How to focus when distracted at work

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Do you find yourself losing focus when you really need to get the job done? Here are 12 quick ways you can get back on track and tick off that to-do list in no time

How to focus when distracted at work

Are you having one of those days? We’ve all been there. You’ve got a to-do list a mile long, yet you keep finding yourself staring off into space, re-checking your inbox, or watching the clock tick (so, so slowly) towards lunch or home time. Here are 12 quick, simple and effective ways that you can improve your concentration, find your focus, and make being distracted a thing of the past.

Why do we struggle to find our focus?

In our modern, tech-dominated world, we’re used to switching our focus pretty fast. Just think about it: when was the last time you didn’t have your phone within arm’s length? Or your smartwatch? How about your smart TV, your laptop or desktop? Some of us are so plugged in, we automatically look to our phones or watches mid-conversation, when we spot that tell-tale notification ping or vibration trying to get our attention. We’re so used to having our attention being pulled in a dozen different directions, it’s no wonder we struggle to get things done.

The more distracted we feel, the more likely our productivity is to take a hit. That can mean even longer spent on tasks we may already find boring or unengaging. And it’s not just distractions that can affect our concentration. How we’re feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally can have a significant impact. Not to mention our environments, with noisy offices and home comforts just as likely to distract us whether we’re working remotely or in the office. So, how can we shake things up and bring the focus back to our workdays?


How to stop being distracted at work

1. Set up your space for success
Removing distractions from around you can help to create the right kind of environment to promote concentration and improve focus. Having a clean and clear desk not only helps you to find things more easily, but research shows that having clutter around you could be affecting your productivity. One study by scientists at the Princeton University of Neuroscience Institute found that we’re better able to focus and process information, thereby increasing productivity, when we clear the clutter from our work environment.

The same can be said when working from home. The more ‘stuff’ we have around us, the more likely we are to procrastinate. Too much clutter can even make us feel more stressed and anxious. So clear off your desk, put your phone on silent (and ideally out of eyesight), and ensure you’ve got everything you’ll need (e.g. noise-cancelling headphones and water) to help set yourself up for success.

2. Get your priorities straight
Feeling overwhelmed or unsure where to start can lead to procrastination and being more easily distracted. To head this off at the pass, set yourself a short list of priorities you absolutely must get done today. This could be one bigger task you want to achieve throughout the day or a couple of smaller things you want to tick off by set times.

Having these clear starting points can help you to focus on these first, leaving all the little extra things an

The six pillars of healthy work-life balance

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Good work-life balance can sometimes feel elusive and unattainable, so we’re breaking it down into its six key pillars

The six pillars of healthy work-life balance

Poor work-life balance can snatch life’s joyous moments away from us, and be detrimental to our mental health and wellbeing. But levelling it out isn’t usually straightforward. Here, with the help of Dr Kirstie Fleetwood Meade, we’ve identified six key pillars of work-life balance on which to lay your new foundation.

Your ‘why’

It’s pretty impossible to set off on any journey if you don’t know where you’re heading, which is why working out what you’re seeking should be your first step.

“Spend some time visualising what an ‘ideal’ work-life balance would look like to you,” Dr Fleetwood Meade says. “It may be that this visualisation seems really out of reach right now. If it currently feels like it’s a three out of 10 in terms of how aligned you are with this ideal, how could you nudge it up to a four? Focusing on the little steps can make this seem more achievable.

“Next, ask yourself why it’s important to you. If it’s to feel less stressed, why? Does it allow you to be more present with your family? The clearer you are in your ‘why’, the easier it will be to say ‘yes’ to the things that lead you closer to it and ‘no’ to the things that don’t.”

Your values and priorities

Once you’ve explored your ‘why’, Dr Fleetwood Meade recommends shifting your focus to your key values. These are the beliefs that help guide us to live a life that is meaningful to us, she explains.

“Being crystal clear on your values makes decision-making around work-life balance easier,” she continues. “Some example values are: adventure, curiosity, power, fitness, freedom, fun, compassion, self-development, connection, love, equality – but there are many, many more.”

What role do your values currently play in your life, and what would a better work-life balance do for your values?

