It’s Sunday — you’re trying to get a jumpstart on the work week by preparing for your Monday morning. But something’s not clicking. After a busy weekend and with a noisy household, you find getting in the zone impossible.

In a world full of distractions, stress, and multitasking, focusing on our work is a problem we all share. But how do we identify the main issues affecting our concentration? And what can we do to improve our focus at work in a few simple steps?

Keep reading for a comprehensive look at why you can’t focus at work and 10 easy concentration methods you can implement into your day-to-day schedule.

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Why Can’t I Focus at Work?

Sleep, stress, time management — many aspects of our lives can affect our focus at work.

Before we jump into tips for improving your focus at work, let’s first go over a few main reasons why we struggle with concentration at work:

1. Sleep deprivation

Exhaustion from a lack of sleep is one of the top factors affecting focus at work.

Not sleeping properly or experiencing sleep deprivation affects memory, attention levels, and alertness. Prolonged sleep deprivation can have a lasting impact on cognition and destroy brain cells.

A 2023 study published by the American Chemical Society (ACS) found that sleep deprivation can damage the hippocampus, the part of the brain dedicated to learning and memory.

2. Mental fatigue

Prolonged periods of concentration can cause mental fatigue, which, like sleep deprivation, can affect concentration and potentially damage your brain.

Concentrating hard for several hours with no breaks can lead to a build-up of a chemical called glutamate in the brain. While it’s an essential neurotransmitter, glutamate can build up in the wrong parts of the brain from concentrating for too long, causing brain cell damage.

So, take regular breaks while studying or working to keep your brain functioning at its best. If you’re overtired, you might find yourself suddenly scrolling through your Reddit feed, even if you’re in the middle of an important task — this is your brain’s way of telling you that you’re overtired.

3. Stress & External Factors

Worried about your personal life? Or work? Or the world in general? Personal stress and even stress from external factors like world news can affect your mood and be a major distraction.

Bad news stories can majorly dampen your mood  and change how you view your personal issues, giving you a negative outlook in general.

And no news is good news when it comes to focusing. Even positive news stories can be detrimental to your concentration levels. Good news can make you excited, causing your brain to release adrenaline. Adrenaline can cause anxiety, which can affect your work and focus.

Avoid tuning into new channels or visiting your go-to news website before starting tasks that require your complete focus.

4. Mental & Physical Factors

Your mental and physical health can have a significant effect on your focus. Common mental and physical conditions and disorders that can affect concentration include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Clinical depression
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Autism
  • Insomnia
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Chronic stress
  • Thyroid issues

If you’re concerned that an underlying health concern is affecting your focus at work, chat with your doctor about potential treatment options.

5. Overwhelmed & Multitasking

Juggling several tasks at once can be overwhelming. The trouble is, you can only give your undivided attention to one activity at a time.

Whether at work, school, or home, we’re often expected to multitask. However, by constantly being interrupted and changing focus, we get less done, putting us further behind schedule. Some studies suggest refocusing after a distraction can take over 20 minutes. When we feel overwhelmed or behind on our tasks, we feel stressed, which affects our concentration.

Making a to-do list of your most essential daily tasks, blocking out distractions, and using productivity techniques like Pomodoro can help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

6. Lack of Fulfillment or Satisfaction

If you’re bored with a task or you hate what you’re doing, you’ll find a way to procrastinate on it. Then, that most hated task will play on your mind, distracting you from your current work.

Try to make your loathed task seem more fun — you can even try romanticizing your workload! Or, try a productivity technique like Eat That Frog, which revolves around getting your most difficult task out of the way immediately so you don’t worry about it for the rest of the day.

7. Poor Time Management

Poor time management can affect your productivity as you incorrectly budget timeframes for tasks. You might lose concentration because it takes half as long as you thought. The reverse is also true — you can lose concentration because you’re panicking that you’re spending too long on something.

You might find time management especially challenging if you have ADHD because of time blindness, which prevents you from accurately estimating how long tasks will take.

Taking stock weekly or daily of a task’s length can help you plan your future tasks more efficiently.

8. Understimulation

Understimulation is common among people with ADHD. If you have ADHD, you might find no stimulation outside of your current task, which results in boredom and a lack of motivation.

To counter understimulation, try introducing non-distracting stimuli. Lofi music, a fidget toy, or your favorite pen or notebook can provide stimulation, which helps keep you motivated and focused without distraction.

What to Do When You Can’t Focus

What do you do when you can’t focus at work? From productivity techniques to small lifestyle changes, here are a few ways to protect your focus.

1. Pomodoro Technique

Try the Pomodoro technique if you struggle with poor time management, multitasking, or mental fatigue. Focusing on one task during a set interval and taking regularly scheduled breaks can help you improve your focus at work.

One advantage of the Pomodoro technique is its flexibility — you can switch up traditional 25/5 timed intervals in any way you like. Plus, you’ll find dozens of extensions and apps that make the Pomodoro technique fun and engaging.

