10 Tips to Achieving Focus in Today’s Busy Workplace

by Edward M. Hallowell, MD

Boardroom, ADD, Meeting, Procrastination1.    Do The Impossible. People focus most intently when they take on a challenge, when they are working in an area where they are skilled, but where they are also stretched.  Often, amazingly enough, what seemed impossible becomes possible.

2.    Trust Your Way.  Perhaps the single most clichéd song lyric ever, “I did it my way,” became so clichéd because its message is so powerful.  We focus best, we do our best, when we do it our way. We all have our routines, our own individualized process, or way, for producing our best work.  Trust yours.  When you don’t know where you’re headed, your process, your way, will allow your unconscious to enter in. It will guide you and often surprise you with your most valuable discoveries and unexpected solutions.  Don’t work against your grain, but with it.

3.    Take A Break.  When you start to glaze over or feel frantic, stop what you are doing.  Stand up, walk around, get a glass of water, and stretch.  Just 60 seconds can do the trick.

4.    T.I.O. Turn It Off.  Turn off your electronic devices during periods of your day when you want uninterrupted, focused time.

5.    Ask For Help.  Don’t feel it is sign of weakness to ask for help when you hit a snag. Just the opposite.  It is a sign of strength and can get you out of a confused place and back on track.

6.    Take Your Time.  It’s one of truest rules of modern life is: If you don’t take your time, someone or something else will take it from you.  Guard your time jealously.  It is your most prized possession at work.  Do not give it away easily or let someone regulate it for you, unless you have absolutely to do so.

7.    Close Your Eyes When you are losing focus or feeling confused, the simple act of sitting back in your chair and closing your eyes can, oddly enough, allow you to see clearly.  It can restore focus and provide a new direction.

Elastic Ball, Office, Workplace, Distraction, ADHD8.    Draw A Picture.  Visuals clarify thinking.  Draw a diagram, construct a table, cover a page with zig-zags like a child finger painting, cover a page with phrases and arrows, use colored pencils or markers, do it on poster paper on an easel or on the floor, just get past words and blow up the frame to accommodate visuals of any and all kinds. You may soon see the bigger picture you’d been looking for coming into focus.

9.    Talk To Yourself.  Talking out loud to yourself can lead you out of confusion.  Assuming you are in a setting that allows for this, simply talk, out loud, about the issue you are grappling with.  Talking out loud engages a different part of the brain than thinking in silence.  It can clear out the fog.

10.   Do What Works.  Don’t worry about convention, or what’s supposed to work.  Some people focus better with music playing or in a noisy room.  Some people focus better when walking or even running.  Some people focus best in early morning, others late at night; some in cold rooms, others in a sauna; some while fasting, others while eating.  There is no right way, only the best way for you.  Experiment, and discover what works for you.

Hallowell, Distraction, Work, Driven to Distraction at WorkReprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive.  Copyright 2014  Dr. Edward M. Hallowell. All rights reserved.

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4 Replies to “10 Tips to Achieving Focus in Today’s Busy Workplace”

  1. Re: point 10 – would like to hear how to address mismatch between employer-provided work environment (think open office) and personal needs, especially when disclosure might put the employer on the defensive. Currently am trying everything at my disposal, but ultimately I function best in a relatively quiet space with surfaces to see my paperwork – which is no longer provided where I work now that we’ve moved into a new, more open environment. Looking for a new employer is not a solution either, as more and more companies where I work are adopting this type of ad(h)d hostile environment. We are allowed to wear headphones, but I have yet to find something that stays on my head, doesn’t overheat my ears, doesn’t fall out and at the same time provides quiet, rather than just pumping in more sound to mask the sound(s) that I find distracting. Thoughts?

  2. I also work in an open office. I use earphones that produce a white noise that filters out much of the background noise. I don’t play music through them as that is also distracting to me. Their not perfect but, much better than nothing at all or a sharp stick in the eye. As you said after wearing them for awhile my ears tend to burn. Two of the companies that produce this type of earphone are Boise and Sony. I’ve used both and found both to work equally well. I’ve had quite a few pairs as I tend to leave them on the plane(s) or just simply forget where I left them. I hope this helps.

  3. As always, I feel like I should already know all of this. In fact, I’m certain I do. I have even used some of these tips on my own, before even knowing that I have ADHD. And yet somehow they all slip away and I fm d myself right back where I started, unable to focus and get even the smallest jobs done, frustrated an d beyond my wits end because nothing. is working.

    So I definitely need to keep this list posted somewhere where I can see it every day. Maybe if I read it every morning I will be able to remember it for at least a day.

  4. OK Doc
    I seem to need more time because I have dyslexia like a good percentage of people who have ADD. About talking to my self, that is not always easy for university students working in a library or their dorm room shared with a roommate. Closing my eyes when I’m work hard I often fall to ZZZZZZZZZZZ speed. Sorry just closed my eyes.
    Wayne ( I’m talking to myself and I’m not crazy) McFarlane

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