How to Stay on Task And Be Laser Focused

Focus is one of the most critical tools in your productivity arsenal. Remaining focused throughout the day will increase your likelihood of staying committed to your priorities. It will reduce the amount of time you waste on distractions and unnecessary priorities. And it will increase your efficiency when working on a task because you’re committing your full cognitive resources to it. The question is, how can you intentionally stay on task with so many distractions in the workplace?

It’s hard to increase your focus through willpower alone, so consider using these habits and strategies to make it easier to focus regularly:

1. Turn Off Notifications

Notifications are stealing your focus — at least, that’s an excellent way to think about them. Whenever you receive a notification, you’re going to look up from your work, even if it’s just for a moment. When this happens, your focus breaks, and it takes time for you to build it back up. In some situations, notifications may pull you entirely away from your work, causing you to shift priorities inefficiently.

You’re better off without them in most contexts, so turn off notifications wherever you can and minimize them wherever you can’t.

2. Disable Access to Distracting Websites

If you’re like most people, there are at least a handful of websites responsible for hours of your time wasted every week. These are probably social media sites, forums, or other sources of content that pull you away from more important projects.

Consider downloading a browser extension or an app that allows you to selectively block these websites or put a limit on the amount of time you can use them. Eventually, you’ll develop much more responsible habits.

3. Delete Your Biggest Time-Wasting Apps

Similarly, you should know which apps on your phone are responsible for your biggest distractions and time waste. Again, these are probably social media sites, games, or other sources of entertaining information, so consider deleting them altogether.

If you truly miss the apps, you can always reinstall them later. Otherwise, you can hide them in a different part of your phone’s interface. This way, you’re less likely to open the app unconsciously.

4. Stop People From Interrupting You

How long do you go without being interrupted? The average knowledge worker spends only 11 minutes on a given project before facing an interruption from another person. This is incredibly frustrating if you’re trying to focus on a heads-down project.

There are a few ways you can stop people from interrupting you. For example, you can create a physical barrier (e.g., closing a door) or notify them that you’re going to be unavailable to deter them from talking to you. If not, you can completely unplug from the internet to cut down digital conversational requests, albeit temporarily.

5. Get More Sleep

Sleep has a significant impact on your ability to focus. If you miss even one night of good sleep, it’s going to impact your ability to concentrate the next day and possibly for several days to follow. Adults are recommended to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. If you’re struggling to achieve it, consider scheduling sleep as you’d do with any other important activity.

You can also try different tactics like buying a new mattress, keeping your room cooler, and improving your overall lifestyle (meaning, eating healthily and exercising).

6. Consume Caffeine (in Moderation)

Anyone who drinks coffee regularly can tell you that even a small amount of caffeine can make it easier to focus, especially if you’re feeling tired). Try grabbing a mug of coffee or a cup of tea whenever you feel the need for a focus boost.

Just make sure you’re not overindulging, or you can wind up with adverse side effects, such as excessive anxiety or insomnia.

7. Try the ABC Method

One article from the Harvard Business Review suggests using the ABC method, which stands for “Aware, Breathe, and Choose.” The basic idea is to catch yourself when your focus is broken (the “aware” step). Once you do this, take a moment to breathe. Don’t judge yourself, and give yourself a minute to clear your mind.

From there, make a conscious, deliberate decision on what to do next. Do you want to continue being distracted? Or do you want to return to work?

8. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

You can accomplish something similar by practicing mindfulness meditation. This branch of meditation encourages users to spend time improving their awareness of the present moment regularly. You must allow your thoughts to come and go naturally, often with the help of a focal point like a deep breathing exercise or a mantra.

The first several times you do this, you may struggle to notice the results. But over time, you’ll get better at it until you realize that mindfulness meditation is an excellent tool for decluttering your mind and improving your focus.

9. Stop Multitasking

Too many people falsely believe that they’re the exception to the concept that multitasking doesn’t work. One study found that multitasking makes you 40% less productive. It’s tempting to do some light reading during a boring meeting or try to answer two different employee requests simultaneously. But whenever you try to split your focus between two or more tasks, you end up doing all of them inefficiently.

You’re much better off focusing on one thing at a time, even if it feels less productive at the moment. Plus, the more you do this, the easier it will be to focus on singular tasks.

10. Turn Up the Thermostat

One study found that people were almost twice as productive in a room of 77 degrees as they were in a place with a room temperature of 68 degrees. There are a few possible explanations for this, including the idea that we are simply more comfortable in 77-degree air than 68-degree air. It can also be that people are more active in the former temperature.

But whatever the case is, this effect seems to be scientifically valid.

Just take it with a grain of salt. Different people have different climate preferences, so you may end up focusing better in other conditions, too.

