Some days, it feels like there aren’t enough espresso shots in the world to keep your mind focused on your ever-growing to-do list. Deadlines don’t seem to notice when productivity comes to a screeching halt. Even if your mind keeps going on mini vacations throughout the day, your body is still at the office, and deadlines still loom as the clock gets closer to the end of the workday. No wonder so many of us are making trips to the coffee machine by mid-afternoon.
It goes without saying that focusing at work is an important and necessary goal. For one, teams depend on it – the work you complete, or don’t complete, has a ripple effect on your colleagues. It impacts your own feelings about healthy work-life balance as well, as you may be under pressure to stay late or bring work home that didn’t get done because you lost your focus during the day.
While there’s no magic pill to take, all the best tips for improved focus at work don’t involve extra lattes and pep talks. They involve taking care of your brain, the epicenter of mind and body. There’s no shortage of exercises, foods and supplements that claim to support increased focus at work, but how many of them actually work? Here, we’ll explore different ways to organize, structure, and even eat your way to a more productive 9 to 5.
Environment check: Prepping your space for better focus
Our brains like organization. Scientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute have demonstrated this with functional MRI scans. So yes, just looking at a pile of long-forgotten sticky note reminders is enough to drain your mental energy. If there’s a stack of papers collecting dust on your desk, take a few minutes to go through them, keep what you need and toss what you don’t. Get a cute desktop organizer or caddy to corral the clutter.
Noise can be one of the biggest offenders when it comes to staying focused at work – and it can also be the hardest factor to control. A 2005 study found that 99% of employees say that noise breaks their concentration, with others reporting that a noisy office can trigger fatigue, too. If you fall into that very large category, invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and get into the groove of your favorite playlist, or choose some background noise that may actually up your productivity. If you prefer no noise at all, a pair of earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones with the sound off may be just the trick.
Last but certainly not least, check in on your own comfort. Do you constantly fidget with your chair, desk, or computer monitor? If the answer is yes, your personal space may need some adjusting. Take time to adjust your chair’s height and reclining position to cradle your back and neck comfortably or consider investing in a memory foam chair cushion. The less time spent adjusting your seating arrangements, the less distracted you’ll be.
Hour by hour: Using scheduling to stay focused
Your brain’s prefrontal cortex needs rest to perform its job – concentrating – optimally. Working for long stretches of time can cause stress and exhaustion, which eat away at your ability to focus on the tasks at hand. So if you’re looking for your next breakthrough, research suggests that you should stop looking: a 2014 study found that those who took an outdoor walk produced better analogies than those who sat indoors. Schedule some time to stand up and stretch after about an hour spent on a certain task.
If a hefty work project appears more like a gargantuan undertaking, don’t try to tackle the whole project at once. That’s the core message behind goal setting theory, which says that working toward a goal generates more motivation to work. Therefore, breaking down big tasks into smaller, more manageable bites can motivate you to keep going. Try setting aside a small block of time to complete a portion of the project at hand.
Brain fuel: What to eat to stay focused at work
- 1. Drink plenty of water. Those recommended eight glasses per day are no joke. Just two hours without water can lead to cognitive decline. Yet, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that 43 percent of Americans drink fewer than four of the eight recommended cups each day. If you haven’t hit the water cooler in a while, use one of your new scheduled work breaks to stretch your legs and head to the break room to fill up your favorite water bottle.
- 2. Try CBD. If stress is affecting your ability to focus at work, you may want to consider incorporating Cannabidiol (CBD) into your routine. Bonus points if your CBD product of choice incorporates other complementary botanicals, such as the brain health-supporting ginkgo biloba found in our Brain Fuel Elixir beverage infusion.
- 3. Incorporate brain-boosting herbs. Called nootropics, these substances can support enhanced cognitive function, including memory, creativity, and yes, focus. One such nootropic, Rhodiola, is incorporated into our Brain Fuel Elixir drink mix, while our The Daily broad spectrum hemp capsules are made with omega-3 containing hemp seed oil. Your brain may thank you for the extra boost.
- 4. Eat healthy snacks. Hunger is the ultimate distractor and it can impact how you make decisions. Keep some high-protein, low-sugar snacks at your desk or in the break room. But you may want to skip the vending machine for this one — try a handful of nuts, a cheese stick, or fruits and veggies.
- 5. Reduce the caffeine intake. Sounds counterproductive, but drinking too much caffeine can have the opposite effect. That initial cup of joe (or two) certainly makes its impact, keeping you alert and focused. However, coffee or caffeinated soda too late in the day may affect your sleeping patterns, which makes it even harder to stay focused the next day.
- 6. Avoid a heavy lunch. Your body requires a significant amount of energy to digest food, which means there’s quite literally less energy allocated to your mind. Furthermore, a heavy carb-loading lunch triggers more insulin production than other low-carb, low-sugar meals. Skip the bagels and keep it light with healthy fare such as high-fiber grains and vegetables.
Can lifestyle changes help improve focus at work?
In-office actions aren’t the only behaviors impacting your ability to focus at work. What you do outside the workplace can carry over and have a lasting impact – both positive and negative – throughout the day. Try these three lifestyle changes to help you take on the workday:
- Squeeze in a workout. Exercise doesn’t just do a body good — it helps the brain as well. Studies have shown a promising connection between exercise and memory formation, concentration, and overall long-term cognitive health. One 2011 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that regular exercise increased the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. A morning workout may also help improve your concentration for two to three hours afterward.
- Get a good night’s sleep. It goes without saying that missing Zs can make the next day a real struggle. These overnight hours are essential to proper brain R+R, and missing out on sleep can impact every cognitive function from short and long-term memory to creativity. If you’re having occasional trouble sleeping, consider incorporating some herbs into your daily routine. The chamomile found in our Rest Easy Elixir CBD powder, for example, contains a flavonoid called apigenin, which may be used as a temporary sleep aid.
- Give meditation a shot. Research has shown that regular meditators have more stability in their ventral posteromedial cortex, or vPMC, the part of your brain linked to wandering and spontaneous thoughts. Aim for a few minutes a day and work your way up. Consider using an app or online video to help guide you through the meditation journey.
There’s no singular secret for improved focus at work, but an array of lifestyle changes, both inside and outside of the office, can give you the mental energy required to successfully tackle a full workday. Whether that’s taking some time to organize your surroundings, scheduling your workday hour by hour, or incorporating CBD into your daily routine, capturing, harnessing, and focusing your energy at work is absolutely within your reach.