Dallin Nelson

Being more productive is something we’re all interested in. But with the endless meetings, messages, meals, and bathroom breaks each workday, eight working hours isn’t always enough time to get stuff done. With habits of efficiency and precision, however, those limited work hours can go further.

Detail-oriented focus is the marketable skill of the modern workplace.

People who can pay close attention to a task without interruption drive effective companies. Even still, speedy workers can get sloppy and create more work for others; maybe even harm some client relationships. Working quickly is important, but getting it right is key.

Productivity comes from staying focused and giving strong attention to detail. If you find yourself struggling to get work done, it’s worth learning how to be more attentive at work. Let’s talk about how.

Distractions are everywhere

It’s hard to imagine a more distracting time than the one we live in. Social media like LinkedIn drive engagement by making sure that no matter how many times you open the app, there’s always a notification or some new content. Streaming platforms broadcast shows for every conceivable personality, and their subscription models put pressure on viewers to get it while it’s hot.


Couple that with the screen time required to do most office jobs and you have a recipe for near-ADHD levels of distraction. To say that it’s tough to give work your full attention would be an understatement. Learning to cut through distractions is an ongoing struggle, and a soft skill worth learning.

Depending on the type of work you do, distractions can present in many forms, such as:

  • Meetings

  • Emails

  • Noise

  • Social media

  • Internet browsing

  • Multitasking

  • Personal issues

You probably already know what distracts you most at work. Cataloging those distractions can give you a direction of what to do next.

Identify your work routine

Some people work well under pressure, except the pressure is caused by no one but themselves. We call these folks procrastinators. By getting started late, these people add stress to their workflow by limiting the time available to double-check their finished products for quality. Procrastination doesn’t always result in bad work, but when typos and other errors show up, it’s usually because there wasn’t enough time to fix them.

On the other hand, some go-getters want to finish things so quickly that they also overlook their quality of work trying to move fast. Those small details suffer as their stream of consciousness rushes out unchecked.

Most of us fall under one of these two categories. Improving attention to detail depends on assessing time management skills.

If, for example, you tend to procrastinate, you should plan enough time for a second review of your work. If you rush through in an attempt to finish quickly, you’ll probably find repeated errors that can be fixed with specific checks before work is submitted.

Here are a few quality checks to put in place to improve attention to detail:

  • Prioritize and acknowledge each task’s importance: Quality, error-free work depends on attention to detail, and small errors have a real impact on the overall outcome of your work. Some tasks require more speed than others, but all deserve your attention and focus.

  • Create quality checklists: Most people make the same errors over and over, so knowing what they look like is valuable. Consider making a checklist that applies to each project, and check each item off before submitting work. Over time, errors will be replaced with high-quality work.

  • Break tasks down into more manageable bits: Bigger projects can feel overwhelming if not broken down into a series of small, more doable actions. Organizational skills like this can make it easier to detect errors.

  • Seek accountability and feedback: Is your work meeting the expectations of managers and team members? If not, find out why so you can take steps to improve. What you learn can be added to your quality checklist so that future work gets better results.

  • Implement a review process: Everyone benefits from a post-mortem. Upon finishing a project, consider asking what went well and what didn’t. From there, improve your work process by envisioning a better outcome and working toward it.

Take advantage of shortcuts, too. No, not shortcuts that reduce quality, but ones that ease maintaining of focus and staying on task.

From there, the next step to thoroughness is to eliminate as many distractions as possible.

Create an atmosphere of focus

Eliminating distractions can be a physical, tangible act. For example, if someone’s back hurts from sitting in a poor-quality office chair all day, their health concerns may impact their focus. They might start avoiding sitting down and engaging.

In this example, the right answer is to improve their seating situation. Whether that’s adding a cushion, investing in a standing desk, or buying a new chair altogether, something needs to change if discomfort is to stop being a distraction.

This probably seems obvious. Unfortunately, some office managers take detours around important details like this in hopes of saving money. Countless stories exist where clear-cut problems like bad seating are answered with unrelated suggestions to stretch or meditate, putting the onus on employees to solve their employer’s subpar office space.

In other words, sometimes the answer is just buying a new chair. It doesn’t have to be a Herman Miller, just not an IKEA either.

Making the workspace more comfortable

Seating furniture is one obvious fix for comfort-based distractions. Seating charts can be, too. Departments that rely on speech and dialogue shouldn’t be plopped near teams whose work requires quiet focus. Routes to the office bathroom shouldn’t have people scraping up against occupied chairs. Desks shouldn’t be too close to each other.

