12 Things You Can Do When You Just. Can’t. Focus.

I wanted to do a light post this week after writing about such deep topics the last three weeks. However, as I was writing it, my grandfather passed away.

I hurt. For myself, for my family, and especially for my grandmother. I stayed home from work the day it happened. Unfortunately, I had an extended learning class that evening and I didn’t want to miss it. And even though I enjoy the class and find the subject (project management) interesting, that day I could not focus to save my life. Even at work the next day, my heart and mind just wasn’t in it. And that’s when this post’s topic came to me: how to focus and get things done when you don’t have the option not to.

asian girl, lecture hall, bored, zoned out, can't focus, too noisy

If there’s trouble at home or with family or friends, if you’re juggling a lot, if you’re stressed, distracted, or have ten thousand thoughts in your head, how do you focus on what needs to get done?

Below is a list of everything I have tried and thought of, in no particular order.

Be sure to read to the end for a special bonus!

  • Work in short bursts (the Pomodoro technique). This method breaks work into 25 minute segments separated by 5 minute breaks, which helps eliminate distractions and reduces burnout. Being forced to take breaks and knowing you only have to work on something for a short period of time gives you the energy you need to complete what you are working on. Here’s a desktop timer and web timer you can use.
tomato, timer, pomodoro, productivity
photo by Micheal Mayer
  • Take lots of breaks. When it’s time to break, actually take the break. Get up, walk around, have a snack, chat with someone, address non-work related issues, etc.
  • Reward yourself when you’ve finished your task. It doesn’t have to elaborate, just something simple and enjoyable so you have something to look forward to.
  • Listen to music that relaxes you and/or get you pumped and motivated. Music without lyrics (instrumental, classical, film scores, jazz, etc) is recommended.
  • Complete tasks one at a time. Prioritize them and don’t let one distract from another. Something that works for me is to alternate between seated and moving tasks (for example: working on the computer, then in the lab, then back to the computer).
  • Let someone know what you’re working on (include deadlines and what you’ll do to complete the project). Get them to care and have them be emotionally involved. This is important because, as the saying goes: “it’s easier to let yourself down than to let down someone else.”

Tell a friend or coworker your goal

  • Leave distractions for breaks. If you can’t, then figure out what is distracting you and remove it from your life (solve it, set it aside, or – if you can – let it go away)
  • Give yourself an outlet. Write down your thoughts, talk to someone, scream in a private space. Whatever you do, let your frustrations out. Spending five, ten, or even thirty minutes clearing your mind will help improve your focus, efficiency, and actually save time in the long run. Meditation works really well for me.
  • Know your limits. Know when you’re pushing yourself too hard – or not hard enough. This takes self-awareness, something I discussed in a previous post.
  • Take a 10-20 minute power nap. It’ll rejuvenate you. If you’re at work, the car is an excellent place for this. (More on sleep next week!)
  • Exercise, especially in a way you truly enjoy (I enjoy swimming and yoga, my husband enjoys soccer). Don’t have time for your favorite sport? Then simply go for a walk or a run, or do jumping jacks or push-ups. Whatever you do, get your blood flowing, adrenaline going, and energize yourself.

deskercise, exercise at work, adrenaline going

And that’s my list! Trying to concentrate when there’s too much going on can be really hard, but sometimes it just has to be done. Believe me, I know. I’ve gone through it many times. I’ve gotten through them and I know when it happens to you, you will too!

Now I know that actually remembering this when your mind’s elsewhere is the hard part. So to help you, I made a printable checklist you can stick on your wall, in your notebook, or anywhere else where you can see it so it’ll be there for you when you need it most.
Download it here: printable focus checklist download when needed

If there’s something I didn’t mention that works for you, please share it with the rest of us in the comments below!

Featured image by Mark Hunter.

Next week’s post: Sleep!

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10 thoughts on “12 Things You Can Do When You Just. Can’t. Focus.

  1. My concentration span for everything, not just work, has been fairly non-existent recently. Might give some of those things a go!

  2. These are great tips to helping yourself focus. I am all for doing what I call a power hour. I just make sure I spend one really good focused hour on my work. I find I get so much done that way.

    Keep up the great work and live unstoppable!

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