Maintaining your Focus at Work


Having a hard time focusing lately? You’re not alone. I’m right with you. In fact, research shows interruptions occur about every 12 minutes in the workplace. I would contend that it happens more frequently than that.

In their new book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist, and Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychologist, explain how our ability to pay attention works and what we can do to stay focused.

It turns out, attention isn’t as simple as it seems. In fact, paying attention involves 2 separate functions: “enhancement” (our ability to focus on things that matter) and “suppression” (our ability to ignore the things that don’t). Interestingly, enhancement and suppression are not opposites; they are distinct processes in the brain.

So without getting too bogged down in the details, here’s the gist:

  • Researchers say our ability to pay attention is equal parts focusing and ignoring.
  • Irrelevant information bogs down our ability to suppress distraction, especially as we age.
  • To increase our ability to focus, researchers suggest both boosting our ability to concentrate as well as reducing distraction. Here’s how:

To reduce distraction…

  • Use one screen, one browser window, and one computer program at a time
  • Keep your physical and virtual desktop tidy

To increase our ability to concentrate…

  • Exercise (my fave), meditation, and spending time in nature may help boost cognitive control
  • Some cognitive exercises and immersive action video games also seem to improve our ability to focus

I also asked the Red Dot team to share some of their tricks when they’re trying to double down on their productivity and maintain focus throughout the day. Here’s what they had to say:

“Feeding my afternoon Starbucks caffeine fix keeps the energy fueled.” – Pam

“I try to limit interruptions by moving to a quiet spot in the office.” – Gina

“Ear buds in. Music up. Office distractions out.” – Jen C.

“Sometimes I have to purposely take a break. I find that a short “timeout” helps me refresh and refocus.” — Chresten

“Having a variety of snacks on hand keeps me in my happy place. Anytime my energy is low and my mind starts to wander, food will put me back on track.” – Jenn S.

Personally, scheduling a day to work from my home office – especially when on deadline for a major project – is one of the best ways to maintain my focus and productivity level. And, the flexibility to do so is one of the things I appreciate about working at Red Dot.


How do you avoid distractions at work? Leave a comment and let us know.

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