Pam kicked off our call with a confession, and she didn’t hold back:
“I have no idea how to stay focused. I’m just not motivated.” She continued, “I feel pulled in different directions. I don’t know what to focus on. I’ll never get it all done and want to give up.”
What Pam was feeling is rampant right now.
I am feeling the heaviness of life from so many people. Clients, friends, and family agree. Times are tough. To top it all off, people pile more items onto their to-do lists during the holidays. There’s pressure to ring in the new year with resolutions to do more and do better (“New Year, New Me!”).
All of us are grappling with war, politics, inflation, work stress, family, and personal relationships…
Suffice it to say, maintaining your focus at work while setting boundaries and having self-compassion isn’t easy.
But it is worth it.
Do the deep inner work required to focus at work, and you will continue to reap the benefits months and years later.
Like Pam, are you thinking, “Where do I even start?” Start with these four areas, and results will follow.
1. Be Your Own Best Cheerleader
If you’re wondering how to stay focused in a scattered world, note that a little self-compassion goes a long way. I hear it now more than anything other time of year. People feel underappreciated—and not just at work.
‘Tis the season. Wrapping up Q4 and starting Q1 off on the right foot takes a lot of elbow grease. Many of us are all too familiar with taking on additional responsibilities and working more hours in November, December, and January. So… it stands to reason that folks are frustrated with leadership right now.
Add hosting the holidays and family dynamics into the mix, and it can be a recipe for disaster. Navigating a death in the family, a new partner, coordinating travel arrangements, and/or where everyone is going to stay isn’t easy. You can’t make everyone happy, and you may feel discouraged if relatives “air their grievances.” Holiday stress alone may affect your performance at work. You don’t even want to think about what will happen when you read the news.
Long story short: You feel like you’re doing everything you can. You’re going above and beyond and getting very little recognition for it.
The solution is to be your own best cheerleader.
Until our most recent call, Jill went into meetings frustrated. She felt like her projects were barely acknowledged, and leadership just kept piling more and more on. She expected to feel frustrated and unheard before the meetings even started, and she did.
Together, we worked on her self-compassion. I asked Jill to acknowledge her wins and be her best cheerleader. She got “homework” to talk to me all about her personal and professional accomplishments, reward herself, and keep a “victory list” of personal wins to return to whenever she feels discouraged.
Thanks to these new practices, she’s in a better mood. She’s more focused at work. Meetings go well these days because she enters them with a new attitude.
2. Organize Your Desk
One of the best gifts you can give yourself is the gift of simplicity. Too often, we overcomplicate things when a simple solution will do.
You’re a product of your environment. Organize the space around you. When you tidy up your immediate area, you’ll feel calmer, more put together, and more focused.
In fact, clutter directly impacts your focus. If your goal is to learn to stay focused in these challenging times, it’s essential to note that clutter is a distraction. A messy work environment reduces focus at work and makes you irritable, ultimately affecting your relationships and performance.
A tidy environment, on the other hand, improves productivity and relationships and gives you access to greater self-compassion.
Of course, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the little things don’t matter. I get it. You may assume the state of your desk has absolutely nothing to do with your inner peace, and an organized desk may feel really far removed from the scattered world we live in… but it’s not.
It’s the Domino Effect in action. You treat your family, friends, and coworkers kindly when you’re in good spirits. Then, they, in turn, are more compassionate to the people around them. Before you know it, the peace of mind you feel when you clean your desk makes a real and tangible impact.
If you want to see immediate results, declutter your office, closet, and home, and donate gently used items to those in need.
Your plan about how to stay focused these next few weeks doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s better if it’s not. Keep it simple. Start by tidying up your workspace.
3. Find a Good System
When my clients ask how to stay focused at work, there’s one thing I can’t recommend enough: find a sound system.
With sound systems come strong habits. In other words, you get more done when you find the productivity system you’re most likely to use. That may be a physical planner, a desktop calendar, a Google calendar, or a project management system like Asana, Notion, or Monday.com.