Your barriers or derailers

“Changing habits, making decisions, and saying no can all be emotionally draining,” Dr Fleetwood Meade says. “Which makes it all the more important to be able to pre-empt your likely ‘derailers’ – the things that will throw your work-life balance off track, or get in the way.”

Spend some time thinking about what exactly these might be for you, and consider how you can address them, plan for them, and get support with them.

Your worth and your infallibility

“It’s so important to look after ourselves just as well as we look after others, but if that’s challenging for you, I often reference the classic ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’,” Dr Fleetwood Meade says. “In my therapy work, I’m also a big fan of the idea of the ‘both/and’ – the idea that two things that may seem opposing can actually be true at the same time. Often we get sucked into black-and-white thinking – e.g. if I am the best colleague I can be, that means I need to be always ‘on

5 effective ways to navigate unwanted diet and nutrition advice

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Unwanted, and unhelpful, advice can range from irritating to triggering, so we’ve gathered together some tips to help you handle it

5 effective ways to navigate unwanted diet and nutrition advice

Have you ever noticed how often people offer unsolicited diet and nutrition advice?

At work, celebrating a birthday with cake? Someone chimes in with their thoughts on the matter. Let someone know you’re feeling tired? Before you know it, they’ve given you a list of supplements as long as your arm. You didn’t ask, and yet, here they are, telling you anyway.

As a nutrition counsellor, exploring these situations is a regular occurrence for me in the clinic. I work predominantly with individuals restoring their relationship to food, their body, and themselves. Navigating these kinds of situations can be a minefield, especially when you are moving away from diet culture, and restoring your relationship with food. There’s no perfect way to respond, but the following are a few tips on how to navigate it...

Silence is powerful

Responding, or even engaging in conversations about food and nutrition, can feel draining at times – especially if you are navigating your own relationship with food. Even if you want to respond, sometimes, silence can be the most powerful tool you can use.

For some people, diet culture is so deeply entrenched, that regardless of what you say, it’s not going to change their mind. Opting for silence can indicate your disinterest in them, allowing you to save your energy for more important things in your life.

Them: I’ve heard we should all be making sandwiches out of lettuce leaves!

You: Stares into the distance and thinks about the cute cat you saw on the way to work this morning.

Make your response a neutral one

This is a great tool for situations when your mind is racing, and you don’t know what to say. Or when you’re trying to think of an apt comeback that you’ll look back on with reverence, but can’t quite find the words. Go for the most neutral thing you can think of, I like a simple ‘OK’, or ‘Mmhmm’. I think of this like sending the thumbs-up emoji – a very simple way of expressing ‘I’ve heard you, but this is the end of this conversation!’

Tell them what you really think

You may have to pick your audience here, but – if you’re feeling bold – you can try telling them what you think of their comment. Diet and nutrition advice is so sneaky that there is a silent, but a very present, expectation of how you will respond. Telling someone directly you don’t like what they’ve said can disrupt the flow, and turn that expectation on its head. This can be a very clear way of indicating how little interest you have in any nutrition or diet advice.

Try: ‘Thank you, but I wasn’t asking for advice.’

Lay down a boundary

Boundaries – an oldie, but a goodie. A boundary is a very clear line drawn in the sand that tells someone what you need. How you set down your boundary may depend on who is saying it, what context you’re in, and how often this topic has come up. It may be something which needs to be reiterated and rephrased to effectively comm

5 supportive tips for dealing with information overload

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We’ve never been more connected, but the ever-present onslaught of information can be difficult to deal with – here’s how to cope

5 supportive tips for dealing with information overload

Sometimes, it can feel like our entire day is made up of social media notifications, breaking news alerts, and streams of work and personal messages. If it’s not updates on conflicts around the world, it’s news of political unrest or troubling social issues – and that’s before we even get to the hurried texts and emails from our jobs, family, and friends. Especially in the aftermath of the draining Covid-19 pandemic, such an onslaught of information can leave our brains feeling scattered, making it a struggle to know where to turn our attention.

