Distraction is inevitable at work. With notifications popping up on your computer or phone to simply feeling disengaged with your work, losing your focus can result from a wide range of factors. Perhaps you love multitasking. Or you pride yourself in your ability to plan. Or maybe, you just don’t feel like you’re in the right job and you’re constantly wondering what you could do instead.
I’ve had moments in my own career when I’ve found my mind wandering, either because I wasn’t fully engaged with my work or simply because I was more interested in pursuing a side project or laying the groundwork for a future ambition of mine.
However, no matter what your plans are, remaining present in your current job is crucial because it allows you to fully engage with your projects, make astute decisions, and build strong professional relationships. After all, being a professional is all about getting things done when you need to and generating as much value as you can each and every day.
However, this is sometimes easier said than done.
Our Thoughts Can Constantly Race
In my work as a career consultant, which I find deeply meaningful, my mind still often wanders to other things. I’m constantly preoccupied with thoughts about the state of my business, generating new content, planning the next video or podcast episode, and top of that, ensuring I’m also giving ample attention to my personal life.
On a personal note, I also feel a strong desire to be there for my loved ones, including my wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friends. As someone with a young daughter, I feel like every moment I’m spending at work is a moment I’m not spending with her, so this adds another dimension of complexity to my work focus.
The Perils of a Busy Mind
Constant mental chatter can increase stress, decrease productivity, and just hinder our ability to fully engage with our work. Productivity and overall satisfaction can suffer too.
The combination of my inclination to plan, multitask, and place high expectations on myself creates a situation where my mind feels like it’s racing all the time. Slowing down is hard for me, and remaining 100% focused on one task is a constant challenge.
A few years ago, during a visit to an alternative healer in Taiwan, I was even warned that my busy state of mind could have long-term adverse effects on my heart and body. Since then, I’ve been trying to quiet my mind and incessant mental chatter, which has helped me feel more present and relaxed in my career, which is a marathon, not a sprint.
Strategies for Staying Present
If you struggle with getting distracted or multitasking a bit too much during your workday, several strategies may help you remain more focused.
- Time Tasks: By timing tasks, you can create a more focused environment that reduces your temptation to multitask. Setting a countdown timer for each activity adds a sense of urgency and keeps you accountable. When tasks seem to be taking too long, I also set a regular stopwatch counter to be more aware of how long tasks take for you to complete.
- Force Focus: Using task management apps like Trello or ToDoIst can help you work on one single task at a time and maintain a singular focus. Sometimes, if another task comes up and requires no more than five minutes of my time, I try to quickly complete it, but the idea is to err on the side of singular focus.
- Minimize Digital Distractions: While some people go so far as to turn off wireless connectivity on their phones or computers to remain focused, I’ve found that to be somewhat impractical. However, I do not look at my phone when working or when I’m with others. I simply flip it over and ignore it. When working on my MacBook, I press F6 to turn on Do Not Disturb. This practice prevents me from being distracted by random alerts, although I admit that I occasionally find myself manually checking emails despite these efforts I’m working on a time-sensitive project with a client
- Block Time: Allocate blocks of “focused time” for different tasks. Dedicate uninterrupted periods in your calendar where you commit to focusing on a specific task without any interruptions or multitasking. I try to do this, especially with content creation whether writing articles, scripting podcasts, or creating presentations. You can also set periodic blocks for ad-hoc tasks or emails.
Staying Present In Your Career Is Critical
If you’re someone who associates professional effectiveness with efficient multitasking, you may find this idea of focus counterintuitive. After all, your ability to quickly bounce back and forth between various projects and tasks can certainly be an asset.
However, it’s also important to decide when focus should trump juggling. Certain tasks benefit from singular attention without distraction. By timing tasks, forcing focus, minimizing distractions, and blocking time, you can remain more present, feel a deeper connection to your work, and derive more fulfillment from your professional life.
Originally published at Forbes.