6 Reasons Why You Might Struggle to Focus At Work


We’ve all had those days when it feels impossible to focus at work. No matter how hard you try to concentrate on a task, your mind still wanders and your attention span feels nonexistent. You might feel frustrated or dismayed, but rest assured that you're not alone.Many people deal with a lack of focus. Understanding the underlying cause can help you solve it head-on and avoid potential burnout. 

That's where we can help. 

Creating sustainable work practices to help us stay focused and productive is our jam. Here, we’ve collected some helpful tips for assessing and addressing the situation. Let’s get started. 

What are some reasons you can’t focus?

You’re fatigued

Feeling tired is one of the most common reasons people struggle to focus at work. Fatigue can lead to brain fog which impacts your ability to concentrate. Lack of sleep can also lead to forgetfulness or not completing work to your highest ability. 

Everyone has days when they're less productive than usual because they slept poorly the night before. But if you’re noticing a consistent pattern of tiredness during your workday, it’s time to take a closer look. 

If you suspect sleep deprivation is the culprit for your lack of motivation, the first thing you should do is assess your sleep hygiene. It’s no secret that quality sleep improves your mood, health, and mental performance. Make sure your sleep practices support a restful night. Eating well and exercising also contribute to your sleep quality. 

You’re neurodivergent

The neurodivergent brain operates differently than a neurotypical one. Focusing can sometimes be challenging as a result. For example, individuals with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) may be more likely to get distracted by Slack notifications or things happening in their physical space. Maintaining their attention span becomes challenging.

There are tools and resources to help neurodivergent individuals create an environment that works for them. Consider using the Pomodoro technique—a time management strategy built on 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break. Techniques like these make achieving deep work easier. 

Neurodivergence isn’t always the answer. A different underlying medical condition could make concentrating hard. Mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, depression, and burnout are three possibilities. Consult a mental health professional if you suspect any of these might be the case. 

You’re trying to do everything at once

Multitasking isn’t necessarily bad, but it can prevent you from focusing. When your mind darts between tasks, it can’t focus on one thing, making deep work impossible. You might be more likely to make errors or get distracted. 

Let’s say you’re trying to write an email while prepping for next week’s stand-up meeting. You move back and forth between tabs to inch through each task. In the long run, you waste time as your mind has to reorient itself each time you pivot between tasks. Being unable to focus on either task for more than a few minutes is a side effect of this context switching. 

A potential solution here is time boxing. Estimate how long you want to spend on a task, then block out that time on your calendar. Commit this time to only focusing on that task. You might surprise yourself with how fast you move through tasks when you achieve deep work. 

You’re stressed and overwhelmed

If you immediately feel overwhelmed by your work, it might be challenging to focus. Your stress could be from the pressure to complete all these tasks in time, the weight of the difficulty of tasks, or a desire to do them all perfectly. It can be helpful to take a look at the core reason for your overwhelm. 

The stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline push your mind into a heightened state. They create the notorious brain fog and stress that prevent you from focusing. It can increase your anxiety and make it difficult to reach a deep workflow. Understanding your stressors is crucial to preventing burnout and creating sustainable productivity levels. 

If you often feel stressed about work, ensure you've covered the basics. Sleep, exercise, and nutrition are important factors for your health. Try not to worry about things beyond your control, and take breaks. Create a realistic to-do list and avoid overloading your day with tasks that need deep focus. 

You don’t enjoy what you’re working on

You can love your job and still encounter tasks that you dread doing. When it comes time to work on these tasks, you may find yourself searching for anything else to do. If you're procrastinating or struggling to focus at work, it might be because you’re focused on the less desirable tasks on your to-do list. 

For the tasks you’ve been putting off, consider nestling them between work you enjoy doing. Bookend the work you dread with tasks you enjoy as a way to stay motivated. 

You could also explore a strategy called “eating the frog.” The idea here is to work on your most difficult tasks first thing in the morning. That way the rest of your day is open to work on the things you enjoy. 

You’re struggling with time management

Time management isn’t everyone’s strong suit. You might get pulled into working on a single task and lose track of time, so other tasks aren’t completed. You may struggle to plan far in advance for future tasks or projects. You might be falling victim to Parkinson’s Law, the idea that work expands to fill the allotted time. 

