Laura Petrolino

Stay Focused at Work: Three Tips to Maximize Efficiency

By: Laura Petrolino | May 15, 2017 | 

Stay Focused at Work: Three Tips to Maximize EfficiencyLast week Lou Draper asked the PR Dream Team if anyone had suggestions on how she could stay focused at work (when she really just wanted to daydream about lounging on the beaches of Hawaii).

Per usual the crew was full of suggestions, from the helpful to the comical, including:

*Disclaimer: We at Spin Sucks don’t necessarily endorse all suggestions here, so don’t start drinking on the job and say we told you to do it.

  • Take a walk (this was the most frequent answer)
  • Have a cocktail
  • Dress up in costume (This was mine, and yes, I do this. None of you should be surprised.)
  • Get outside and take in some fresh air and nature scenes
  • Stand on your head
  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Do something you really enjoy
  • Take a break and don’t come back until you are ready to work

Lou ended up spending her day writing—something she enjoys greatly.

And thus spared a day of inefficiency attempting to work against her brain.

The entire discussion made me wonder what science suggests we do to stay focused at work when our brains want otherwise.

Stop Self-distracting

Social media, text messaging, email…..all of these things work to provide constant new stimulus throughout the day.

The result is we can’t dedicate quality time to focus on one task because our attention is constantly diverted to new alerts coming in.

Research has shown we have a large amount of anxiety around NOT checking these alerts.

In turn, we get stuck on an “alert treadmill,” unable to focus on any given task for longer than a few minutes. 

And, on days we struggle to stay focused, these alerts give us a good out.

This is especially true for communications professionals who are trained to respond to everything at a moment’s notice. 

I mean, isn’t that what we do?

I’ll confirm personally, IT IS HARD to not drop everything and instantly respond when a client texts or a team member slacks.

Really hard.

Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychologist, and researcher in digital addictions and obsessions suggests setting an alarm and to slowly build up the amount of time we focus on one thing.

This will probably be harder than we think at first.

We essentially have to retrain our brains to focus vs. constantly respond.

There are tools that will do this for you, which will probably help the process (and take the self-control factor out of the equation).

I’ve also found I need to give myself permission to not be distracted.

This means I block off chunks of time in my day on my calendar and set a meeting with myself.

I’ll actually block this on my calendar and close out of Slack and email so I can just focus.

Because it’s scheduled as an official meeting time, I don’t feel bad about ignoring people for a few minutes.

Stop Multitasking

Last fall I read Scrum, which I absolutely love.

It digs into the science of how people and teams work best. It discusses the neuropsychology behind what motivates us and helps us be most efficient.

One of the things the author drills home is to remove the idea that multitasking is an effective thing.

Because it’s not.

And that people who think they are good multitaskers are normally the worst at it.

David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute agrees and says multitasking essentially lowers your IQ and lessens intelligence. 

I, for one, can’t lose any bit of intelligence.

There’s just not much to spare.

So that means I must not multitask when work.

Especially that which requires critical thinking and strategy.

Most experts suggest time blocking to reduce the tendency to multi-task, help you stay focused at work, and remain as efficient as possible.

There are apps to help with that, as well. 

Likewise, everyone has a time that works best for them to accomplish certain tasks.

For me, that time is between 5:00 and 8:00 a.m. so I schedule all my deep-thinking work then.

(Ron Friedman has a fun quiz that will help you determine what time is best for you.)

Stay Focused at Work….On Your Goals

Most experts suggest we set no more than three priority items or goals each day.

This keeps us focused on those tasks and prevents that feeling of complete overwhelm and shut down when you look at a never-ending to-do list. It also helps provide positive reinforcement from actually being able to cross things off our to-do list. 

It also helps provide positive reinforcement from actually being able to cross things off our to-do list. 

This was something I struggled with a lot at the beginning of the year.

I’d start each day and look at the mountain of things I needed to do and freeze.

I’d know I had such a limited amount of time during the day to actually work (vs. being in meetings), I didn’t know where to start. 

So, I implemented this practice into my day.

It helps A LOT!

I normally only have two things. But those two things MUST get done.

This helps me prioritize and focus (and ignore constant distractions) in order to accomplish these two tasks.

How about you? What do you do to stay focused at work?

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • KensViews

    Unitasking, yes! Three most important priorities per day, yes! I would add checking in with one’s priorities a few times per day. The feeling you get from achievement will encourage you to do even more.

    • Oh yes! I totally agree. I’m a big liar crosser-offer for that reason. I’ve been know to add things to lists I’ve already done just for the feeling of achievement (and to remember I did them). I think that’s a huge part of being productive….feeling like you are making progress

      • KensViews

        I assume you’re a big list crosser-offer, and not a liar crosser offer (Calling Dr. Freud!) But I’m not sure that adding items to immediately cross them off just to feel good aligns with the spirit of productivity of your original post! LOL.

        • So many LOLs about this. My next post will be about “liar- crosser offers.” (Autocorrect has had quite the sense of humor lately).

          And to be fair, part of the reason I do that is to get it out of my head. I try to get everything down so I don’t feel like I have miscellaneous tasks hanging out like delinquent hanging chads.

  • Erin Gleeson

    What can you do when your supervisor/other team members are constantly messaging and pulling you off-task? Some days, I feel like I don’t accomplish anything because I am constantly interrupted by coworkers!

    • That’s why I set meetings with myself. If people have access to your calendar you can label it base on project you are working on and no one needs to know you are the only person in the meeting. But when you do that you must not break down and communicated during that meeting time. If you were in a meeting with a client, you wouldn’t respond to every co-worker’s interruption. You must keep these meetings the same

    • When I was working in a corporation, I used to set meetings with myself, as I would have done with a client: Set it up in the calendar, communicated it to the team, booked a meeting room. I would my laptop and go into the meeting room to work for at least one hour.

  • paulakiger

    I will try to come back and make a “real” comment at some point but for now: I am surprised Gini let you keep a click to tweet that had the word “squirrel” in it. Surprising.