How to Stay Focused at Work: 13 Science-Based Tips to Keep Your Concentration


Nowadays, people experience some form of getting overwhelmed at work and in their personal lives and struggle with staying focused. 

Whether you’re working in-office or remotely, you have to juggle many responsibilities and tasks, which more often than not leads to being overwhelmed.

This is what I call The Epidemic of Getting Overwhelmed, and it seems to be much more common than ever before.

There are two main reasons for this: 

  1. The amount of information people process now is something that the human brain is not used to.  
  2. New technologies and devices are very good at distracting us.

The combination of a tremendous amount of new information to process (new rules, regulations, technologies, information) and a huge amount of distractions such as social media, emails right into your phone, and just overall crazy multitasking on an ongoing basis, is not good for focus and performance.

Your attention is a limited resource and your most valuable one. 

There is so much new information to process and so many distractions, that your brain just gets very cluttered and tired as the day goes by. As this happens, your brain will lean more toward distractions and less toward focused efforts.

Studies show that each task you do tends to make you less effective at the next task, and this is especially true for high-energy tasks that require a high level of self-control or decision-making.

Table of Contents


What is Focus?

Focus is the ability to direct your attention to a specific task or object while ignoring distractions.

It is a crucial cognitive skill that builds your ability to thrive in various aspects of life. It allows you to be productive, efficient, and successful in your endeavors, whether it’s mastering a complex subject, completing a demanding project, or engaging in meaningful conversations.

What are the Benefits of Staying Focused?

Increased Productivity: Focusing allows you to complete tasks efficiently, leading to higher productivity in both professional and personal settings.

Effective Time Management: Focus helps you utilize your time effectively, prioritizing tasks and minimizing distractions.

Enhanced Learning: Concentrated attention aids in better understanding and retention of information, improving your learning ability.

Stress Reduction: By focusing on one task at a time, you can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and the stress associated with multitasking.

Improved Decision-Making: Concentration allows for clearer thinking, leading to better decision-making.

Stronger Relationships: Being present and focused in conversations creates better communication and stronger connections in personal and professional relationships.

Goal Achievement: Focusing on your goals enables you to make consistent progress, increasing the likelihood of achieving long-term objectives.

Enhanced Well-Being: A focused mind contributes to a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and overall well-being.

It’s clear that staying focus gives you tremendous benefits when it comes to performance and productivity.

13 Ways to Stay Focused

Eliminating distractions and boosting your ability to focus is more crucial than ever. Here are 13 ways that will help you maintain and regain your ability to focus and accomplish your tasks without feeling overwhelmed.

1. Create a Daily Focus Task List

Before you start each day, write down your 3-5 most important tasks for that day.

These things should be what absolutely must happen for that day, no matter what. These may be an email you need to send, a call you need to make, an assignment you need to complete, or anything similar.

Keep your Flist in front of you at all times, and check off completed assignments as you go. Believe me, by the time you hit noon, you’ll be happy to have it in front of you. This is because half the things on it would have slipped your mind by now if you didn’t have it in front of you.

Planning your day starts the evening prior. If it is work-related, do it before you leave work. This will help you avoid the early morning rush and help you remember everything.

If you work from home or the list is home and family-related, create it before you close the day, go to sleep, or start watching TV.

Make sure you have all the resources you need to complete the tasks on your list. Don’t put anything on it that you don’t have the time or the resources to do. These should be ready to complete, and ready to check off as ‘Done’ tasks.

Keep your list short, when you have way too many things on your list you can get distracted. You can’t have 10 things that are 10 on the importance scale.

Use The 0-10 Rule to identify what’s important. Everything below 7 just became a distraction. Focus on what’s important and the other task will come to the forefront later.

2. Set Deadlines. Seriously. For Everything.

If you have ever had an important task that didn’t have a deadline, chances are, you put it off… and then put it off some more. Until it became urgent or had a definite due date, you weren’t motivated to complete it.

