5 Tips for Improving Your Focus

Most of us have days where we just cannot make ourselves stay “in the zone.” We find ourselves staring at the computer, only to realize that we have done nothing for several minutes. Or, we have a to-do list that is quite long, but at the end of the day, nothing is crossed off. Tomorrow looks bleak before it even starts. How do you prevent these wasted days from happening to you? By learning – and implementing – a few new habits.

Most of us have some time-wasting habits. To overcome them, we need to identify them and focus on changing them. It’s not always easy, but if we’re successful, we can improve our quality of life both at the office and throughout our entire life. Let’s explore five simple habits for improving your focus.

Limit distractions

One of the main reasons we lose focus is the constant communications that compete for our attention including emails, social media notifications, instant messaging and even those old-fashioned voicemails and phone calls. How can anyone expect to stay focused when there are so many distractions?

Shut these down and see how quickly your focus improves. Of course, many of these are vital business communications, so allocate time each day to answer these. Take the challenge for one day: turn off all incoming correspondence including phone, email, instant messaging and social media alerts. Check in at certain intervals, such as 10:00 am, 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm. Allow yourself only a 15-minute window to respond, then turn them off again. You will be amazed at the amount of work you accomplish that day.

Get small tasks out of the way Many of us put off little tasks with the intention of coming back to them later. But before long, there are other fires to put out. These steal time away from completing the small tasks. Rather than putting off small tasks, handle them immediately. For example, if you get an email asking for information that you have at your fingertips and can answer quickly, just reply to it and get it out of the way.

When you create your To Do list, take note of the time you think it will take to accomplish each item. Then, when you have five or ten minutes between scheduled calls or meetings, turn to one of those small tasks that you can do quickly. Crossing it off your list will give you a confidence boost and help you focus on the larger projects.

Take short breaks When faced with a looming deadline, do you believe that the best way to focus is to try to work exclusively on that project no matter how long it takes? The reality is that you need breaks, so take them throughout the day. Research shows that these little time-outs actually improve focus.

Try taking a five- or ten-minute break every 90 minutes. Stretch or take a quick walk around the building. The idea is to get the blood pumping to your brain so your laser focus will engage again.

Start early Many people believe there are morning people and night people. However, I am convinced that this is a choice you make, and it’s a good idea to choose an early start if you need to improve focus. When you start your day early, you can accomplish a lot before everyone else arrives and the disturbances start. Those early hours are a great time to catch up on emails, review your priorities for the day, make coffee and read the news.

One note of caution: if you make a choice to start your day early and want that alone time to focus on the day ahead, communicate that with others. If everyone starts early, you may find yourself falling right back into interruption mode rather than enjoying a productive start to your day.

Prevent procrastination We’ve all had that project, phone call, performance review or another task that just keeps getting pushed to another day. As the Nike slogan says “Just Do It.” This may be a bit of a cliché, but it works well. Don’t wait and don’t allow yourself to make excuses.

Try this: start working on a project that you have been pushing off. As you complete the task, I’m certain you will have a clearer mind, feel more confident and find that your ability to focus on other projects improves.

A habit takes 21 days to establish, so try focusing on one at a time to set the stage for success. Keep in mind that all of the focus and productivity tips in the world won’t work if you overextend yourself. Don’t over-commit, and if you realize you are in over your head, ask for help or delegate to someone else. Focused success is in your future!


Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., has been lauded for her industry expertise in human resources and training. She is often called the “go-to person” for solutions to the profession’s staffing crisis, citing her wise advice on hiring – and keeping – employees for the rest of their careers. Sandra developed the P3 Leadership Academy and hosts regional training sessions throughout the country. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant’s Alliance and a certified KolbeTM trainer, advising firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.