Why What You Focus on Matters at Work

One of the biggest challenges people in nearly every industry face today goes beyond simply getting through the large volume of work they have in front of them. It’s about figuring out how to dodge distractions from their workload so that they have enough time and energy left to channel toward their key projects and career mission.

Without being very intentional and conscientious about what you attend to at work, it’s easy to fragment your focus and derail your professional goals. Follow these strategies to keep your boundaries strong and your intention clear about what really deserves your concentration during your workday:

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Be aware of the competition for your head space. Distractions exist, there’s no way around it — but once you’re aware of what’s out there, you can map out a solid game plan that keeps your interest riveted to what’s essential. We’ve all seen those lists about the sheer volume of data out there — 2018 figures show that more than 2.5 quintillion data bytes get created daily. There’s a virtual flood of information vying for your eyeballs, from the 95 million photos and videos shared daily on Instagram, to the more than 103 million spam emails sent every minute, to over 69,000 hours of video that users stream every 60 seconds on Netflix.

And that’s just the tiny tip of the iceberg when you think about all of the other ways that the internet, social media, digital photos, services and the internet of things create data and content and images and options and information that’s designed by its very nature to make you want to consume it. Be aware that the goal of many of these options is to interrupt you and convince you to drop whatever you’re doing — regardless of whether you have to complete a work project by noon, or if you have critical goals to accomplish in order to further your career. If you know what you’re up against and plan ahead to avoid what tempts you, you’ll have won half the battle.

Notice where you waste your time. What you choose to view and read affects how you feel, so you should make these choices with great intentionality. Notice what content feels like a waste of valuable time and what makes you feel worse after viewing it. If you find one type of media is a particular downer, think about avoiding it not just during your work hours, but before and after, as well. If consuming certain content lowers your mood, it can affect your motivation to start and complete work projects once you’re back on the clock, too. So put up strong boundaries with your content consumption and manage it rather than letting it hijack your focus and thus manage you. Be selective and limit or avoid sites or apps that will negatively color your mood and hurt your ability to stay positive and productive.

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Remember your real objective. The Netflix model of streaming countless content choices in an appealing but sometimes overwhelming format is similar to what the average professional faces these days. You might find yourself attempting to manage input from diverse devices, whether they be your smartphone, laptop, tablet or desktop computer at home or in the office. In some jobs or occupations, you might have every single one of these devices to check, and on each of them, the temptation beckons to click off of the document that you’re supposed to be working on, and on to your Facebook feed or YouTube link. You have literally quintillions of possible options toward which to direct your attention — but having more to choose from doesn’t mean better choices. If you have a specific goal in mind when it comes to your work, the best choice is the one that moves you closer to accomplishing it.

Understand the connection between focus and mood. What you focus on influences many things about your experience of work, including how much time you have to get the important things done, how you’ll feel while you’re doing them and how productive you’ll end up being all day long. As just one example of how misdirecting your focus can tank your mood and derail your efforts, consider a scenario where you have three hours to complete a critical work project. But 20 minutes into your effort, just for a “quick break,” you switch over to see what’s happening on Twitter. What you expected would be a two-minute check of the highlights turns into 40 minutes of scrolling and responding to something someone tweeted that annoyed you.

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Upset by the experience, you get up and walk outside the office to call a friend about it, and another half-hour goes by as you vent. You now only have 90 minutes left to meet your deadline, and as you sit back down at your computer ready to cram through the work, your boss messages you that something urgent has come up and you’re needed in the conference room right away. You’re going to miss your deadline on the initial project, and it was an important one that will affect your review. This isn’t Twitter’s fault — it’s your own self-control. You let your boundaries slip, took your eye off the ball and blew a career-changing opportunity.

It all comes down to you. The reality is that you may frequently feel tempted to check what’s going on in some app, site or feed “just for a second.” But if you don’t learn to strategically bypass that feel-good dopamine hit of pleasure you get from viewing Facebook or anything else that distracts you from your work, then you just may end up having to use social media for something else — like finding a new job.

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Why What You Focus on Matters at Work originally appeared on usnews.com