The good news is that there are many tools to help with time management. Time management is one of the key characteristics of good productivity. Set realistic work goals and budget the time to work on them. Plug these tasks into your calendar to get an accurate read on what’s on your plate each day. 

Pro tip: Make sure to schedule time for breaks, too. Giving your mind a break for a snack, walk, or quick social media scroll will support sustainable productivity. 

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6 tips for staying focused 

  1. Make sure your goals are realistic

Don’t set yourself up with unrealistic daily goals. Make sure to create a task list that fits into an average working day. Rank tasks based on due dates, impact, and duration. Try setting SMART goals for your tasks. SMART stands for:

  • Specific. What is the task or project?
  • Measurable. Can you track your progress?
  • Achievable. Is it a realistic goal?
  • Relevant. Does it fit within larger company or team goals?
  • Timely. When is the due date?

By breaking down daunting work into bite-sized tasks, they become more manageable. You can focus on one thing at a time and work toward a larger goal.

  1. Remove distractions from your workspace

Get rid of distractions from both your physical and digital workspaces. Invest in noise-canceling headphones, or remove your cell phone from your work environment. Here are some ideas for how to remove distractions:

  • Clear your workspace of clutter.
  • Close out any unnecessary tabs or websites on your computer.
  • Pause notifications and ask colleagues not to interrupt you.
  • Play calming instrumental music or white noise to block out external stimuli.

Combine these strategies with the right tools to foster healthy productivity. Tools like Sunsama make it easy to pause notifications so you can transition into a deep workflow. You can move your tasks to your calendar to time-box your day and keep it realistic. Long-term productivity hinges on sustainable working practices.  

  1. Focus on high-impact work

Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? Also known as the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule states that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of inputs. You can use this principle to determine which tasks will have the greatest impact. Witnessing significant results from your efforts works wonders for helping you stay motivated. 

  1. Know when you’re the most productive

You may struggle to focus because you’re forcing yourself to work early in the morning when you’re not a morning person. If you have to work the standard 9-5 hours, consider organizing your day to plan deep work for your best hours. 

A morning person should prioritize doing their hardest tasks in the morning. An evening person might shift their working hours back, so they optimize their peak hours. Knowing when you’re most productive can help you plan a day that aligns with your working style. 

  1. Nutrition, rest, and exercise 

For a mind to focus, it needs rest. A body needs fuel to operate at a high level without risking illness or burnout. You’ve likely experienced “hanger”—the temper that arises when you haven’t had enough to eat—as the temporary effect of not eating well. However, if this is a sustained practice, your body and mind pay the long-term toll. Do not skip meals or skimp on nutrition. Make sure you have good sleep hygiene, and you’re getting enough hours of sleep. Move your body daily, even if it’s a short walk around the block. 

Don’t underestimate the power a healthy body has on your mental state and productivity. 

  1. Be mindful

Teaching your brain to be more mindful can help improve your focus at work and other parts of your life. Staying present is crucial—avoid worrying about the future or replaying the past. Challenge yourself to slow down your day-to-day. Learn to say “no” to certain tasks and establish achievable deadlines that don’t require you to work overtime. 

Being more mindful might feel like slowing down right now, but consider how far behind you’ll fall if you get burned out or sick due to stress. Pause now so that you can maintain a steady high-quality workflow for the long term. 

Here’s how Sunsama helps you stay focused

When it comes to staying focused at work and creating a work-life balance, we can help. Sunsama helps you plan a realistic day that promotes productivity and focus. 

Sunsama integrates with your calendar, so you can drag and drop tasks from your to-do list into your calendar for each time block. If you plan more than 5 hours of deep work, Sunsama will suggest you take a closer look at your day. Sunsama will pause notifications to reduce distractions and support your deep workflow. 

We understand that it’s sometimes hard to focus at work, so having tools like Sunsama can make a huge difference in your productivity levels. 

Ready to give Sunsama a try? Sign up for a free trial to experience the immediate benefits of planning a realistic day that helps you stay focused.

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