaking of, to work without distractions, you should know how to handle your todos the right way. Not your strong suit? BusyCal can take care of that. From custom views to smart filters to alarms, this calendar app has all the features that will keep you on track.

Schedule regular work hours – Freelancers get to make their own hours, but this freedom leads to a lack of clear focus for many. If there’s a time you’re supposed to be working it's harder to make excuses for not working.

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Practice makes perfect

If you've made it this far your powers of concentration may already be on the up.

It’s important to note that beyond the tips and work tools to help your productivity; there is also the fact that repetition builds habits. Old habits may not break overnight but stick to these new work strategies, and your daily mess will start to transform into daily success.

Take the first step by signing up to Setapp for a free trial and get your hands on some of the best work tools for Mac around.

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