A Likely Story

By Bob Goldman

July 27, 2016 5 min read

Feel fidgety, unfocused and unproductive at the office? You're not the only one. In a world of constant stimulation -- from smartphones and tablets to TV, social media and gaming -- it can be a challenge to stay on task at any time of the day, especially at work.

A survey by Virgin Pulse reports that 95 percent of the 1,000 respondents say they're distracted during the workday. Major distractions include chatty co-workers, email, text messages and things that cause personal stress, such as relationships and money.

"One of the reasons that we are fidgety at work is because we neglect to take time to re-energize and refuel ourselves over the course of the day from both a physical, mental and emotional perspective," says Shani Harmon, co-founder of Stop Meeting like This, a consultancy that works with companies to address the misuse of time and energy in the workplace.

"Many employees let their day 'happen to them' rather than having a strategy for how to vary tasks and ways of engaging to shift from one way of processing to another and to keep the mind curious and engaged," says Harmon, explaining that frustrated and stressed workers struggle to stay engaged.

Sleep is an important factor for helping employees stay at their best. Harmon recommends a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night.

*Time Management

"Track your time to figure out where the leaks are," says Mitzi Weinman, founder of TimeFinder and author of "It's About Time! Transforming Chaos into Calm, A to Z," explaining that interruptions can throw a schedule off track.

Weinman encourages workers to place boundaries on their personal time by using planning tools, such as a digital calendar, to block out time for specific tasks and learning when to say "yes" and when to say "no."

She also advises doing the most important or difficult task first: "Working from higher priorities to lower priorities throughout the day will make it easier to go home at the end of the day, and you will have a more productive day."

*Work Hard; Take Breaks

Focused employees succeed at balancing work and appropriate breaks.

"Take a break every 90 minutes," says Susan Steinbrecher, executive coach, licensed mediator and leadership consultant, and co-author of "Heart-Centered Leadership: Lead Well, Live Well."

"There is scientific evidence that motivation and focus improve and productivity increases when work tasks are implemented in 90-minute intervals," she says.

Harmon suggests working in 20-minute mini "sprints," especially on complex or difficult projects, followed by a reward, such as a five-minute walk or a quick stretch.

It may seem counterintuitive, but it's best to only tackle tasks one by one.

"Stop multitasking," urges Harmon. "Task switching, because the brain is not capable of doing two tasks at once, has been proven to add a 25 percent time tax to each task. To truly be efficient, workers need to focus on one task at a time."

*Feeling Focused

Find ways to help yourself stay in the moment, such as listening to binaural beats or meditating pre- or post-work.

"Get in the habit of putting aside a minimum of 15 minutes each day -- either before work or during the day, if you have some privacy," says Steinbrecher. "The payoff of meditation is greater mental clarity, reduced stress and an enhanced feeling of centeredness that can carry you through a hectic workday."

*Digital Distractions

From checking email to sending texts to tweeting, using phones and computers can be a significant disruption in the workplace. Harmon advises closing personal email and other computer distractions while on the job.

To avoid getting caught up in social media, be strategic. "If you are using LinkedIn for prospecting new business, have time blocked out to use it," says Weinman, who also discourages using personal social media when you're at work. "Save it for lunchtime or after work."

Staying focused can be challenging, but it can help workers get ahead in the office and have a high sense of personal satisfaction, too.

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