The reason you put off tasks that don’t have a deadline is that urgency breeds motivation, and deadlines create a sense of urgency.

Deadlines help you prioritize what you’ll work on (and for how long). There is nothing like a strict deadline to help you prioritize your workflow.

The trouble with setting deadlines is that people often don’t know how long something will take. Psychologists refer to this problem as the planning fallacy – you often underestimate how long it will take to achieve something.

People often set goals that are too ambitious – and don’t think about all the challenges along the way.

My #1 tip is to keep your deadlines realistic. Keep them at a safe distance from any last-minute catastrophe (it is a great idea to have projects ready 24 hours before they are actually due if you can), and keep them in front of you at a visible place, to keep yourself accountable and stay focused on what you need to do, and by when.

3. Take Breaks. Here Is Why.

Taking a break when you feel overworked, unfocused, and worn out will boost your ability to refocus.

How? When you’re so worn out you can’t focus or be productive. It’s better to take a break and come to your task with a fresh mind. Do not feel guilty about it and do not keep pushing even if you’re really tired.

Breaks can also prevent decision fatigue. 

The need to make frequent decisions throughout your day can wear down your willpower and reasoning ability.  Decision fatigue can lead to fallacies in our decision-making process and lead to procrastination.

Working for a long time without breaks leads to feeling stressed and exhausted- this is bad for your focus and concentration.

Taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes your mental resources, and helps you become more creative. According to research, those ‘Aha moments’ come more often to those who take breaks.

Research also suggests that taking regular breaks raises your level of engagement and productivity. So how often should you take breaks? And for how long? There is different research on this, but no consensus. It is somewhere in the 50-90 minute range. Frequency is the name of the game with taking breaks. Rather than obsessing about precision-timing, listen to your brain and when you feel that you have had it, stop and take a break from what you do. How long should your break be? 15 to 20 minutes is the ideal length, but you can take longer at lunch.

Do not let the break become a stop. 15-20 min should allow you to grab a cup of coffee or tea, take a short walk, or do something that is non-work related. When you come back from a break, refocus yourself and get things done. You will find that you are more focused, more creative, and more productive.

4. Tackle one Task at a Time

Do you multitask? You might want to reevaluate that, and let me tell you why.

When you multitask you basically are not focused on multiple things at once.

By focusing your energy on one task at a time you can boost your productivity significantly.

Focusing on one task instead of multitasking brings numerous benefits.

It enhances efficiency, allowing for more streamlined and higher-quality work with reduced errors. This approach reduces stress by eliminating the constant mental juggling associated with multitasking.

Moreover, focusing on one thing contributes to better memory retention, improved problem-solving abilities, and increased overall productivity.

Completing tasks sequentially provides a sense of accomplishment and prevents mental fatigue.

Prioritizing one task at a time not only helps with effective time management but also strengthens work relationships by demonstrating respect and focused engagement in conversations or collaborative efforts.

5. Eliminate Distractions

Eliminating distractions is crucial when it comes to focusing on a particular task that needs your full attention.

A good start is to identify what are your biggest distractions and try to eliminate them when you’re trying to focus on work, study, etc.

This is what I call priming your environment for success. You see, sooner or later, relying on your willpower won’t keep you from getting distracted. Willpower is flimsy and can be influenced by your energy levels that day, the task you’re dealing with and so many other things.

By priming your environment for success you’re doing yourself a favor and making things easier for yourself.

Priming your environment is different for everyone, for example, if you’re distracted by your phone notifications you can communicate to your schedule in order to limit calls or messages to only important things during work. Also, you can use focus functions in order to limit your notifications or time spent on apps that distract you.

One thing to keep in mind is you can’t stay focused for very long periods of time. Studying or working on a task for 5 hours straight may feel overwhelming. When you feel like your quality of work is affected try taking a short break. This is supposed to help you focus by refreshing and recharging your mind.

6. Fuel Your Brain

When you provide your brain with the right fuel and conditions it enhances your concentration and productivity.

