Sanam Hafeez, a New York City-based neuropsychologist in New York City, says a loss of focus means your brain has shifted into a default mode. “Neurologists have identified networks of brain structures that become active during times of distraction such as daydreaming, reminiscing, or general inattentive activity. Other brain networks identify even the smallest occurrence such as a phone ring, a vibration, or a person walking in the door and divert attention away from our current task. Some people can go right back to their task; others linger in observance until they drop into inattention,” she explains.
Here's how to focus in a workspace without walls
As it’s more than likely your office won’t put up walls anytime soon, there are some things you can do to improve your ability to focus with so many distractions.
1. Ask yourself if the space is really to blame
A lack of focus can point toward self-management issues that can lead to self-sabotaging behavior, such as a propensity to procrastinate (hello, personal texts and Instagram!), says Ibbotson. To take control, he suggests using anti-distraction software, turning off all notifications, signing out of any unnecessary browsers and apps, and just keeping a clear desktop with one task or project open. And, above all, put your phone away. “Manage the expectations of friends and relatives so they know not to bother you at certain hours of the day,” says Ibbotson. “Designate lunch as text or social media time.”
Get the better newsletter.
2. Try not to multitask
Ibbotson says it’s usually easier to focus on one task at a time than toggle between three. “Jumping from one thing to the next is a form of self-sabotage that can ensure you leave with nothing completed at the end of the day,” he says.
3. Take control of the noise factor
Hafeez says loud sounds and blinking lights can really do a number on your ability to concentrate. “Minimizing these distractions is a sure way to ensure no outside forces will break your focus,” she says. Every expert interviewed extolled the virtues of noise cancelling headphones, so keep a pair handy — and music without lyrics can work best. Need utter silence for a while? Book a conference room or negotiate the ability to step offsite and work from home, a library, or somewhere else private, recommends Laurence.
4. Keep your eyes on the prize
“Glancing through your to-do list and marking off what you've accomplished can help stimulate the brain to focus,” suggests Hafeez. “Once you're centered and have your task delineated once more, address the distraction. Ask your coworkers to give you a half an hour to finish an assignment before starting up a conversation again, ask the chatting team members to keep it down across the room, or ask a technician to change the flickering light bulb that keeps straining your attention,” she says.
5. Establish interpersonal boundaries
To put the kibosh on constant coffee klatsches in your cubicle, Ibbotson suggests an open dialogue about boundaries. “Make it clear you need to work with no distractions for a while. Headphones in? Don’t bother me! Sleeves rolled up? That’s my ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign! Take charge, don’t just surrender to your environment and complain about it,” he says, adding it can help to protect the quiet time of your co-workers, too. “Work with people to create boundaries that work for everyone. Usher people away diplomatically if they’re in Jonny’s space during his quiet time. Help Jonny succeed and he’ll likely return the favor.”
6. Take five and clear your mind
“If you feel your attention slipping, or you’re reading something for work and find you didn’t retain what you just read, take a small break to meditate, catch your breath, practice mindfulness and get back to the task at hand,” says Hafeez.
7. Offer a solution
If incessant distraction remains an issue, speak to a human's resources professional or voice your concern at a company meeting to suggest, quiet designated areas, quiet designated times, and or other office policies that account for the distractions that can come from a collaborative open-plan office space, says Hafeez.
Until those solutions are established, lean on your headphones. “You can write a book in the middle of Times Square if you like,” says Ibbotson. “Stop giving yourself excuses and you’ll get more done.”
MORE TIPS FOR A BETTER DAY
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.