11. Invest in Better Lighting

Almost universally, people find it easier to focus when they’re surrounded by bright, high-quality light. The best option here is to allow more natural sunlight into your workspace. However, if this isn’t possible, invest in high-quality LEDs that can replicate sunlight.

You’ll feel less tired when surrounded by this light, and you’ll find it easier to concentrate on the papers and screens in front of you.

12. Work and Relax in Different Areas

If you’re working from home or have any flexibility in where you work, make sure you work and relax in different areas. Our minds tend to acclimate to different environments based on their purpose. Thus, if you use your bed for general lounging throughout the day, you may not associate it with sleep (and may have difficulty sleeping as a result).

If you enjoy movies and video games on your living room couch, and you try to work on that same couch with a laptop, you’re naturally going to feel distracted. Improve your focus by setting up a specific workstation.

13. Stare at Something Red

This is a strange tip, but consider staring at something red when you’re feeling distracted. One study found that after staring at the color red, workers were more likely to stay focused on tasks and showed improvements in memory, performance, and even attention to detail.

These results were not found in participants who stared at the color blue. So, there’s no harm in keeping a red flag or sheet of paper nearby in case you need a quick concentration boost.

14. Exercise Every Day

Make time every day to exercise, even if you can’t fit in a full-body workout. The physical exertion releases endorphins and dopamine, giving you a burst of energy and helping you focus throughout the day. It’s also a great way to relieve stress, so there’s no reason not to try it.

The next time you find your focus drifting, go for a brisk walk, or do some pushups and sit-ups near your desk. You might be surprised at how much easier it is to focus afterward.

15. Break Things Down

When a task seems intimidating or complicated, people tend to have difficulty focusing. You can make everything more manageable and easier to focus on by breaking these monster tasks down. Split each major project into several smaller pieces.

Instead of scheduling hours of your day continuously, block off time in 15-minute intervals. It’s much easier to stay focused for 15 minutes at a time than to try and focus for two hours straight.

16. Take a Break

Taking a break is the only real way to “recharge” in the middle of a heavy work session. It’s a way for you to declutter your mind and an opportunity to reevaluate your priorities and your approach to work.

Try to take a break for at least a few minutes every hour or two and walk away from the screen if you can. When you return, you’ll likely find it much easier to focus on your tasks.

17. Establish Visual Reminders

When our focus falters, it doesn’t usually happen all at once. Instead, it starts to drift without us being aware of it. Before we realize what’s happening, we’re already paying attention to something entirely new.

You can fight back against this by establishing visual reminders for yourself. For example, writing the phrase “Are you focused?” on a brightly colored sticky note and sticking it next to your screen can force you to challenge your current attention levels.

Whenever your attention drifts away from your main project, you’ll see this phrase and ask yourself the question. Hopefully, it will return your attention to where it belongs. Just make sure to change these visuals from time to time so that you don’t get used to them.

18. Turn on a White Noise Machine

If you’re the type of person who’s consistently distracted by environmental noise, consider finding a way to introduce gentle background noise to your environment. If you play low-volume ambient music or turn on a white noise machine, you’ll likely drown out whatever micro-noises that usually distract you (e.g., footsteps, chitchat, or construction sounds). Experiment with different types of noise to see what helps you focus best.

19. Stay Focused in Other Areas of Your Life

Focus is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it’s going to become. If you’re not focused in any areas of your life, you’re not going to become and remain focused at work. For example, if you can’t get through watching a movie without looking at your smartphone 20 times, it’s a sign you have a bigger focus problem.

Work on keeping your focus as much as possible in other areas of your life — not just at work. You’ll notice a significant difference in as little as a few weeks.

Making Iterative Improvements

If you struggle to stay on task, you may be disappointed to learn that no shortcut can make you instantly and permanently more attentive. However, you shouldn’t be discouraged. Make iterative improvements, gradually tweaking your habits and approaches so that you can evolve.

Rotate through the strategies we’ve listed above, and figure out a combination of approaches that works for you!

More Tips to Help You Stay Focused

When it comes to being effective vs efficient, there are a lot of similarities, and because of this, they’re often misused and misinterpreted, both in daily use and application.

Every business should look for new ways to improve employee effectiveness and efficiency to save time and energy in the long term. Just because a company or employee has one, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that the other is equally present.

Utilizing both an effective and efficient methodology in nearly any capacity of work and life will yield high levels of productivity, while a lack of it will lead to a lack of positive results.

Before we discuss the various nuances between the word effective and efficient and how they factor into productivity, let’s break things down with a definition of their terms.

Effective vs Efficient

Effective is defined as “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” Meanwhile, the word “efficient ” is defined as “capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or materials).”