This means getting enough sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and incorporating short breaks to recharge.

Essentially, it’s about nurturing your brain to optimize its performance and keep distractions at bay.

Think of your brain as a high-performance machine. To keep it running smoothly and efficiently, you need to provide it with the right kind of fuel. That means getting enough quality sleep to recharge your cognitive batteries. A well-balanced diet, rich in nutrients, supports your brain’s functions and helps maintain focus.

Hydration is another key factor. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and difficulty concentrating, so make sure you’re sipping water throughout the day. Additionally, taking short breaks during tasks might seem counterintuitive, but it actually helps prevent burnout and maintains your ability to stay focused.

In essence, “Feed Your Brain” is an approach to maintaining mental clarity and concentration by taking care of your overall well-being.

7. Limit Your Focus

Limiting your focus is a strategy that helps enhance concentration by limiting your attention to specific tasks.

Instead of trying to tackle multiple things at once, it involves prioritizing and concentrating on one task or a small set of related tasks.

By limiting your focus, you reduce distractions and cognitive overload, allowing your brain to allocate its resources more effectively. It’s a practical approach to optimize productivity and maintain a higher level of concentration on the task at hand.

You can start by start by prioritizing your tasks. Identify the most important or time-sensitive ones and focus on them first. Multitasking might seem like a superhero skill, but it often leads to lower concentration on each task. By limiting your focus to one task at a time, you’re essentially giving that task your full mental bandwidth.

Turn off unnecessary notifications, find a quiet space, or use tools to limit your access to devices. This creates a focused space where your mind can zero in on the task without being pulled in different directions.

Breaking down larger tasks into smaller, manageable chunks also helps. This not only makes the workload seem more achievable but allows you to concentrate on completing each segment effectively.

In essence, limiting your focus is about being intentional with your attention and creating an environment that supports focus. It’s a practical approach to managing the demands on your mental resources and optimizing your ability to stay focused on the task at hand.

8. Practice Mindfulness

A study by Moore and Malinowski (2009) explored the impact of mindfulness on focus and concentration. Their research revealed that people who underwent mindfulness training exhibited improved attention and cognitive performance. The findings supported the idea that mindfulness practices positively influence focus and concentration, providing the cognitive benefits of incorporating mindfulness into your routine.

Also, a study by Hölzel et al. (2011) used MRI scans to demonstrate that mindfulness meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in brain regions related to learning, memory, and self-awareness. This suggests that mindfulness practice may contribute to positive changes in the brain, supporting the idea that mindfulness can induce structural changes associated with improved cognitive functions.

You can practice mindfulness in different ways, by taking a walk, meditation, or incorporating mindfulness into your daily activities. One way to practice mindfulness is to slow down. Slowing down in a mindful way is about finding a balanced and deliberate pace that allows you to fully engage with each moment, leading to greater satisfaction and effectiveness in your actions.

9. Listen to Music

Listening to music can improve your focus in various ways.

Music can enhance mood, contributing to better concentration. Music also has stress-reducing effects, that can alleviate anxiety, improving cognitive performance.

The brain’s reward system is activated by music, releasing dopamine, which promotes attention and motivation.

Additionally, music can block external distractions. The “Mozart effect” suggests that certain music, like classical music, may temporarily enhance cognitive abilities.

This can vary from person to person, but music and the type of music chosen also play a role in how it affects your concentration capabilities. Some people may find instrumental music or specific genres more helpful for concentration. Ultimately, personal preferences and the nature of the task at hand should guide the choice of music for optimal focus.

10. Pace Yourself

Finding a balanced and sustainable rhythm for tasks can help you avoid burnout and cognitive fatigue.

As mentioned above, a lot of people have a hard time setting realistic deadlines for themselves and then they get anxious or burned out in the process of getting those tasks done.

A good way to avoid this is to allocate more time to each task than you think you need until you’re better at gauging how long it takes you to complete different tasks.

Remember, continuous, intense work without breaks can lead to poor results.

