Sometimes, it can feel impossible to simply sit down and concentrate. It’s okay; we’ve all been there, I’ve been there so many times. What’s important is determining what’s causing the issue and coming up with a fix so you can return to being your usual productive self.
When you can’t get any work done, start by assessing your situation. Eliminate potential distractions and organize your surroundings. Set realistic goals and focus on one thing at a time. Don’t think for too long; just start. Take one step at a time and take a break if you have to.
However, the process is easier said than done. In the remainder of this article, we’ll talk about these suggestions in more detail and discuss how you can make them work in a practical and actionable manner.
1. Assess Your Situation
The first thing you should do if you can’t seem to get any work done is to assess your situation. Attempt to figure out what it is that’s causing you to feel so lost.
Is it because you didn’t sleep very well last night? Is it because of mounting pressure from a nearing deadline? Or perhaps something’s making you anxious and not allowing you to focus fully on the project at hand.
Knowing what’s causing you to be slow and sluggish is the key to finding out how to best deal with it. In an ideal world, you would deal with the underlying problem to return to your project with renewed focus.
That said, I know that it’s not always so simple. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of our own thoughts and emotions.
If you can’t, after a little bit of thinking, find out what’s troubling you, that’s okay.
The rest of the suggestions on this list are very effective all-rounders.
2. Eliminate Distractions
The first practical step toward regaining our lost focus is eliminating all potential distractions. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
We often tend to overestimate how hard we can concentrate at any time. Humans have limited concentration spans, and that’s especially true if you’re engaged in something that doesn’t interest you, which, unless you have your dream job, is often the case when completing work.
The first distraction you need to eliminate is, as you can guess, your smartphone. These addictive handheld devices take up much of the time in our day as is; it’s important not to let them distract us from important stuff as well.
The next time you sit down to work (hopefully soon, after reading this article), take a moment to mute notifications or turn on the “Do Not Disturb” mode. I suggest doing the former so you don’t miss out on work-related or otherwise important calls.
If you’re being disturbed by noise, put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Regular ear muffs will also do the job. Adjust your air conditioning for a more comfortable ambient temperature.
Close all unnecessary tabs and windows. Keep in front of you only what is required to complete your desired task.
3. Organize Your Environment
Next up, you need to organize your environment. Take a look around your workstation. Is it a comfortable working space? Is it clean? Is everything where it should be?
Because if not, that’s probably taking a toll on your productivity. The importance of an organized workspace can hardly be overstated.
An organized workspace allows you to instantly locate the items you need, which is crucial if your profession requires you to manage and deal with many physical items on hand.
If you find your workspace lacking in organization, you most likely don’t need a complete overhaul. Placing things where they’re meant to be should be good enough for the time being.
Try grouping items based on how you’ll be using them, and ensure you get rid of all the things that are unnecessary or belong in the bin.
Here’s an excellent guide in case you want to take some time to organize your workstation for maximum efficiency and productivity. It’s worth taking the time to do this because the positive effects are long-lasting and accumulate over time.
4. Set Realistic Goals and Rewards for Yourself
All right. You’ve prepared your workspace and eliminated distractions, but you still don’t have any motivation to work. Now what?
Well, how about taking a few minutes to set up some realistic goals for yourself? This is the perfect way to rebuild motivation. Studies have shown us time and time again that having concrete goals improves performance considerably.
The goals themselves are very flexible and can vary based on your profession. You can use the age-old “S.M.A.R.T” guideline to help you establish your goals. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Time-Bound.
You don’t want a goal that’s vague and superficial, such as “I’m going to work as hard as I can.” There’s no real way to measure how well you’re sticking to your goal.
You also don’t want to set an unreasonably difficult goal. It needs to be achievable but challenging, so you’ll have to strive to find the perfect balance.
Lastly, it needs to be time-bound. If there’s no time limit, you won’t ever have any reason to try and make progress in the present.
That was a very brief overview of goal setting; there’s much more to be learned about this art. Here’s an in-depth resource that can help you set some S.M.A.R.T goals.
Now for the fun part – the rewards. Since you’re setting goals, it also makes sense to have rewards to encourage you to meet those goals. Again, it’s up to you to determine what rewards you’d like.
Depending on the size of your goals, it can be something as grand as a luxurious holiday vacation. Alternatively, it can be something as simple as treating yourself to your favorite dessert for those small wins.
5. Stop Thinking – Just Start
As the saying goes, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” – G.K. Chesterson.
It’s not unlike us to get so fixated on planning and preparation that we keep thinking away and never really start with the project itself.
While planning beforehand is always a good idea, you can’t sit around all day waiting for inspiration to strike, because it probably won’t.
In this case, the best thing to do is to bring yourself to your workstation and start. The inspiration you’re looking for will come to you along the way.
