Whether you work in customer service, you run a quirky ecommerce business, you're a freelancing creative — or anything else for that matter — chances are you’ll eventually need a strategy to focus under stress.
As you’ll no doubt know, when you experience stress, it’s incredibly difficult to focus. It becomes difficult to center your thoughts or make decisions which, in turn, has a negative impact on your performance. The more your performance dwindles, the more you stress — and the vicious cycle continues.
I’ve been there and I know how it feels. But, the good news is, there are ways you can gain focus under stress.
Here, I’m going to explore five practical ways to focus under stress while working and keep things on track, even under pressure.
Ready? Let’s get started.
The top 10 causes of work-related stress
Before we look at our stress-busting workplace focus tips, it’s a good idea to look at the leading causes of professional stress. Knowing these common work-related stress causes will help you understand your personal triggers, helping you take the right course of action in the process. Here they are:
- A lack of control or autonomy
- A lack of support
- Difficulties with senior staff
- Friction with colleagues or peers
- Poor working conditions
- Poor organizational culture
- Feelings of insecurity
- Insufficient levels of training
- The commute to and from work
- Struggling with remote working situations
If any of these factors are a driving factor behind your work-related stress, it’s important to ask for the right level of support. You can also work through our list of practical tips to maintain your wellbeing and focus under pressure.
How to focus under stress while working
Now that we’ve covered triggers that can impact your focus under stress, let’s look at some strategies for maintaining it.
1. Map out the day ahead
If you’re feeling stressed about work, one of the best things you can do is create a sense of certainty for the day ahead.
Mapping out your day will help you clear your mental load while giving a decent level of balance throughout the day. As a result, you’ll be able to keep a lid on your stress while focusing when it counts most.
To map out your day effectively, you should write a priority list of your must-dos, then a secondary list of your need-to-dos or nice-to-dos. You should also allocate a certain amount of time for lunch, a walk, and screen breaks.
Using a Word document or a digital planner, you should slot the activities from your various lists into time slots according to when you’re most productive (don’t forget to add those all-important breaks into the mix).
If you’re more of a go-getter in the morning, for instance, add your two biggest must-dos into your day’s plan early. That way, you’ll be able to get the tough stuff done out of the way, reducing your stress and improving your focus in the process.
Read: 4 ways to reclaim your time: Essential tips for small business owners for more tip-top workload management techniques.
2. Dial down the distractions
Another essential way to focus under stress is dialing down any unnecessary distractions.
When we’re stressed, it’s only natural to want a hit of dopamine from social media, endlessly scroll the web for random content, chat to friends — basically do anything to procrastinate. Doing these things isn’t entirely bad, particularly if they make you happy. But, when you’re trying to get the job done, these distractions can become unhealthy or even add to the stress.
Here are some tips on how to dial down the distractions when you’re stressed at work:
- Mute notifications on your mobile phone and laptop during certain periods
- Distance yourself from your mobile phone when you’re working on something important
- Set up your desk with minimal visual distractions and calming photos or imagery
- If you’re in the office, wear headphones to signal that you don’t want to be distracted. They will essentially act as a “do not disturb” sign for your ears!
- Enjoy these distractions when you’re on your breaks to get them out of your system. That way, you can return to your desk or work station refreshed and ready to focus
Read: National Day of Unplugging: Why it’s important to take a break from your phone and other devices for advice on the benefits of digitally detoxing.
3. Walk it off. Take a stand
If you’re under periods of continual stress while working, one of the best things you can do is take a walk.
According to a mix of studies, walking is one of the world’s most effective stress-busters. Even a brisk 20-minute walk outdoors will reduce stress, boost mindfulness, and improve mental clarity. Going for a walk or two during your work day may sound counter productive, but you’d be amazed at how many people overlook this powerful way to focus under stress.
Also, standing at your desk is also proven to improve your mood and boost your productivity levels. If you invest in a standing desk or set up your workstation in a way that allows you to remain horizontal for extended periods of time, you will keep your body engaged and your mind centered in the process.
If you suffer from work-related stress and it often makes you feel sluggish, standing will help you fight the slumps that destroy your focus.
Read: How to supercharge productivity using Microsoft 365 tools for tech-based tips on getting more stuff done throughout the working day.
4. Listen to music or podcasts
Certain sounds and melodies can drive down stress, center the mind, and create a sense of calm. When that happens, you can breathe and create a pathway of focus for your working day.
Listening to music, or even soothing voices featured in audiobooks or podcasts often serve as a potential tension reliever. Even if you’re not listening intently, just having it on in the background will help you filter out unwanted stressful thoughts and hone in on the task at hand. Here are the best genres of music for relaxing and gaining focus, according to Preply (based on data from Spotify):
- Lo-Fi or Chill Pop
- Deep House
- Piano music
- Scores or soundtracks
- Acoustic music
Read: 5 awesome podcasts for entrepreneurs who want to start, grow or improve their ventures for interesting listening material when you’re trying to focus at work.
5. Reach out and ask for help
Last but certainly not least, if you’re struggling with prolonged periods of stress and you can’t focus, ask for help.
Most modern workplaces have access to trained staff who can offer tailored or make reasonable adjustments to make your working days more bearable. If you’re a business owner or founder struggling to focus under stress, reaching out to trusted friends or family can offer a fresh perspective.
Talking about your issues and challenges typically sets you up for some pretty useful advice. Also, understanding your stress triggers will empower you to make personal adjustments or choices that improve your everyday work life.
Read: 9 to-dos for your remote work mental health for practical advice on maintaining your wellbeing if you work at home or while on the go.
Closing thoughts on maintaining focus under stress
Experiencing stress at work can seriously impact your wellbeing as well as your focus. By knowing your triggers, creating positive habits, and reaching out for help when you need it — you will be able to regain focus, even under pressure.
We hope these tips have helped you to understand how to focus under stress while working and for more professional pearls of wisdom, check out our guide to five project management steps to keep your initiatives on track.