Pacing allows for strategic breaks, preventing mental exhaustion and maintaining a steady level of focus. It aligns with the concept of “work-rest intervals” in productivity, where short breaks enhance overall concentration. Pacing also supports mindfulness, encouraging an engaged approach to tasks.

11. Practice The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that involves breaking work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Here’s how it boosts your focus:

  1. Time Segmentation: Breaking work into short, focused intervals prevents mental fatigue. The limited time frame of each “Pomodoro” encourages boosted focus during the task.
  2. Preventing Burnout: Regular breaks between tasks prevent burnout. The structured breaks allow the brain to rest and recharge, maintaining a high level of concentration throughout the work session.
  3. Enhanced Productivity: This technique takes advantage of time constraints, making tasks more manageable and reducing the likelihood of procrastination. This contributes to increased productivity and sustained focus.
  4. Focus on a Single Task: The Pomodoro Technique encourages focusing on one task during each interval. By dedicating undivided attention to one task, you maximize concentration, minimize multitasking, and improve overall efficiency.
  5. Mindful Awareness: The technique promotes mindful awareness of time and tasks. It promotes a mindful approach to work and prevents mindless, scattered attention.
  6. Adaptability: The Pomodoro Technique is adaptable to individual preferences and task requirements. It accommodates different attention spans and task complexities, making it a versatile tool for boosting concentration.

12. Switch Tasks

This can come as a surprise, as many concentration-boosting techniques promote focusing on one task and avoiding multitasking. Well, which tasks mindfully and strategically, ensuring that transitions are smooth can be productive for some people.

Sometimes focusing on one task that drains your energy can be unproductive. You might need a break or focus on something else entirely.

Switching between tasks can help you:

  1. Avoiding Cognitive Fatigue: Focusing on a single task can lead to mental fatigue and a decline in performance. Switching tasks can give you a mental break, preventing exhaustion. and boredom.
  2. Engagement: When you switch tasks, you introduce something new. This can capture your attention more effectively, boosting your focus. This renewed engagement can enhance productivity and creativity.
  3. Task-Specific Breaks: Switching between tasks allows you to take breaks without completely disengaging. For example, if you’re working on a complex report, taking a brief break to respond to emails provides a mental shift without complete interruption.
  4. Task Variety: Variety in tasks prevents monotony and boredom, keeping the mind alert. It taps into the brain’s preference for variety, contributing to sustained interest in the overall work.
  5. Adapting to Energy Levels: Different tasks require varying levels of energy and cognitive resources. By switching tasks, you can match your current energy level to the demands of the task, optimizing performance. Always remember that different methods work better for different people. Some days you can have less energy and one method might be more productive and efficient for you in that scenario. Try and test which type of method works best for you.

13. Make Tasks More Engaging

Making tasks more engaging can help your focus and overall productivity and motivation. You can do this in different ways such as:

  1. Clear Goals: Clearly defined goals can enhance engagement. Research by Locke and Latham highlights the importance of setting specific and challenging goals for increased performance and sustained attention.
  2. Task Variety and Challenge: Introducing variety and challenging elements into tasks enhances your skills and leads to a state of heightened focus and concentration.
  3. Rewarding Yourself: Positive reinforcement, such as rewarding yourself, is a powerful motivator. Your brain’s reward system plays a key role in shaping your behavior and maintaining focus. When you reward yourself, you reinforce good behavior which enhances overall concentration.
  4. Meaningful Connection to Goals: When tasks are connected to broader goals and values, you are more likely to stay focused. Research on goal-setting and goal alignment supports the positive impact on attention and performance.

Following these tips will help you stay focused throughout your day and get things done!

Why Do I Struggle to Stay Focused?

