Focus at Work and How to Protect it from Interruptions

Staying focused is tough. Studies show that even experienced meditators find it hard to maintain focus. And many of them meditate thinking of nothing. Imagine how tough it is to focus at work. Jokes aside, focus is a serious issue that equates into billions in lost productivity every year. And this is simple to understand.

How to gain focus at work

Sure, lack of focus can lead to errors. Even small errors can have devastating consequences. A typo can cost you millions. But that’s a different story. After all, we can learn from catastrophes and devise failsafes. Or implement some checks and ensure errors matter less.

However, it is far more difficult to tackle an intangible problem. Hence, the issue with focus. It is a personal enterprise of great subtlety. Let’s clarify, from procrastination to the modern workplace and its interruption culture. Alternatively, scroll down for solutions.

Keeping your focus is hard on its own

Modern humans cannot live behind an office desk. Long ago in our evolutionary history, we learned a different type of focus. We’d thrive on a brief, intense focus followed by long periods of relaxation. Our reward mechanisms follow the same path.

We focus on hunting down short-term rewards. A quick check of your Facebook messages, perhaps. A quick swipe on Tinder. We avoid work to save efforts. We procrastinate, because our reward system tricks us it’s OK. Occasionally, we put ourselves into a blank stupor, saving energy. When working, staying focused becomes even harder. There are no immediate rewards. And we love immediate rewards. That’s why micro-goals work so well.

Saying “No” to distractions

Steve Jobs said that. Ah, the irony. Quoting the man responsible for countless opportunities for procrastination. Here, a different quote. Lack of focus means chasing two rabbits and catching neither. Ask any evolutionary theorist, and they will explain it is natural. Ask a psychologist, they will explain it’s a sign of distress. A cognitive scientist will tell you that focus is the “area under the curve”. What curve? The curve describing the intensity of attention over a period of time. It’s a sad little thing.

In fact, the average adult has an attention span of about 20 minutes. After that, you lose focus and get sidetracked. Some people even report that they spend several work hours doing mostly nothing. Many people report that recovering from interruptions burns up most of their concentration.

For most absurd reasons, businesses still favor open spaces. The logic is that you can’t pretend to be working when others see you. And that’s obviously false. What happens is that people start pretending to be working. What’s worse is that now you have an amazing context for interruptions. And interruptions alone cost businesses billions in lost productivity.

Coders call it “the zone”

Imagine you finally got your gears in sync. You’re experiencing your “Aha” moment. Everything is fluid and bright. You’re in “the zone”. Countless hours of struggling for this moment of great intensity. That’s Newton’s apple hitting your head. Your “Evrika” moment.

And then, Steve from accounting taps you on the shoulder.  “Hey, I’m making coffee, would you like some?”. Your vision, your solution, it all crumbles down.  And it’s like waking up from a dream. At first, there’s a hint of something. In a few minutes, you can barely remember anything.

You step out of the zone. You erase the thinking and any progress you’ve made, and clear your head to deal with the distraction. Evolutionary history tells us that distractions are important, maybe even life-and-death. After assessing the distraction, you realize it’s unimportant. Also, you become frustrated. You nearly “had it”. Now you have to do the work all over again. Without the enthusiasm of an “Evrika” moment.

Nowadays, Steve won’t tap your shoulder. He doesn’t have to. Instead, your screen will buzz and brighten with the constant chatter of your team. Some want to know what you want for lunch, they’re ordering. Others have a report to send to the group. Also, a picture of a cat eating donuts randomly pops up. Steve just sent you a very useful link… for a different project. And the precious real-estate of your screen(s) fills up with noise.

And it’s not just coders that go into “the zone”. It’s all sorts of problem-solvers. And creatives. In fact, any sort of knowledge work suffers from interruptions. Even people doing highly repetitive work have issues with interruptions.

Solutions: Staying focused at work

Guess which of the following is the easiest to implement:

  • Learn to meditate on your own. Also, organize a meditation group at work. Moreover, you can try the Pomodoro technique and segment work into manageable chunks. Perhaps even try and sync with everyone else so that you all get your breaks at the same time. Or you could simply go ahead and have “short meditation breaks”. Right next to the sleeping pods.
  • Invent a signaling system so that your team knows you are busy. Use colors and printed emoticons that share your mood and your status working on a project. You’d spend about 30% of your personal resources and energy managing this system. But you can say goodbye to interruptions. You also get to confuse everybody on your team. However, with the right training, your team will learn the new system. Instead of using natural language, you will now interrupt each other with symbols.
  • Work with a cutting-edge communication app that knows when you need to focus and be productive. Apps and social notifications play a major role in distracting people’s attention. Not Hubgets. This team communication and collaboration app uses an advanced algorithm based on the user’s activity and adjusts notifications accordingly to minimize noise. Hubgets simpy knows when it’s OK for teammates and customers to interrupt you with instant messages and phone calls. At the same time, you may use Hubgets to manage work-related communications with your teammates as well as with anyone outside the team. And do ten other amazing things without wasting precious work time and focus.

According to the World Health Organization, stress is the “global health epidemic of the 21st century.” The number of daily interruptions add considerably to our level of stress. Because recovering from each intrusion takes 20 minutes of our work time. This pushes us to work faster and compensate for the lost time. Simply avoid entering this vicious circle. Just apply a focus-oriented personal system as well as use tools that work in your favor. Tools that reduce the level of distractions so that you can gain more focus and get more work done.

2 Comments


  • Our team uses the Pomodoro technique and it works well for us! In addition, working smart by having “focus”, “team collaboration” and “fun”–all at the same time, are our team’s top secret towards achieving productivity.

    Reply 1 week ago Don Harold


    • That sounds great, Don!
      The Pomodoro technique is a great way to boost team productivity and personal productivity. And working smart is the way to go!

      Reply 1 week ago Remus Serban


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