How to stay focused at work - Brandon Fong

How to stay focused at work

By Brandon Fong | Productivity

Learn How To Stay Focused At Work With These 9 IMPOSSIBLY Powerful Tips

How much more would you accomplish if you could simply focus?

Today, billions of dollars are spent every year to make the products and services we love more distracting.

It’s for that exact reason that knowing how to focus is one of the most important skills in the 21st century.

So how can you actually focus?

In this article, you’re going to learn my 9 top strategies that will show you exactly how to stay focused at work.

Ready?

Let’s dive in.

How To Stay Focused At Work Tip #1: Make Your Phone Less Distracting

Let’s be honest:

The single biggest source of your distraction is your phone.

How can you possibly focus if it’s screaming for your attention at all times?

Here are 11 ways you can optimize your phone to be less distracting:

  1. Delete all social media
  2. Delete all games
  3. Declutter your phone by deleting apps you don't use
  4. Turn off ALL notifications (yes, all of them — including text messages)
  5. Keep your phone on Do Not Disturb at all times (to prevent calls from coming through). Note that if it’s an emergency and someone from your contacts list calls twice in a row, the call will come through.
  6. Keep your most distracting apps on a DIFFERENT screen than your home screen
  7. Keep your home screen only for productive apps (podcasts, evernote, audible, etc)
  8. Turn on grayscale mode to remove all color from your phone. This makes it 10x more boring.
  9. Try using an app called Moment to track your screen time (standard iOS tracking doesn’t go beyond 1 week which I find stupid, and Moment allows you to exclude certain apps from counting as screen time. I use that feature to exclude apps like Google Maps or Kindle, which are productive uses of my phone)
  10. Only for the really serious people, try deleting email from your phone. Yep! I deleted the actual Gmail app, and when I absolutely have to check my email, I open up a Chrome tab and go to gmail.com to check. The extra barrier and worse user experience makes it less addicting to check email on my phone.
  11. To stop compulsively checking your phone for absolutely no reason, try putting a rubber band over your phone. The extra barrier will make you stop and ask yourself if you actually need to be checking your phone. 

As a result of all of these optimizations, here is what I see in my life:

  • I use my phone for less than one hour per day
  • My focus is incredible because I’m never being distracted
  • When I do use my phone, it’s mostly for productive reasons
  • I feel a lot more “space” in my life. If I have a second of downtime, I’ll sit and think or read / listen to something productive — not fill my time with junk

Now:

All of my suggestions may sound a bit extreme, but it’s taken me two years to implement everything.

Start with trying one of my strategies for a week AS AN EXPERIMENT. Trust me — even if you delete an app from your phone, you can download it back. I promise.

Just try it for a week and see how you feel.

Then, once you’ve tried that, move onto my next suggestion.

Over time, you’ll slowly start to increase your focus and be more at peace because your phone isn’t driving you crazy.

How To Stay Focused At Work Tip #2: Lock your phone up

Even if you implement all of the optimizations from tip #1, chances are you’ll still get distracted and want to check your phone every once in awhile while you’re working.

But here’s the problem:

According to recent research, simply having your phone near you while working — even if shut off — results in a significant decrease in cognitive capacity.

So what can you do?

You can use something like the kSafe (purchase here) and literally lock your phone away while you’re working.

I’m serious.

To use the kSafe, you simply set a timer, put your phone inside it, then press a button and voilà, you can’t access your phone unless you literally take a sledgehammer and break open the kSafe.

Instafocus!

How To Stay Focused At Work Tip #3: Optimize Your Computer To Remove Distractions

Outside of your phone, the next weapon of mass distraction is the thing that you typically need to actually do work...

... your computer!

Here are the top suggestions I have to make your computer less distracting:

  • Use an extension like xTab to prevent you from having 20+ tabs open at once. xTab literally blocks you from opening another tab when you have too many open, forcing you to finish off old tasks.
  • If you have a problem with Facebook, use an extension called Facebook News Feed Eradicator. This extension will remove the newsfeed and instead replace it with a quote, making you unable to engage in the endless scroll.
  • Don’t keep your email up all the time! Seriously, you should only be checking email a few times per day. If you have it up all the time, you’ll be distracted with every new message that comes in.
  • Similar to your phone, IMMEDIATELY remove all notifications that pop up on your screen. Those are just asking for trouble.
  • If you have a problem with distracting websites, you can use an extension like StayFocusd to set limits to how much you can use certain distracting websites like YouTube, Facebook, etc.

Overall, if you find that you are unable to sit down and get quality work done on your computer without being distracted all the time, chances are your computer is filled with too many distractions.

Whenever possible, look for opportunities to limit distractions and make focusing on the task at hand your only option.

How To Stay Focused At Work Tip #4: Proper Planning

Removing distraction is only a small part of the focus formula.

Once you’ve eliminated the noise, how do you actually focus?

First, you must understand that the reason why most people can’t focus is that they have unclearly defined outcomes.

Every time you begin work, you should have a specific idea of what you want to get done.

If you keep sitting down to “work” on “stuff” for an undefined amount of time, you’re basically setting yourself up to fail.

Focus happens when you have focused outcomes.

And to get focused outcomes, you need to plan ahead of time.

Here’s what that means:

You must have goals set for at least 3 years out, then each quarter, month, week, and day.

Sounds extreme, but hear me out for a second.

When you have a 3 year vision for your goals, you give yourself a “north star” to reverse-engineer your outcomes from.

