13 Ways to Reduce Stress and Gain More Focus at Work
Whatever job you do, you probably spend a large portion of your waking hours at work. It might never be your favorite place, but you definitely don’t want it to be somewhere that stresses you out. Anxiety and lack of focus at work can affect productivity and have a secondary effect on your personal life, too.
A Gensler white paper published in 2012 found that the most significant factor in workplace effectiveness is individual focus work – yet focus is the activity that is least effectively supported in the workplace environment. Factors like longer working hours, increasing distractions (tablets, smartphones, and social media), less individual space, and less privacy as offices go open-plan make it harder than ever to stay focused at work.
Experts agree that if you’re more relaxed, you’re more able to focus. Denying yourself relaxation time has an adverse effect on your focus at work, making you less effective, which can increase stress levels and make it even harder to focus, says relaxation and life coach Beth Freschi.
Taking steps to create a peaceful, relaxed working day is a win-win. You’ll be more focused and productive, leading to reduced stress levels and increased job satisfaction. In turn, your employer will appreciate your efforts, which could lead to exciting new career opportunities. Here are some tips to get you started.
1) Plan Ahead
When you know what to expect from your work day, it instantly becomes a little less stressful. To help you have a focused day in the office, organization and forward planning are key.
Start by identifying your top three to do's for the day ahead, then blocking out the time (in 20 to 30 minute increments) to deal with them. During that period of time, don’t respond to phone calls, emails, or texts. Just concentrate on the work that needs to be done.
2) Ditch Distractions
A key to staying focused is reducing distractions. Turn off your smartphone, enable all available shortcuts on your computer, and set restrictions on your internet access to stop you from wasting time on social media.
If you're in an open office, consider moving to a corner or private room when necessary, wear ear buds, or even make a fun sign with sticky notes for your personal work space saying something like, “I’m in my work zone – please leave me a note and I’ll get back to you soon!”
3) Use a Weighted Lap Pad
If you get anxious about meetings or conference calls, try a weighted lap pad (such as the SensaCalm weighted lap pad). This is a practical, discreet way to calm your nerves. Its cool, calming effect can also help ease work stress and keep you comfortable while at your desk.
Occupational therapists often recommend weighted lap pads to help people with ADHD relax, curb anxiety, and improve focus.
4) Prioritize Wellness
To help with relaxation and focus, workplace wellness should be a priority, says Swapna Sathyan, Director of Workplace Strategy Consulting. To promote wellness, Sathyan recommends paying attention to access to natural light, connectivity to nature, and socialization.
If you don’t have a lot of natural light in your office space, step outside at different points during the day. Bring nature in to your work environment with a plant or two. It helps to have a trusted friend at work – someone to vent to if you’re stressed, someone to share your joy with when you succeed.
5) Take a Break
If you’re struggling to figure out a task, take a break from it. Even a 10-minute break from something that’s stressing you out is long enough for your brain to reset itself.
During your break, distract your mind with an interesting article or a snack. When you go back to your task, chances are you’ll see things more clearly because you haven’t been hyper-focusing on it.
6) Walk it Out
Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, stays focused at work by taking walking breaks.
“I get up and go for walks around our building,” she said. “I leave my snacks in my car on purpose so I have an excuse to get up and get moving to go grab them. I even take some of our team meetings out as walking meetings. Walking has been proven to lift your mood, calm you down, and boost your creativity, making it a win-win all around. I feel refreshed once I'm back in the office and ready to tackle the rest of my work day.”
7) Address Issues One at a Time
It’s not easy to get rid of stress, but there are small steps you can take to make a difference. Go through your stressful thoughts and eliminate them, one by one, using your breath to improve focus. Every time you exhale, let go of a stressful thought.
It might to help to visualize it as a leaf on the surface of water, floating away from you. By focusing on one task at a time, you’ll find it easier to calm down and regain perspective.
8) Just Breathe
Re-oxygenating the brain is crucial in reducing stress – and it’s something you can do at any time, anywhere.
“Even five minutes of relaxation allows us to recharge our mental batteries and this improves focus, problem-solving abilities, creativity, well-being, and intuition,” says Milana Perepyolkina, bestselling author of Gypsy Energy Secrets: Turning a Bad Day into a Good Day No Matter What Life Throws at You. According to Perepyolkina, the best way to get started is to have several mini-sessions throughout the day.
“During the day, take a short break and sit quietly with your eyes closed,” she said. “Breathe slowly and deeply for about five minutes. Tense and relax all muscles in your body. Breathe in and hold your breath for a few seconds, breathe out and hold your breath again. You will notice that you have no thoughts while you are holding your breath.”
9) Stay Hydrated
Drinking water can minimize fatigue and restlessness, and it helps you stay focused as well as hydrated. A little refresher can really help if you’re feeling unfocused or bored at work.
Experts suggest generally healthy people drink four to six cups of water per day. If your workplace doesn’t have available, accessible drinking water, keep a large bottle of water on your desk and sip throughout the day.
10) Lose Yourself in Music
If your workplace allows music, this is a great way to both relax and focus at work. Look for soothing soundtracks on YouTube or Spotify. Certain types of music can also act as white noise, cutting out any other distracting sounds while you work.
However, it only works if the music doesn’t have words, otherwise your brain will subconsciously try to interpret and understand the lyrics, which may be more of a distraction than anything else.
Having the radio on at a low volume while you work may also be relaxing, but a calming soundtrack is likely to be more effective.
11) Try the Pomodoro Technique
This simple time management technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo, is a personal favorite of serial entrepreneur, columnist, international speaker, and podcaster Syed Irfan Ajmal. It involves completing a 25-minute period of highly focused work, free from all distractions, followed by a five-minute break, which should be spent on a completely different task, like answering work or private messages.
Each completed cycle is referred to as a Pomodoro. After completing four consecutive Pomodoros, you take a longer break of around 15 minutes. Besides improving focus and managing distractions, the Pomodoro Technique helps you track how long it takes you to complete a task and can act as a psychological motivator by encouraging you to complete certain tasks within a certain number of cycles.
12) Listen to Podcasts
There’s a podcast for everything, and you have plenty of choices when it comes to improving focus. On your commute to work, listen to something motivational like The GaryVee Audio Experience from Gary Vaynerchuck or The 5 AM Miracle by Jeff Sanders (note: you don’t have to listen to this at 5 a.m.!).
During your lunch break, check out Happier with Gretchen Rubin or Note to Self with Manoush Zomorodi. It’s probably best to avoid relaxation podcasts during your work day – you don’t want to be relaxed in the office that you fall asleep – but these can be great when you get home after a tough day.
For guided meditations go for Meditation Minis with Chel Hamilton, or see what the calming background noises of Sleep and Relax ASMR can do for you. Storytelling podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and The Classic Tales Podcast can also help you switch – or nod – off.
13) Diffuse Essential Oils
Many alternative health practitioners swear by the power of scent to improve well being, and certain essential oils are believed by some to have focus-enhancing properties.
Perepyolkina suggests diffusing lemon, rosemary, eucalyptus, or peppermint essential oils in your workspace, if it’s a private workspace or you have buy-in from all your co-workers.
Alternate them to figure out what helps you the most. You could also put a few drops of your favorite oil on your hands throughout the day.