Work Smarter//

11 Strategies to Find Your Focus in 5 Minutes or Less

Maintaining concentration and keeping distractions at bay can be a daily struggle. These tips will help you get back on track.

ParamePrizma / Shutterstock
ParamePrizma / Shutterstock

We’ve all had one of those days where we just can’t seem to find our focus, even though we really need to laser in on the task at hand. Whether you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or feel preoccupied with something going on at home, feeling scatterbrained at work can be a real challenge if you haven’t established a go-to strategy for guiding your attention back on track.

We asked members of the Thrive community to share their quick tips for improving focus in five minutes or less. If you’re having trouble guiding your attention, try one of their suggestions (and then get to work!). 

Switch up your surroundings 

“Sometimes, a change of venue does the job. For years, I worked in a busy office at a university. When I needed to meet a deadline or pay close attention to a project, I would decamp to a quiet corner of the library. Now, I work remotely for the same team. When my surroundings at home — and chores — keep me from devoting enough attention to a task, the public library or local coffee shop are lifesavers.”

—Anne Reynolds, writer, Roanoke, VA

Try a 3-in-3 meditation

“My friend Phil Boissiere invented an amazing meditation hack. He calls it the 3-in-3 method, and it takes only about 30 seconds. In those 30 seconds, you interrupt your mental rumination — distraction — and then take control of your breathing — your parasympathetic nervous system — to quickly restore focus. Step one: Name an object in your head. Step two: Close your eyes and take a deep, slow breath in and out. Then, repeat steps one and two twice more, but with a new object each time. In about 30 seconds, you can restore some control, calm, and focus.”

—John K. Coyle, design thinking expert and Olympic medalist, Chicago, IL 

Turn on your favorite tune

“Music, music, and music. Listening to my favourite track in between tasks works like a quick dose of caffeine. It instantly shifts my workaholic mode into relaxation, even if it’s for a few minutes. This helps me come back with fresh bout of energy and realigned interest.”

—Aakriti Agarwal, coach and facilitator, Hyderabad, India

Remap your priorities 

“Put all your existing to-do lists away and get a fresh piece of paper. Draw three columns — one thin, one wide, and another thin one. In the middle column, brainstorm what needs to get done. Then, in the right hand column, estimate how long it will take you to do each thing (double the amount of time that first comes to mind!). In the left hand column, note how much of a priority each thing is. Now, review the whole picture. What can you put on your not-to-do list, delegate, or remove altogether? What actions have the most payback potential? Finally, replenish your energy by stranding, stretching, or grabbing a drink, and then get started!”

—Rebecca Hourston, managing director, London, U.K.

Connect with a thing, person, or pet

“I take a moment to love up and pet our two kittens, Kastor and Peanut. They always seem to be sleeping on my desk next to me or at my feet as I work from home. I find that hit of feel-good hormones and the short break zaps my focus back to what’s important. Maybe it’s not a pet for you, but a plant or person!”

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist and content marketer, Ancaster, ON, Canada

Look to your kids as motivation 

“I work from home. Many might say their kids distract them further, but I actually go see them for a few minutes when I need to focus. Seeing their little smiles motivates me to concentrate on the work at hand so that when I’m off, I can really detach and be present with them.”

—Jennifer Peak, marketing director, San Francisco, CA

Get away from technology

“Having had problems focusing all my life, I’ve become resourceful in figuring out ways to maintain focus when it really matters. My top go-tos are exercising and limiting tech distractions. My exercise of choice is running, but I find any physical activity helps a lot. Even a one-minute walk can make a huge difference. Activating the do not disturb feature on my phone and computer is also a lifesaver for deep work. I limit how much I check my email and social media feeds, too. I find my monkey brain to be distracting enough.”

—Kim Green, graphic designer, Littleton, CO

Take a breath of fresh air

As a writer, I break the spell of feeling stuck by setting a time limit for my break, and go outside to sit on the porch, maybe with a cup of coffee, to empty my mind for five or ten minutes. Then, I come back inside and start reading any of my previous articles or pieces. Taking a break outside clears my thoughts and kick-starts my brain cells. If I can’t get outside, re-reading my work functions as a stimulant, putting me in action mode.”

—Victoria Sarne, author, publicist, and event planner, Nassau, Bahamas

Move your body

“There’s nothing that helps me regain focus, clarity, and enthusiasm like taking a jumping jacks break. As few as 20 can do the trick, reinvigorating my energy, or ideally I’ll do 100 for the full effect of being in a flow state.” 

—Stephanie Thoma, networking strategy coach, San Francisco, CA

Think about a small win

“When I can’t seem to concentrate, I opt for a quick win, no matter how small. I state my intention out loud, and then write down a single to-do I can complete with ease — peeling an onion, returning a call, or writing two sentences. Then, I mentally place my feet in starting blocks, count down from three, and complete the microtask as quickly as I can. Usually that one ‘ta-done’ is enough to get me off and running — and across the finish line of my bigger to-do without any more distraction or avoidance.”

—Bev Bachel, freelance writer, Minneapolis, MN

Relocate to a random spot

“I leave my desk and find a spot in the office where I am least expected to be, like the complete opposite side or on another floor. This eliminates ‘drive by requests,’ allowing me to focus on my tasks for the day.”

—Randy Ksar, social media manager, Saratoga, CA

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