  1. Distractions: Your environment is filled with distractions, from notifications on your devices to ambient noise. Constant interruptions make it difficult to maintain focus.
  2. Information Overload: The amount of information available can be overwhelming. Processing too much information at once can lead to cognitive overload and reduced focus.
  3. Lack of Interest: Tasks that lack intrinsic motivation or fail to align with personal interests can be challenging to focus on. The absence of a clear purpose may lead to boredom and distraction.
  4. Multitasking: Contrary to popular belief, multitasking often hinders focus. Constantly switching between tasks can lead to attentional lapses and decreased overall performance.
  5. Fatigue: Mental and physical fatigue can impair focus. Insufficient sleep, long working hours, or a lack of breaks contribute to diminished concentration.
  6. Stress and Anxiety: High levels of stress or anxiety can hijack attention. The mind may become preoccupied with worry, making it difficult to pay attention to the task at hand.
  7. Task Complexity: Overly complex or ambiguous tasks may overwhelm people, causing a lack of clarity and focus. Breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps can help with this.
  8. Lack of Clear Goals: Without clear goals or a sense of purpose, you may struggle to maintain motivation and focus. Well-defined objectives provide a roadmap for better focus.
  9. Technology Addiction: Excessive use of digital devices and social media contributes to a shortened attention span. The constant need for new stimuli can make it challenging to focus on a single task.
  10. Mind Wandering: The mind has a natural tendency to wander, especially during monotonous or repetitive tasks. Trying mindfulness can help redirect attention to the present moment.
  11. Underlying Medical conditions: If you experience persistent difficulties in focus that interfere with daily life, seek guidance from a healthcare professional. A thorough evaluation can help identify any underlying medical or psychological factors contributing to the challenges in maintaining focus, leading to appropriate interventions and support.

To overcome these challenges involves creating an environment that boosts focus, setting realistic goals, and managing distractions. 

Understanding individual triggers and finding techniques that work best for you can significantly improve your ability to stay focused.

How Do You Keep Your Focus and Not Get Overwhelmed?

To keep your focus and not get overwhelmed, the most important thing you need to do is set realistic goals. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic deadlines when setting your goals. Be realistic about how long each task will take and give yourself enough time to complete them. If you do need to adjust deadlines, do so early on to avoid last-minute stress and getting overwhelmed.

Staying focused at work involves organizing your tasks, setting clear goals, minimizing distractions, and taking regular breaks. Using time management techniques and prioritizing tasks can also enhance focus.

Minimize distractions by creating a tidy and organized workspace, using noise-canceling headphones, turning off non-essential notifications, and setting specific times to check emails and messages.

Yes, regular breaks are crucial for maintaining focus. They help prevent mental fatigue, boost creativity, and improve overall productivity. Short breaks every hour or a longer break after a few hours of concentrated work are effective.

Effective time management helps organize tasks and reduces feelings of being overwhelmed, thus enhancing focus. Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique or time-blocking can be particularly helpful in maintaining sustained concentration.

A clutter-free workspace reduces visual distractions and mental clutter, making it easier to concentrate and stay focused on tasks at hand. Keeping your desk organized and having only essential items can help maintain a conducive work environment.

Yes, technology can aid focus through apps and tools designed for time management, task organization, and minimizing distractions. However, it’s important to use technology wisely and avoid letting digital tools become a source of distraction.

Mindfulness and meditation can improve focus by enhancing self-awareness and reducing stress. Practicing these techniques regularly can help in managing distractions and maintaining a clear, focused mind at work.

Physical exercise can significantly impact focus by increasing blood flow to the brain, reducing stress, and improving overall cognitive function. Regular exercise, even short walks, can enhance concentration and productivity at work.

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Dr. Michelle Rozen

Dr. Michelle Rozen, Ph.D., is a highly respected authority on the psychology of change. She is one of the most booked motivational speakers nationwide as well as internationally, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN on topics related to dealing with change in our world and in every aspect of our lives, so that we can do better and feel better.

Her most recent book, 2 Second Decisions helps people power through with their most challenging decisions through turbulent times.

Dr. Michelle Rozen consistently speaks for Fortune 500 companies and her clients include some of the most recognizable companies in the world including Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and The U.S. Navy. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area.

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