Then I recommend setting very specific goals for each quarter. The quarter goals then get broken down to weekly goals. Then the weekly goals get broken down to daily goals.

Then, when you begin working, you can look back at your daily goals (planned the night before) and you should have 3-5 very specific outcomes for the day.

With those clear outcomes in mind, you can finally focus.

And if you want to put your focus on fire, wait for the next few tips...

How To Stay Focused At Work Tip # 5: The Pomodoro Technique

Once you’ve discovered what specifically you should be focusing on for the day, you should have a list of 1-3 KEY priorities that must be completed before you finish working for the day.

Ideally, these tasks are selected the night before as you plan out your day.

Now what’s the best way to go about doing them?

I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique for YEARS and I’ve personally found it to be the most effective.

Here’s a breakdown of the methodology:

My adaptation of the Pomodoro Technique that is most effective for me is to work in 50 minute chunks, and take a 10 minute break.

Before I start each session, I record what I want to accomplish during that particular session in my daily log using my “pomodoro notation”:

P stands for “pomodoro”, followed by the time that I’m working on that task, followed by the tasks I want to work on.

If I actually focus on what I said I was going to work on, I reward myself by giving myself $1 which is marked in the right hand column.

After a month goes by, I tally up those $1 rewards and allow myself to spend the money on a new “toy”, which usually ends up being some supplement or online course that I want to take.

It’s just a fun way to give yourself some instant gratification once you’ve successfully completed the task.

Similarly, I’ve heard people talk about having a pack of M&M’s or Skittles by their desk, and they are allowed to eat one M&M or Skittle after the successful completion of a task.

Now if you want to take your pomodoros to the next level, just wait for this next tip...

How To Stay Focused At Work Tip # 6: FocusMate

I was first introduced to FocusMate when I had the opportunity to interview Nir Eyal — bestselling author of the books Hooked and Indistractible.

Focusmate is one of my TOP productivity tools since it was introduced to me.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You book a 50 minute block of time when you want to complete a pomodoro on their calendar
  2. For that 50 minute block, you get partnered with a random person also using the service. This person is your FocusMate.
  3. When your time starts, you get on a video call with your FocusMate and spend ~1 minute introducing yourselves. Then you each share what the goal for your session is going to be.
  4. You say good luck, and for the next 50 minutes, you have someone that is on video watching you and holding you accountable to doing what you said you were going to do.

Pretty cool, huh?

This has been a game changer for me and I quickly got addicted.

On a typical workday, I do about 6 FocusMate sessions to help me stay accountable and do what I actually said I’d do.

The service is free for up to 3 focusmate sessions per week. Beyond that, the cost is only $5/mo for unlimited sessions.

Some of the best money I’ve ever spent!

If you start using it, maybe I’ll see you on a future session 🙂

How To Stay Focused At Work Tip #7: Accountability

While FocusMate holds you accountable for the daily goals, you should also have accountability partners that will keep you on track with your weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals.

Accountability plays a big part in focus because if you don’t have someone to be accountable to, it’s much easier to get distracted and procrastinate.

But on the other hand, if you have someone that is counting on you, things change.

You can’t just sit around on social media because you’ll be letting someone down.

Just make sure you choose your accountability partner carefully — are they actually going to challenge you? Are they going to be honest with you and make you do what you said you were going to do?

Choosing the right accountability partner is just as important as having accountability itself.

Action Items

  1. Find an accountability partner.
  2. On a weekly basis, share with each other what your goals are for that week. This can be done via text or a short call.
  3. On a monthly basis, set a time to have a phone call to reflect on the past month and share your goals for the coming month.

You can go beyond this if you want, but for my accountability partners, I use the monthly calls to also share my vision for longer term goals.

How To Stay Focused At Work Tip #8: Work When You’re Most Productive

This is perhaps the most stupid simple solution to my focus formula:

If your work permits, work during a time when you can focus best!

At the time of this writing, I’ve been experimenting with waking up anywhere from 5-6AM to get my highest quality work done.

Right when I’m fresh off of a good night's rest, I can CRUSH through some quality work before I even hit the gym in the morning.

There are two simple ways to make this actually happen:

  1. You’ll have to go to bed earlier. This also will help you increase your focus because you typically engage in low level activities when you’re tired (Netflix, eating unhealthy, etc)
  2. You’ll have to plan your day ahead of time

It’s as simple as that!

How To Stay Focused At Work Tip #9: Internet Fasting

In November 2019, I attended the Genius Network annual event where I got to hear Elco de Boehr give a talk about “internet fasting”.

The concept is very simple:

You only get to use the internet for 4 hours a day.

That’s it.

Now if you think that’s impossible, it’s even more impressive when you hear that Elco is an internet multimillionaire whose entire business depends on the internet.

There’s a concept called the Parkinson's Law which states that a task will expand to the time allotted to it.

In other words:

If you’re giving yourself unlimited internet time, you’re allowing your tasks to expand to take more time than they should.

I use an outlet timer to shut off my wifi at a certain time each day. Beyond that, I can’t use wifi!

Conclusion

Learning how to focus is critical to accomplishing your goals.

Once you master this crucial skill, your biggest dreams will go from impossible to probable. If you want a few more ideas on how you can increase your focus, you can check out my other article on habits.

And, as always, if you want to make sure you don't miss out on articles like this, make sure you're subscribed to my email list by filling out the form below:

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