Published: 07 Nov 2019
Updated: 20 Dec 2023
Category: Management & Productivity

Staying Focused: Tips to Beat Long Working Hours


It seems that people have a harder time staying focused today than ever before. Technology has made our lives easier in countless ways, but that benefit comes at a price.
We are constantly bombarded with distractions and our work often involves long, monotonous tasks, such as answering emails, for hours on end. If you’re trying to concentrate at work but just can’t seem to find the right approach, you’re not alone.
Here, you’ll find some tips and tricks to help you stay focused and remain productive during long work hours.

What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?

Before you start browsing through the list of tips to help you improve your concentration, you should pinpoint the problem.
You are likely going to waste your time if you try to apply all solutions on the problem. On one hand, you’ll get overwhelmed, and on the other, you might also apply solutions for non-existing issues.
Identify the root cause of your distraction, and then you can move on and find the right solution.

1. Clean Your Workspace

A cluttered workspace makes for a cluttered mind. This theory was also mentioned in The Case for Finally Cleaning Your Desk by Harvard Business Review. Quoting the article, “scientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute have used fMRI and other approaches to show that our brains like order, and that constant visual reminders of disorganization drain our cognitive resources and reduce our ability to focus.” This applies to almost everything, even outside of work.
Get rid of unnecessary clutters and keep only the bare essentials. When you’re about to start working on a task, you should go over everything you’ll need to complete it. Populate your workspace with the things you’ll need for the task, then unclutter when you’re done. It may seem like a lengthy process, but it will save you time in the long run because you’ll be far more efficient.

2. Reduce Repeated Switching Between Tasks

We tend to juggle multiple tasks at once. For example, we work on a deadline while responding emails about another project, which may involve delving into documents or finishing small tasks in order to provide a reply. This repeated and mindless switching between tasks create poorer result, due to what’s called “attention residue”. 

Attention residue is a theory proposed by business professor Sophie Leroy, whose research revealed that when we change from one task to another, some of our attention still lingers to the original activity. As a result our brain doesn’t fully focus on the subsequent task.

Instead of switching between tasks, aim to work on one thing at a time. Dedicate time to reply emails separately than working on a deliverable, for instance. Moreover, to clear the last task from your brain, take a 5- to 10-minute break. Focus on your breathing, walk around, or stretch. Allocating time to refocus your mind this way will let you start with a clean slate on the next task.

3. Find an App to Help You Concentrate

Paradoxically, the technology that distracts us can also be used to keep us focused. Choose among a myriad of apps to stay focused. There are quite a number of them for all platforms.
If you’re easily distracted by social media, Reviewed lists 10 apps for IOS and Android devices that can block all apps and websites that you find distracting within a specific period of time. Some of the free apps are:

  • Offtime
  • Moment
  • Flipd
  • Appblock
  • Cold Turkey

If you just can't stay focused for too long at a time, try the Pomodoro technique to break up work into 25-minute intervals. Luxafor has compiled a list of handy apps that let you integrate a Pomodoro timer with your task management. Some of the free apps are:

  • PomoDone
  • Focus Booster
  • Pomodairo

Luxafor’s article also shows how Youtube and Spotify can aid you with Podomoro technique. Definitely keeps things interesting to beat the long working hours!

4. Eat the Right Food for Fuel

For a lot of people, a poor diet is a source of fatigue and listlessness. Here are some foods that can help your brain power through the long working hours:

  • Fish. A good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Berries, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate for antioxidants. Dark chocolate also contains natural stimulants like caffeine.

Additionally, make sure you start your day with a solid breakfast. High-fiber whole grains, dairy, and fruits are especially important in the morning for mental performance later on in the day. Also, make sure you’re not overeating by staying away from high calorie breakfast and drink plenty of water.

5. Make a To-Do List

Not exactly rocket science, but it’s a strategy that often gets overlooked.

You can start your day by outlining all the tasks that you need to complete throughout the day. Give this process no more than 15 minutes. Write the tasks down in the order you want to complete them. You can use your mobile device, of course, but writing the tasks by hand will help you internalise them better.

6. Break Your Projects into Smaller Tasks

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when starting a big project. The more information you try to process at once, the harder it will be to stay focused.
Instead, when dealing with a big project, try splitting it into smaller and simpler tasks. It will make the work less monotonous and you’ll have a sense of accomplishment every time you finish a smaller task.

Excellence is a Habit

Sometimes, it feels like all the caffeine in the world wouldn’t be enough to get you through a long workday. But if you make a habit of implementing these little tips, they will make a big difference in the end. Take these stay focused tips for a spin for a week or two and you’re bound to see some real improvements.


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