A rather simple way of explaining the differences between the two would be to consider a light bulb. Say that your porch light burned out and you decided that you wanted to replace the incandescent light bulb outside with an LED one. Either light bulb would be effective in accomplishing the goal of providing you with light at night, but the LED one would use less energy and therefore be the more efficient choice.

Now, if you incorrectly set a timer for the light, and it was turned on throughout the entire day, then you would be wasting energy. While the bulb is still performing the task of creating light in an efficient manner, it’s on during the wrong time of day and therefore not effective.

The effective way is focused on accomplishing the goal, while the efficient method is focused on the best way of accomplishing the goal.

Whether we’re talking about a method, employee, or business, the subject in question can be either effective or efficient, or, in rare instances, they can be both.

When it comes to effective vs efficient, the goal of achieving maximum productivity is going to be a combination where the subject is effective and as efficient as possible in doing so.

Effectiveness in Success and Productivity

Being effective vs efficient is all about doing something that brings about the desired intent or effect. If a pest control company is hired to rid a building’s infestation, and they employ “method A” and successfully completed the job, they’ve been effective at achieving the task.

The task was performed correctly, to the extent that the pest control company did what they were hired to do. As for how efficient “method A” was in completing the task, that’s another story.

If the pest control company took longer than expected to complete the job and used more resources than needed, then their efficiency in completing the task wasn’t particularly good. The client may feel that even though the job was completed, the value in the service wasn’t up to par.

When assessing the effectiveness of any business strategy, it’s wise to ask certain questions before moving forward:

  • Has a target solution to the problem been identified?
  • What is the ideal response time for achieving the goal?
  • Does the cost balance out with the benefit?

Looking at these questions, a leader should ask to what extent a method, tool, or resource meets the above criteria and achieve the desired effect. If the subject in question doesn’t hit any of these marks, then productivity will likely suffer.

Efficiency in Success and Productivity

Efficiency is going to account for the resources and materials used in relation to the value of achieving the desired effect. Money, people, inventory, and (perhaps most importantly) time, all factor into the equation.

When it comes to being effective vs efficient, efficiency can be measured in numerous ways. In general, the business that uses fewer materials or that is able to save time is going to be more efficient and have an advantage over the competition. This is assuming that they’re also effective, of course.

Consider a sales team for example. Let’s say that a company’s sales team is tasked with making 100 calls a week and that the members of that team are hitting their goal each week without any struggle.

The members on the sales team are effective in hitting their goal. However, the question of efficiency comes into play when management looks at how many of those calls turn into solid connections and closed deals.

If less than 10 percent of those calls generate a connection, the productivity is relatively low because the efficiency is not adequately balancing out with the effect. Management can either keep the same strategy or take a new approach.

Perhaps they break up their sales team with certain members handling different parts of the sales process, or they explore a better way of connecting with their customers through a communications company.

The goal is ultimately going to be finding the right balance, where they’re being efficient with the resources they have to maximize their sales goals without stretching themselves too thin. Finding this balance is often easier said than done, but it’s incredibly important for any business that is going to thrive.

Combining Efficiency and Effectiveness to Maximize Productivity

Being effective vs efficient works best if both are pulled together for the best results.

If a business is ineffective in accomplishing its overall goal, and the customer doesn’t feel that the service is equated with the cost, then efficiency becomes largely irrelevant. The business may be speedy and use minimal resources, but they struggle to be effective. This may put them at risk of going under.

It’s for this reason that it’s best to shoot for being effective first, and then work on bringing efficiency into practice.

Improving productivity starts with taking the initiative to look at how effective a company, employee, or method is through performance reviews. Leaders should make a point to regularly examine performance at all levels on a whole, and take into account the results that are being generated.

Businesses and employees often succumb to inefficiency because they don’t look for a better way, or they lack the proper tools to be effective in the most efficient manner possible.

Similar to improving a manager or employee’s level of effectiveness, regularly measuring the resources needed to obtain the desired effect will ensure that efficiency is being accounted for. This involves everything from keeping track of inventory and expenses, to how communication is handled within an organization.

By putting in place a baseline value for key metrics and checking them once changes have been made, a company will have a much better idea of the results they’re generating.

It’s no doubt a step-by-step process. By making concentrated efforts, weakness can be identified and rectified sooner rather than later when the damage is already done.

Bottom Line

Understanding the differences between being effective vs efficient is key when it comes to maximizing productivity. It’s simply working smart so that the intended results are achieved in the best way possible. Finding the optimal balance should be the ultimate goal for employees and businesses:

  • Take the steps that result in meeting the solution.
  • Review the process and figure out how to do it better.
  • Repeat the process with what has been learned in a more efficient manner.

And just like that, effective and efficient productivity is maximized.

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