There are other systems that can help you stay focused at work as well. The best ones are the systems that work for you. Here are my personal favorites and favorites from my clients. Feel free to try them out and see if they’re a good fit:
A 90-second daily journaling practice
Every morning, I sit at my desk with a notepad and write for 90 seconds before I do anything else. I write down everything that’s bouncing around in my head: my to-do list, important reminders, worries, song lyrics, things I want to remember, what I’m grateful for…
I don’t censor this in any way. Whatever comes up in those 90 seconds is fair game.
I aim to get these things out of my head and onto paper. If I need to return to them later, I can. If I need to stay focused at work, my mind is significantly clearer thanks to this practice. I have more mental energy to prioritize my day.
Most of us are so used to mindless scrolling that we don’t even pay attention when our weekly Screen Time report pops up.
Read your report. Use it as an opportunity to get honest with yourself. Would you be willing to share your daily average screen time with your spouse or boss? With your children?
If the answer is no (and, for many of us, it is), consider how to reduce your screen time gradually.
Put your phone away 30-60 minutes before bed. Keep it in another room at night. Delete unnecessary apps (e.g., delete Facebook and only check it when you’re on your laptop or iPad) and avoid the temptation to pick up your phone and scroll first thing in the morning.
Check the report regularly for improvement and approach the process with self-compassion. Reducing screen time is something just about everyone can work on. (In fact, according to the BBC, adults spend one-third of their day using their phones.)
The Stay Focused app
A client recently introduced me to the Stay Focused app. The app allows you to set a daily maximum time on specific mobile applications and/or block apps during the day or hours you work.
There are lots of apps like it. Some include additional features, like stats (the number of times you attempt to log into Instagram) and Pomodoro timers.
Virtual Coworking Sessions
Do you know about virtual coworking spaces? Through sites like focusmate.com, you can join a Zoom meeting for a virtual coworking session.
The premise is simple. You’re paired up with people who want to focus for the same amount of time as you. At the beginning of the session, you let everyone know what you’d like to accomplish. At the end, you provide an update.
This accountability is exactly what some folks need to support focusing at work, especially if they work from home or if they’re having trouble concentrating during challenging times.
If you’re struggling with details of how to stay focused right now, you’re not alone. Find the systems that work for you and make your job—and life—easier.
4. Permission to Change!
There isn’t a single correct answer to the question of how to stay focused at work. In fact, your idea of what it means to focus at work will shift and evolve over time.
For example, my client Ann just secured a job as CMO. She feels the need to prove herself, and, for her, maintaining focus at work means embracing her new role. In this season of her life, she’s willing to take on extra responsibilities and work more hours.
However, I also have clients who are nearing retirement. I have clients who are adjusting to life after a recent divorce, moving across the country to care for an aging parent, or welcoming new grandchildren.
For these clients, work-life balance is a top priority. For them, maintaining focus at work means making the most of their time in the office. It means shifting gears and focusing entirely on their family when they get home. It looks like enforcing boundaries and having a lot of self-compassion.
Honor the season you’re in. Adjust your expectations and circumstances accordingly.
Order is all around us. Ocean tides rise and fall, we experience four seasons, and bees build honeycombs with hundreds of tiny hexagons.
It’s in our nature to find patterns and rely on order to make sense of the world.
What can we do when it feels like the world is chaotic and strange? When I talk to clients about staying focused at work in a scattered world, it’s easy for them to feel like it doesn’t matter.
The truth is it matters more than you’ll ever know.
Keep your chin up. Our energy has a ripple effect. It affects everyone around us. Staying focused, inviting calm during meetings, actively listening to your peers, and having self-compassion make a tremendous difference.
Focus and bring kindness to everything you do for your well-being and for the people around you.
P.S. Knowing you need extra support and reaching out shows incredible strength. If you think you could benefit from working with a Career and Leadership Development Coach, I’d love to answer your questions. Schedule a call here.