Workplace supports: Focus challenges

Workplace supports: A Guide for Employees, woman at work

At a glance

  • Focus challenges can get in the way of doing your job well.

  • There are supports at work that can make it easier to focus.

  • Some you can do on your own. Others you can ask your manager about.

Executive function challenges and can make it hard to focus when you’re at work. Especially if you’re doing tasks that aren’t highly interesting or motivating to you.

Fortunately, there are lots of workplace supports that can help you pay attention and eliminate distractions at work. Some you can do on your own (or download a tool to help). Others your manager may be able to provide. If you disclose a disability at work, you can also request formal accommodations to help with focus.

Ways to improve focus on your own

Reducing distractions

  • Put your phone away. Keep your phone (and any other devices) away from your immediate work area. Put it in a drawer or a bag that’s not easy to get to.

  • Find a quiet space. If noise and movement are distracting, see if there’s a quieter area where you can get work done. If that’s not possible, try using noise-canceling headphones or earplugs.

Organizing your time

  • Block out time. Add “Working time” or “Do not disturb” blocks on your calendar when you need to concentrate on work. Or turn off notifications for a set period of time.

  • Check out time management tools. An example is the Pomodoro technique, where you break down tasks into 25-minute focused blocks of time separated by short breaks. 

  • Add work blocks to your calendar. For example, from 9–10, work on Task 1. Then from 10–12, work on Task 2. 

  • Plan your workday. Figure out which times of the day you’re most productive. Maybe you’re better at focused tasks in the morning. But after lunch, you’re better at brainstorming.

  • Work on one task at a time. Instead of dividing your focus on multiple tasks, work on one at a time to help you concentrate.

Taking care of yourself and your needs 

  • Use self-reinforcement. Reward yourself for completing a task. Give yourself praise. Take a quick walk.

  • Use sensory supports. If you need to move in order to focus, experiment with stress balls or other sensory objects.

Focus supports you can ask your manager for

If you’re comfortable asking, there might be things your manager can provide to help with your focus challenges. Here are some examples:

  • Short breaks throughout the day to help with focus. Movement breaks, like short walks, can help if you have trouble staying seated and finishing tasks.

  • A prioritized list of tasks or steps for a project. Or for large projects to be broken down into smaller steps with shorter deadlines. 

  • Pre-read materials like meeting agendas or presentation handouts so you know what to expect and can prepare appropriately.

  • Notes, recordings, or action items following a meeting. Or write your own list of action items and confirm with your manager or the person leading the meeting.

  • The ability to turn off your camera during virtual meetings, if being on camera is distracting to you.

  • Visual supports like pictures or charts to help focus on key components of specific tasks.

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