Distractions are incessant for most modern workers, whether in the office or remote. In fact, a 2018 survey by Udemy found that 70 percent of workers feel distracted on the job, with chatty coworkers (80 percent), office noise (70 percent), workplace changes (61 percent), and smartphones (69 percent) identified as the biggest attention grabbers. Such statistics make it clear that there’s a very real, increasing need to stay mentally present, not only for productivity’s sake but also for general satisfaction and happiness.
What Does Staying Present at Work Really Mean?
Staying mentally present at work is not simply a matter of turning off a mobile device, shutting a door, or turning off Slack notifications, although planning and making those changes to your environment ahead of time is a great start. And it’s not simply a matter of trying to work faster to compensate for distractions after the fact; doing this simply elevates stress.
Rather, staying mentally present involves training yourself to be mindful of what is around you and consciously choosing to direct your attention in the moment to a specific person or thing. Engaging in such training and deliberate choice requires you to marshal skills like memory recall, bias recognition, and emotional and social intelligence to make choices about how you react.
6 Ways To Keep Yourself Focused on the Here and Now
1. Reconnect to your immediate goal.
Ask yourself exactly what you are doing or working to accomplish in the now. Then identify exactly where you are in that process, what you enjoy about it, and how it’s going to benefit you. Tell yourself that anything that doesn’t connect to the immediate goal can wait until later. Remember: Setting aside certain jobs that don’t relate to your primary objective doesn’t negate the importance of those tasks; it simply clarifies that there is another time in which to address them. If others interrupt you, politely stress the goal to them.
2. Listen actively.
The tendency when you engage with someone else is to think about how you’re going to respond and prepare your answer, rather than to focus on what the other person is truly saying to you, constructing your response only after they’re done communicating. Give yourself time to process their words fully, and hone in on elements like tone, facial expression, and body language to ensure you’re understanding them completely.
3. Tune in to your senses.
Ask yourself what you see, hear, smell, taste, and physically feel. Answering these helps you notice what’s around you. But it also helps you acknowledge how you’re personally responding. And by forcing yourself to walk through each sense, you ground yourself and get control of the direction your thoughts can take. Based on your answer, ask yourself what you need to feel and work your best.
MORE FOR YOU
MORE FOR YOU
4. Create an action plan.
Creating an action plan is another proactive way to engage all of your senses. Tell yourself, “When I (feel distracted, am anxious, etc.), I will (look at my goal list, savor a sip of coffee, listen to Motivational Track Whatever, etc).” These activities can serve as safe signals to manage anxiety, and they also give you something concrete to focus on even as everything buzzes around you.
5. Make a list.
When you remember or become aware you should do something, unless it’s truly an emergency, resist the urge to immediately pivot to that job. Instead, just jot the task on your to-do list or calendar so you don’t forget about it. Then continue to work on the original task. You can also keep separate notes for moments of gratitude, ideas, or even tough personal issues so you can reflect on them later.
6. Practice self-care.
Engaging in self-care covers everything from getting enough sleep the night before to setting your screens at a certain height. These elements affect your physical ability to think and regulate your emotions, and they can eliminate some of the distractions (e.g., discomfort) that make it harder to concentrate.
Staying present in the moment requires mindfulness practice. That practice might be difficult at first, but the more you use strategies such as those above, the more natural they will feel, and the easier it will become to appreciate and get the most out of your day. Just do your best, keep trying, and remember it gets better with time.