We’re distracted every three minutes, according to a study of 10,000 workers in 17 different countries. Here are tips to boost your focus

What’s the harm in a little distraction? Well while previous research suggested it takes 10 minutes to refocus on a task after our minds wander, the study by corporate furniture company Steelcase shows it takes 23 minutes. So checking that text or flicking through Facebook could be costing you the bones of half an hour during your working day.

Last year there was a lot of talk about single-tasking versus multi-tasking, and this study backs up that idea. The only type of multi-tasking that works is tasks that involve two different parts of the brain, such as walking and talking. So when you think you are being productive and working on multiple items at once, you’re actually making your brain rapidly change focus between each one, which drains your attention. If you don’t think you’re guilty of this, then the knowledge that workers have an average of eight windows open at any one time may be an eye opener.

Apparently we are all guilty of practicing continuous partial attention, meaning we are constantly trying to stay aware of several different events. This may sound familiar, keeping an eye on twitter, typing a document, listening to your colleague who seems to be having a problematic phone call, it’s all drawing on your attention.

Email is another constant source of distraction, with workers checking their inbox every thirty minutes. And your smartphone is probably taking up the most of your time, with smartphone usage increasing by 200% since 2012.

So what would be best? While Steelcase recommends the perfect work environment, it isn’t feasible for most of us to create a workspace that in itself manages to create layers of boundary and block out external stimuli.

Here are ways to boost your focus without demanding an office overhaul:

Allocate a time slot to check your phone

If you can’t keep you phone off your desk altogether while at work, try setting a time to check it. None of those messages from out-of-control Whatsapp groups are ever that urgent.

Block temptation altogether

An app like BreakFree will show you just how addicted you are to your smartphone. You can even use it to hide notifications or block access to the internet for certain lengths of time.

Start early

Take advantage of the quiet time in the morning to check your email and get organised for the day with less distractions. You will feel a lot less frantic if you have the time to check the news and gather yourself for the day, rather than racing in and trying to find a parking space before even getting to your desk.

Work in blocks

The pomodoro technique involves using a timer, and working solidly for say 25 minutes before giving yourself a five minute break. It will be easier to keep yourself focused knowing that the break is coming, and working in manageable blocks will make it easier to focus on one task, divide up your working day and reduce distractions. For example, if a colleague drops by your desk, instead of being interrupted for an unpredictable amount of time, you can.

Limit tabs and windows on your desktop

Chances are there are unnecessary tabs open on your screen right now (ASOS, the Daily Mail, cleaning how-to videos on YouTube, to name a few). Our advice? When you find yourself with loads of pages open, save the links or drafts in a list, and close all except the one you need there and then. Chances are you won’t even need to go back to them, and your mind will be able to focus on what is right in front of you.

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