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Reset your focus at work


When you are upset, tired or stressed, it becomes difficult to focus at work. You are more vulnerable to distractions and everything takes twice as long to do.

“I have been going through a difficult time since the past couple of days. I am shifting to a new house and there are soooo many things to take care of. It is very stressful and it is creating a tense family atmosphere as well. There are projects to finish at work but I find my mind drifting to these problems. It is becoming really difficult to concentrate at my job. My personal problems are starting to get the better of me. It’s affecting my work now! I don’t know what to do about it…”

– Mr.K.L, Senior Manager.

“It’s affecting my work.” Most of us have used this line at some time; generally, when something is going wrong in our personal life and it is starting to affect our productivity at work. It could be a fight with a friend. A neighbour who is causing you unnecessary trouble. Or like Mr. K.L, a tense family environment.

We feel stressed and our mind seems in disarray. It becomes difficult to focus on the task at hand. You don’t feel like working and you struggle to make it through the day.

Why does it become difficult to focus at work?

When you are at work, you are expected to “leave problems at the door”. However, it is not that easy as personal issues can be very consuming. We have a limited attention span and we are thus, easily distracted. Moreover, the area of the brain that regulates attention span also plays a role in handling our emotions. So, any strong emotion, such as being upset with a spouse or being worried for your child, would lead to less concentration at work. The thoughts and emotions that these problems give rise to, take up mental space and can be very intrusive.

Your mind pays attention to areas or topics that you deem important. If something is troubling you or causing you to be stressed, your mind will tend to wander towards that issue trying to find a solution to it. This then causes you to be stuck in a loop of problem solving while you are trying to get work done.

How then can you focus at work?

When you are upset, tired or stressed, you are more vulnerable to distractions. Here are a few suggestions that could help make your day at work easier and more productive:

Realize that there is very little you can do about the problem while at work:

It is important to realize this as spending time ruminating about the problem is a futile exercise. Even though, you might feel like it could help, it doesn’t. When you are trying to find a solution whilst you have other things to do, you end up not helping either situation. Work would tend to suffer as well as you would feel more stressed about being unable to make progress on your issues.

Be mindful:

Work at accepting how you feel at the present moment. Being present in the moment allows you to let go of the worrying thoughts and helps you focus at the task on hand. One of the simplest yet most effective ways to become more mindful at work is to periodically take what is called a “three-minute breathing space.” At your office desk or in a quiet space, take three minutes to stop what you’re doing, inhale and exhale deeply and focus your attention fully on the breath and then the body as a whole. This will help you clarify your thoughts as well as calm you down, making you feel more relaxed and focused.

Prioritize and set goals:

Make a list of the tasks you have to get done at work and prioritize them. Make sure your goals are clear, specific and manageable. Take out a specific amount of time for each goal. Setting goals can help you stay on track. Knowing you have a list of things to do will keep you busy and help you get through the day. Also, attaining these goals will make you feel better and give you a sense of achievement.

Break tasks up into smaller tasks:

Working on an entire project or a big task can be overwhelming. So, break it up into smaller, more manageable tasks. Our brain finds it difficult to process a large amount of information at one time. Chunking, i.e. breaking up the elements that form a big project and grouping it into smaller tasks, helps ease this load.

Imagine your day:

Take a few minutes at the start of the day to think about what it is you want to accomplish that day. Visualizing what you want to achieve helps to mentally prepare you for the day ahead. It also makes the goals you have set for yourself seem more controllable and less daunting.

Do not ruminate on your problems:

When your mind is constantly buzzing with thoughts about the problem, it gets even more difficult to arrive at a solution. In fact, research shows taking time off from your troubles can be beneficial to the problem-solving process. When you ruminate on your problem, you start feeling stuck and cannot seem to find a way out. However, when you work on something else and come back to the problem later, you get a different perspective. It allows your mind to rest, incubate and start afresh.

Take short breaks:

When you start feeling upset or find it difficult to take your mind off of your problems, it is okay to take a break. Just taking that small breather helps you reset your focus. Take a short walk, step out for a quick bite or listen to music for a few minutes. This break works as a positive distraction from your problems and helps you calm down.

Support from colleagues and friends:

Sometimes, our stress can get the better of us and the resulting emotions might be difficult to handle. You can share what you are going through with a colleague or a friend. Turning to those who are supportive will help you feel less anxious and troubled. Moreover, your colleague can serve as an anchor and provide encouragement at work. They can assist you in setting goals, avoiding distractions at work or accompany you during a break.

Limit other distractions:

When you are preoccupied with other issues, it is easier to get distracted at work. Disruptions at work come from personal emails, social networking sites and mobile phones. Try and switch off as much as possible from these distractions. Find a quiet place to work, if possible and take timed breaks to check your phone or email.

Reward yourself:

Allow yourself a reward for your determination. Pick something you enjoy, like eating your favourite meal or meeting up with a friend. It would have been difficult to get through the day. Rewards help keep you motivated and all of us deserve that little pat on the back.

With the constant pressure to do well, at your job and otherwise, it can become overwhelming to deal with issues in either area of your life. When your emotions are really affecting your productivity at work and your peace of mind, allow yourself to take a day or two to sort things out. If you feel that you are having more than just a couple of bad days and feel stuck, you can seek help from a counselor who will help you cope with the situation.

We understand that it can be tough but when you make an attempt to trudge through despite your problems, you come out feeling stronger on the other side. So, put one foot in front of the other and work at resetting your focus.

What do you do to make your day at work more productive? Comment and share with us. It could help someone with their day at work

Image Credit: Victor1558



Post contributed by: Anusha Manjani

Anusha is a Clinical Psychologist and she worked with children and adolescents at Inner Space, from 2013 to 2015. 


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