If you often find yourself feeling this way, you’re not alone. A 2020 Pew Research Center survey found that 66% of adults felt worn out by the amount of news they were consuming. And it’s having a real impact on our mental wellbeing. Psychologist Ella McCrystal says: “This information is coming in faster than we can fully digest and understand it. This overload can make us vulnerable to lowered mood, information fatigue, and increasing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“And the impact of attention fragmentation is that we become less productive, less creative, and less able to make good decisions.”

Disconnecting from technology entirely isn’t all that practical – so how do we combat the issue of information overload, while grappling with the need to stay up to date?

Turn off notifications and alerts

One easy change you can make to set boundaries with the outside world is to turn off all of your notifications, be it email, WhatsApp, or Instagram. “We need to give up the fictitious narrative that we need to be on top of everything,” Ella explains. The reality is that very few things need our attention so urgently – so denying these outside influences’ constant access to you is a helpful way to protect your wellbeing. If the thought of turning off all notifications makes you feel anxious though, schedule in five minutes every hour or two to check your necessary platforms.

Schedule in chunks of time to disconnect

“Giving our brains downtime to process new information input is a critical element of learning and thinking,” Ella explains. In order to do this, it’s helpful to disconnect at regular intervals during your day. Not only will this help you to process what you’ve read and seen, it’ll also help you to calm any feelings of anxiety it may have sparked.

Try meditation, or simply sitting quietly, looking out of a window for five to 10 minutes at points during your day. Therapist and author Marisa Peer says: “While these ‘mindless moments’ might feel like a time waster, it actually gives your mind the time to reboot.” If this doesn’t work for you, you could try getting outside for a 10-minute walk without any digital devices, or practising some relaxing yoga poses.

Do a brain dump

One of the main problems with information overload is that it can leave us unable to prioritise – how can we plan out our family’s weekly schedule when our mind is full of the worldȁ

5 impactful tips to help you reclaim power over your emotional triggers

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When your emotions and senses are heightened, try these tips

5 impactful tips to help you reclaim power over your emotional triggers

‘Being triggered’ usually refers to encountering something – a place, action, sound, smell, picture, or anything else – causing someone to recall a traumatic experience from their past. When someone is triggered, they may have a very intense emotional reaction. They might panic, feel overwhelmed, cry, withdraw, become angry, tense, or distressed.

If this sounds familiar, it’s worth considering reaching out to a mental health professional – if you haven’t already – so that they can work with you one-on-one to explore your individual experiences and circumstances. But here, we’ve teamed up with integrative counsellor and psychotherapist Belinda Sidhu, to share some initial advice for coping with being triggered.

Come back to the present moment

“Often, when we feel triggered or experience an intense emotional reaction, we may no longer feel we are ‘here’, and the fight/flight/freeze response can kick in,” Belinda says. “Reminding ourselves that we are safe, and finding a helpful way to ground ourselves can help us come back to the here and now.”

Belinda notes one way of doing this, which is by using our senses to name: five things we can see; four things we can touch; three things we can hear; two things we can smell; and one thing we can taste, or are grateful for. You may also want to try repeating affirmations to yourself, such as ‘I am safe,’ ‘I am present,’ ‘I am in control.’

Focus on your breathing

Sometimes, when we’re feeling out of control, one of the best things we can do is to turn our focus back to the things that we can control – and zoning in on your breathing does just that, as well as setting off some powerful psychophysiological mechanisms.

Breathing techniques can be a helpful way to regulate our nervous system,” Belinda explains. “They can activate our parasympathetic nervous system that promotes the ‘rest and digest’ response (the opposite to the fight/flight/freeze).

“There are many different breathing exercises out there. Box, or square, breathing is a simple yet powerful technique that you can do just about anywhere, and which takes seconds to practise.”

Belinda points to an article published in Frontiers in Psychology, which showed how ‘box breathing’ was able to lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as reduce anxiety and stress, and increase attention levels.

Ready to give it a go? Inhale to a count of four, hold for four, exhale to a count of four, hold for four, and repeat for several rounds.

Remember that a trigger is information

“By asking curious questions, we can start to understand our triggers, and through this process, they can become easier to spot and deal with,” Belinda explains. “You may find it helpful to do this through journaling, or through speaking with a therapist.

“Some questions which may be helpful to ask are: What is this trigger telling me? When did I first feel this way? What does this remind me of? What thoughts came with these feelings?”

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