Once you’ve begun and see some progress being made, you’ll get into the natural flow of things and be more motivated to complete the project you’ve started.
Staring at an information-rich computer screen or interacting with a project hands-on is a much better way to produce ideas and make progress than juggling unrefined thoughts in your mind.
6. Focus on One Thing at a Time
Let’s talk a little bit about multitasking. In today’s fast-paced society, time and efficiency are of the essence. You need to be time-efficient because there’s so much to do but never enough time.
As a result, multitasking has become all the more prevalent.
While talented, high income skill people in specific situations can use multitasking to improve their productivity, the unfortunate reality is that most of us are simply horrible at multitasking.
You certainly may feel like you’re getting more done, but the opposite might actually be true, according to a report from Forbes.
Not only does multitasking reduce the quantity and quality of your overall output, but it also increases stress and frustration. If you’re feeling burned out despite your efforts to try and be more productive, multitasking might be the hidden culprit.
When you next sit down to work, focus on one thing at a time instead of shuffling between tabs. Stick with a task, and move on to the next only when the first one is done.
Let’s also talk about listening to music while working. People have mixed opinions about this, but there’s evidence to suggest that listening to music while working takes away from your attention span. Here’s an expert opinion.
However, many people listen to music quite frequently, and it works out perfectly for them. For some people, music can even help maintain concentration.
I would suggest you listen to music while working only if you know for sure that it doesn’t distract you.
7. Take a Break
If you’ve been sitting at your desk for a while but, despite all your efforts, haven’t been able to get much done, maybe it’s time to take a break and reevaluate your strategy.
Now, breaks need to be short and sweet. If you have an office-based job that involves a lot of sitting, I would recommend stretching your legs if possible. Stand up and move around a bit. It helps get the blood flowing.
Better blood circulation helps keep your brain active, so the benefits you get from doing this are very tangible.
If your situation allows for it, maybe go for a walk. A nice stroll through the garden elevates your mood and leaves you feeling physically refreshed.
A few breaks during a long workday can reduce mental exhaustion and help you maintain concentration. One of the main benefits of taking a break, though, is that it allows you to get in a quick mental reset and look at the task from a broader perspective.
This allows you to catch mistakes that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
On the other hand, not taking any breaks at all during a long shift is a surefire way to decrease the quality of your output and end up burned out.
8. Develop a Consistent Exercise Routine
These next few tactics are focused on providing you with a means to improve your productivity in the long run.
We all know that exercise is immensely beneficial for our bodies. But did you also know how much of an effect it has on the mind? That’s right – a consistent exercise routine is great for your brain.
Physical activity makes you smarter, sharper, and improves your memory. It’s also one of the very limited ways in which you can retain your cognitive abilities as you grow older.
Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. Sports are a brilliant way to get in some physical activity while having a good time.
Swimming, cycling, running, you name it. Pretty much any sport that involves some high-intensity cardio is great for you. Weight training and yoga also make for excellent options. Learn from a pro in this interview.
9. Try To Get at Least Eight Hours of Sleep
You won’t be able to get much done if you’re sleep-deprived. Most people need at least eight hours of sleep every night to perform at their best the next day.
Not only do you need eight hours of sleep, but those eight hours need to be the same every day for them to be truly effective.
That’s an aspect of sleep that often goes unnoticed. We have circadian rhythms that dictate the time at which we get sleepy, effectively dictating our sleep cycles. These circadian rhythms take a minimum of three days, often more, to be established.
This means that if you’re sleeping and waking up at different times throughout the week, you likely won’t feel well rested even if you get your full eight hours of sleep.
An alarm clock can be very helpful in this case. Once you start waking up at the same time every day, you’ll start feeling sleepy at around the same time every night as well.
The effects of long-term sleep deprivation are no less than crippling. Irritability, decreased focus at work, and an increased risk of developing life-threatening diseases. Your sleep is something you should pay attention to.
Sleep deprivation is also a prime factor in the development of “Brain fog,” which hampers your ability to think critically.
10. Don’t Overwork Yourself
The last suggestion I have for you is not to overwork yourself. Working hard and long shifts and having multiple jobs helps bring in extra income, but often at the expense of your mental and physical health.
This study tells us about the decline in productivity with hours worked. There’s a sharp decline in productivity after you’ve worked more than 50 hours a week. Once you’ve hit 55 hours per week, the following hours are so unproductive that you may as well not have worked at all.
The productivity of workers who work 55 hours a week and those who work 70 hours a week is nearly similar. Astounding, right?
These statistics should give you a pretty good idea of the dangers of overworking yourself. Not only is it detrimental to your health and well-being, but the diminishing productivity means it’s very inefficient to work more than 50 hours a week.