Help, I Can’t Focus. 8 Steps to Regain your Focus

Have you ever lost your focus and wondered, “How can I get it back?”

8 Tips to Help You Refocus at Work

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I received an email recently from a reader that read:

I am just starting my business and I work by myself.

Sometimes I can go all day focused. Sometimes I can go only go for hours. But when I lose my focus, I am done for the day. I cannot get it back.

Any suggestions?

I can sympathize with this person because I have been there, done that…it was called yesterday. OK, just kidding. Yesterday was actually an exceptionally focused day. But I have gone through it often.

Your input here is invaluable, so I want to hear from you below on your tips to regain focus. You can share your thoughts by commenting below. Some of the greatest advice given here is not by me, but by you. With that said, here is what I have learned:

8 Steps to Help You Refocus

  1. Don’t force it at first. When you feel yourself losing focus, stop. Go for a walk. Call your spouse. Do anything other than sit or stand where you are. If you work all day on a computer, this is not the time to check personal email or read the news. Get away from your normal environment. 
  2. Find your focus trigger. This post shows you how.
  3. Get hydrated and fed. If you are hungry, eat. If you are thirsty, drink. If you aren’t thirsty, drink anyway. Stick to water or mildly caffeinated drinks (i.e. green tea). This isn’t the time for a Starbucks double mocha grande that gives you instant diabetes. Eat low-glycemic foods. Make sure to eat and drink away from your normal work environment.
  4. Make a list. When you go back to your desk, what are the top two (maybe three) things you need to accomplish? It’s probably not checking your email. If it is checking your email, identify the emails that must be read and replied to and focus on those. Make sure to follow the rules for not sucking at email, though. 
  5. Remember your purpose. Sometimes you have to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. In this reader’s case, he might want to spend a few minutes reminding himself why he is in business. If you are working a job that you don’t particularly love and find it hard to focus because you are daydreaming about your dream job, remind yourself that this job pays for your home, food, etc. and that bonus you are chasing will be a blessing to your family.
  6. Eliminate clutter. Clean your desk. Vacuum your office. Get things in order. This ties in with #7 and has a warning there.
  7. Rearrange. Hang a picture. Move your desk. Change your music. Even something as simple as moving your computer monitors can help you focus upon return to your workspace. My warnings for #6 and #7, though, are to be sure to not make those your important tasks. Don’t spend two hours cleaning, hanging and moving when you should be doing work that pays. Keep it simple here.
  8. Set a deadline. You have one hour to complete a project. Go. You work better with a deadline, because you give yourself no choice but to focus. Make a game out of your deadlines and reward yourself for hitting them. If you hit them, you get the rest of the afternoon off. Odds are, without the deadlines, you would have taken all day to complete your tasks anyway, so don’t feel guilty taking the time off.

What would you tell this reader? How do you regain your focus?

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  • I had forgotten how important that can be until recently. (One of the downsides to moving up north…we only get like 4 months a year when we can walk outside)

    About six years ago, I went on a walk with a team member. That is how we did our weekly one-on-one meetings. We’d walk around the building, throw the football, or chill out on a couch. We rarely met in a “normal” setting.

    During that walk, we literally formed a department that became one of our largest and most important. Naturally, he was chosen to lead it and was perfect in the role.

    A 45-minute walk…and a brand new department. Sometimes it does help to get out of the office for a bit :)

    • Wade_Thorson

      Using the walk for a one-on-one is a good idea that I hadn’t thought of. I used to go for a walk with one of my team before, but we stopped because we couldn’t find the time. That would definitely make the discussion more open, and greatly help that relationship. Thanks fo the idea.

      • Awesome!

        If you go with the throw the football option…don’t do it indoors. We used to do that all the time for brainstorming. That is, until I put a hole in the wall on a sidearm bullet.

        • maybe instead of throwing a football during brainstorming you should just dump out a bunch of legos and build stuff 😉 just an idea I heard somewhere… :)

    • What a great idea – I meet for lunch every once in a while with one of my team members – nice change of scenery, and we both have to eat! Like the thought of a walk though – thanks for the idea.

      • Jack Galloway at Lampo (Dave Ramsey’s org for those who don’t know) used to take male team members on drives in his pickup to look at farm land. They’d go out into the country in Williamson County and just drive around. Talk about a change in scenery from Cool Springs!

    • Love that idea and implementation of one to one meetings…

  • My best refocusing tool is to do a brain dump, which results in lists. I find that usually the problem is that there are too many open loops floating in my head, and if I can at least get them down on paper or in Evernote, then I can let go and get back to what I need to focus on. Great post!

    • I never thought about the list being a pressure-reducer because you get it all out. thanks!

    • Ooooh, I like that Carol. That might be part of my problem!

      • Hope it helps. Courtesy of David Allen and his Getting Things Done methodology!

  • So, I’m reading this post, asking myself what I do to refocus and I couldn’t come up with anything…does that mean I have ADD?? haha

    I think the big one for me is getting up and moving around. I have to take a walk, read something different, call my wife. It’s amazing what a couple minutes will do for me!

    That being said, I am HORRIBLE at focusing. I appreciate all these suggestions, I’ll definitely be trying to implement them!

    • At first I was going to suggest that perhaps you don’t know how to refocus because you never lose it. Then your last paragraph…

      Keep trying man. You’ll get there!

      • soooo keep focusing on not focusing and you’ll get around to focusing…got it!
        ooh, shiny object…

  • Really helpful post, Matt. I followed the link to find my re-focus sound/activity – terrific and practical advice for the plague that hits us all.
    If I close my eyes it’s the spinning pizza of death for getting anything done.

    • +1 for “spinning pizza of death” Kathy :)

      Glad you learned from the focus trigger post!

  • Nice. My goal is to touch everything on my todo list, even if it is only for 5 minutes. Which keeps me from avoiding the sucky things on my list.

    • Good tip…I assume you don’t pull time from number one to work on number five though, right?

  • I focus by not focusing on any one thing for too long. In other words, I have a variety of projects that I keep slowly completing. It works. I’ve written two books, recorded dozens of songs, written an upcoming book of poems, I’m keeping a blog growing, and take care of my job and kid. It’s my anti-focus focusing strategy.

    • Thanks Dan.

      Do you ever feel like it’s hard to switch back and forth between different projects? Like it is mental ping-pong, so to speak.

      • Not usually. But sometimes one will overpower the others for a few weeks at a time. It depends on the deadlines and priorities. It also depends on the creative muse.

        • Thanks Dan. One of my biggest professional struggles is “bouncing around.” I have so many balls in the air with clients in such diverse industries that when I have to shift gears (especially without any warning) it’s hard to focus. Going from insurance to wedding stationery, for example, is an interesting shift :)

  • I think that sleep and an appropriate level rest helps us to focus when we need to focus. When I’m tired I can easily lose my…squirrel!

    • HA!

      I agree with you…rest and complete detachment (meaning no work at all) help a lot.