Can’t Focus at Work? Your Email Might Be to Blame

cant focus at work

Imagine this scenario…you’re on your second cup of coffee, but you’re not tired. You thought the extra caffeine boost would make it easier for you to focus, but you still find your eyes glazing over. You know you have work to finish, but you just can’t seem to reel in your attention or get motivated.

Does this sound familiar?

If we’re being honest, most of us have days like this. Sometimes we slept poorly, or there’s just something in the air making you feel more “out of it” than usual. But if you’re having consistent issues staying on task, it may not just be your sleep (though sleep is incredibly important to our mental acuity).

Would it surprise you if we said your email habits may be the biggest factor in why you can’t focus at work?

Though it may not seem like a big deal on the surface, without a healthy email diet, you won’t have the proper energy to focus at work. And since your email may be to blame, we can remedy that with a few simple adjustments.

1. Turn Off Notifications

This is one of the most important factors in keeping a steady focus. You might get a text, an email, or a push notification letting you know a tweet was posted by your favorite artist. But no matter the source (unless, perhaps, it’s from your boss) you should be disabling all notifications. You may think you have the willpower to just say no…but that ping, ding, or other beeping thing can be far too enticing. And if you’re not in the right mindset, you’ll soon find yourself down a YouTube rabbit hole when you should be focused on that huge deadline before it creeps up on you.

Do yourself a favor. Turn off notifications. You won’t regret it.

2. Finish the Current Task

If you’re already working on a report, why would you want to engage in a completely different workflow? You’ve developed a good pace for yourself, and something that takes you away from that focus, even for just a second, could easily spell trouble for finishing on time.

When you’re done you can check this task off your to-do list and, if you want, reward yourself with a few minutes of social media time if you desire. Or, at the very least, determine a set amount of time to stay focused on a task or project and be diligent about sticking to that time.  

But with that comes another hurdle…

3. Schedule Email Checks, Just Like Your Breaks

Yes, you are allowed breaks. In fact, without breaks you may find yourself making careless mistakes because you’re exhausted. Taking a few minutes after you’ve finished a task or found yourself at a good, logical stopping point does wonders for refreshing your mind and giving you a tiny boost of energy to keep going.

But just like scheduled breaks, if you don’t schedule time (and time limits) for checking your email, you’ll soon find yourself down an email rabbit hole instead of a YouTube one. If you’re not careful, that report you needed to get done by this afternoon won’t be ready because you were lost in an irrelevant email thread.

So just like your breaks, schedule your email checks, and stick to the time limit that works for you. If the idea of scheduling specific times to check email does not appeal to you, at the very least, determine the amount of focus time that’ll work for you (30-minutes, 60-minutes, 90-minutes) and then check email at the end of the time limit. Just be disciplined not to check during those predetermined focused times.

4. Time Adds Up

If you think hitting refresh doesn’t take much time you would be absolutely correct. It doesn’t. It takes maybe five seconds to switch to your email, hit refresh, see if anything came in, and return to your work. 

But let’s say you do that every fifteen minutes. That’s 4 times an hour you’re spending 5 seconds hitting refresh. In a standard 8 hour day that’s 160 seconds. In a week that’s a little over 13 minutes. In a year that’s about 10.5 hours. More than a full day’s work is wasted just hitting refresh for absolutely no reason.

How many other things would you rather be doing with those 10.5 hours than just checking your email? Wouldn’t you rather use those 3 minutes per day to take a break (or meditate or pour another cup of coffee)?

Be smart with your time…it always adds up, and time is one of our most valued assets and something we can never get back.

5. Log out

The simplest solution of all is to log out when you’re done checking your email. If you have your scheduled times you know you’ll get to those emails soon enough. You also won’t see that number in your email tab go up, and therefore, you won’t be as tempted to click on it.

If you have an emergency, or you’re waiting to get crucial information, then okay, keep it open. You can justify that because of the context of the situation. But most of the time, it’s simply a distraction waiting to happen. 

What Next?

These aren’t difficult steps to implement, but they do take some willpower to fight the habits we’ve formed and create a new workflow. Don’t beat yourself up if you find you’re checking email during a focused period or glancing at a text message while you’re in the middle of a report. Simply remind yourself that you have a new system in place, and get back to it.

That said, if you feel you still need a bit more guidance on managing your emails, there’s a solution that has worked for numerous people and has turned even the most unruly inboxes (think over 1 million emails) into a tamed beast. Sign up for this free webinar to learn more about the ARTT™ Email Productivity course. I will personally introduce a new way of thinking about email, show you step-by-step how to conquer your inbox, and build a routine that causes less stress and allows you to get more done each day.

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