Our favorite Pomodoro productivity app is Flocus. Made by yours truly, Flocus features customizable focus timers with built-in playlists, motivational quotes, and over 15 aesthetic backgrounds, which are ideal if you have ADHD and often feel understimulated. Picture-in-picture ensures you can enjoy your Pomodoro virtual space wherever you are on the web!

Go to Flocus Timer

Focus Timer at WorkIf the Pomodoro technique doesn’t work for you, check out our post on Study Techniques Like Pomodoro: The Best Alternatives to Use!

2. Split Tasks into Smaller Tasks

If a big task feels overwhelming, try breaking it into manageable chunks. Here’s a good method for splitting up big tasks:

  1. Identify your goal — Write down what you want to achieve, how long you expect it to take, when it’s due, and any other information.
  2. Determine tasks to reach your goal — Make a step-by-step list of everything you need to do to meet your objective.
  3. Break down each task further — Say you’re writing an essay. Instead of making one step for “research,” break it down further into “visit library” and “review lecture notes.”
  4. Add tasks to your calendar — Add each subtask in order to your calendar or to-do list with clear time frames for how long each subtask should take. Give yourself a buffer period in case a subtask takes longer than anticipated.

3. Time Blocking

Time blocking is great for improving focus if you find it helpful to visualize your workload. It revolves around blocking off time intervals throughout your day or week where you focus on one specific task. For example, “I’ll clean the kitchen between 1:30 pm and 2:00 pm.”

By using color-coded time blocks on your calendar, you’ll subconsciously try to stay on schedule, even if a task doesn’t need to be finished in that block.

Time blocking is flexible. You can move time blocks around on your calendar and continue working on a task if necessary. It’s a useful productivity technique that serves as a guideline if you need a little help managing your time.

4. The 5-Minute Rule

The 5-Minute Rule is a similar productivity technique to Eat That Frog, which centers on trying to get your most difficult or hated task out the way first.

Set out to get to work on the task you’d usually avoid. Work on this task for 5 minutes — if it’s going horribly wrong after 5 minutes, you’re free to stop! The 5-Minute Rule is perfect if you find the most difficult part of completing a nuisance task is getting started.

5. Meditation

Meditation can improve your focus in several ways. It can help you bring your focus back after a distraction. Say you’re distracted by your phone — meditation can bring you back to the present moment by focusing on a single thought, mantra, or breath.

Mediation can also help if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed by helping you focus your attention on a single point or action for a few minutes. A 2015 study found meditating soothes the amygdala, the part of the brain that deals with stress.

6. Exercise

Exercise is famously good for your brain. It improves blood flow to the brain’s hippocampus, helping neurons fire and promoting cell growth. Plus, exercise releases endorphins and boosts dopamine, helping promote your sense of well-being and reducing stress.

7. Remove Distractions

Struggling to focus at work because you keep checking your phone or chatting with a colleague?

Remove distractions like your phone by turning it off or placing it in a drawer. Listen to non-distracting music or soundscapes like classical or ambient music to drown out noise and show your peers you’re in the zone.

If you find minor tasks distracting you, like checking your email, close them out or move them and return them later.

8. Improve Sleep

Sleep is key to memory and attention — luckily, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep. Here are a few of them:

  • Have a strict sleep schedule.
  • Sleep in a quiet, dark room.
  • Avoid eating for 3 hours before bed.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages before bed.
  • Turn all electronic devices, especially phones.
  • Exercise during the day.

9. Change of Scenery

If you’re stuck in the same office space every day, a change of scenery might help change your perspective and improve your focus at work.

The novelty of a new experience and a break from your regular routine can provide non-distracting stimuli to keep you motivated, reduce your stress levels, and boost your creativity.

10. Nutrition

Improving your diet can provide additional vitamins and minerals that improve brain function.

Start with breakfast — fueling your brain with fiber-rich, energy-producing foods like grains, fruits, and dairy can help improve blood flow to the brain over time. Avoid carb-rich, high-calorie breakfasts like pancakes, which can make you lethargic and hamper your focus.

In general, low-carb diets that are rich in protein provide you with the amino acids necessary for optimal brain function. Stay hydrated, too — water helps clean out toxins that impair brain function and help brain cells communicate.

Feel like you’re missing key nutrients from your diet? While they’re not the same as getting nutrients from natural sources, supplements, like multivitamins and fish oil, can give you a boost if you think you have a deficiency.

Benefits of a Dopamine Reset for Concentration

Many examples listed above that improve focus are related to a dopamine reset. A dopamine reset is the idea that certain activities, like exercise, sleep, and meditation, promote natural dopamine production.

A dopamine reset helps build the brain’s natural reward-system network, helping your brain focus more on the reward associated with actions rather than the mental cost. Higher dopamine levels can improve your subconscious willingness to undertake more difficult tasks.

Here are a few easy activities that can contribute to a dopamine reset:

  • Walking outside
  • Drinking water
  • Reading a physical book
  • Meditating
  • Stretching
  • Ample sleep / naps
  • Box breathing
  • Engaging in hobbies
  • Listening to music

The next time you can’t focus at work, try some of these tips to get you back on track!

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