Some other ways to reduce office distractions are to:

  • Provide noise-cancelling headphones

  • Separate rooms and desks with dividers or cubicles

  • Create quiet zones in the office

  • Install white noise machines

  • Optimize task-based lighting

  • Use hot desks so people can sit wherever best suits their task

  • Have break rooms separate from workstations

Because workplace distractions often take the form of other people, helping workers isolate can improve their focus and lengthen their attention span.

Managing desk space can also reduce distractions. Some people spread out and put their stuff everywhere, but this can become a distraction. As they say, “a clear desk is a clear mind.”

Consider tidying up a little every Friday (assuming you don’t already). Wash coffee cups and throw out gum wrappers, wipe down desk and monitor surfaces, and take items home that don’t belong at work. Clutter is a distraction, so establishing better habits of cleaning up little things can make your work environment more productive.

Establish healthy habits

If you’ve ever been hangry, you know how easy it is to slip into a negative mindset without noticing it. Focus is the same way.

Dominant as your brain may be, it’s still a bodily organ that needs nutrition, sleep, and exercise. Your workday simply can’t be as productive when your brain is starved of any of those things and fighting for its well-being.

Start with getting enough sleep. The amount of time a body needs to sleep will vary from person to person, but it’s pretty easy to recognize when you haven’t had enough. Don’t sleep on the couch. Turn the TV off when the time comes. Go to bed at a decent hour. Mental acuity depends on a well-rested brain, so get rest.

Next is diet. Look, your body can do amazing things an all—it turns just about anything into nutrition—but taking control of your diet can prevent some of the side effects that harm focus. Overeating, for example, does not contribute to good focus, since digesting all that food is a blood-intensive process. Eat reasonable portions and try to diversify food sources.

Last on this list of physical aids is exercise. Pushing the body releases all kinds of good chemicals while sweating out some of the bad. It can also moderate sleep patterns to ensure your brain is rested by the next day. How you exercise isn’t as important as that you exercise, so find a physical activity you enjoy and make a habit of it. Exercise is good for your mental health.

Provide structure for your mind

With health basics out of the way, let’s talk about how to exercise your brain. Basically, two things need to be in place for the brain get more done: urgency and stimulation.

People who procrastinate tend to perform their best when a deadline is right around the corner. While this adds unnecessary stress, it also provide an urgency needed to engage the brain and make things happen.

One popular method of creating urgency is with the Pomodoro Technique, which works as follows:

  1. Select a high-priority task

  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work until time’s up

  3. Take a 5-minute break

  4. Repeat this cycle 3 more times

  5. Take a 30-minute break

The act of setting limits creates the needed sense of urgency, helping you stay maintain a high level of attention until it’s time to take a break. Every computer has a timer function on it, so try it out.

Setting priorities

Before you begin work on a task, it’s important to know what needs to be worked on. Cleaning off your desk may seem like a priority, but not as much as responding to a pressing client email. This is where learning to prioritize comes in.

An Eisenhower Matrix is one popular way of figuring out which project to tackle next. First, identify which tasks are urgent and which are not urgent. Next, ask which are important and which are not important. From there, you can prioritize tasks as follows:

  1. Urgent, important: Do now

  2. Urgent, not important: Postpone or delegate

  3. Not urgent, important: Plan for and schedule

  4. Not urgent, not important: Eliminate

Prioritizing keeps your momentum going. Rather than having to stop and make to-do lists every time you finish a task, an Eisenhower Matrix creates your queue for you so your momentum doesn’t stop.

Outlining is another way to make choices before work begins. In the case of writing or creative tasks, having an outline or template in place lets you fill in the blank rather than spend time spelling out what to do next.

Sharpening your brain power

Does your work feel like a waste of brainpower? Fear not! Focusing mental strength on any one task is almost always good for the brain. Nothing is wasted, even if you’d rather be doing something more exciting. And if you still feel bored by your work, put more energy into how planning affects the big picture of your job.

But what about at home? Are there ways to sharpen focus and attention to detail? Absolutely.

Here is a list of brain boosters you can do at home:

  • Play chess: Chess requires critical thinking and analytical skills, and winning a game is a nice little reward. Chess websites like chess.org have player ratings to help each player learn the game without feeling humiliated by the geniuses at the top. Challenges increase as you level up.

  • Memorize something: Have a favorite poem? Write it out in full first, then reduce each word to its first letter only, and finally practice without any help at all. Memorization is an excellent way to stimulate the brain and strengthen attention to detail.

  • Read more: Reading should be a daily habit for everyone. If only we weren’t so busy… If you’re unsure about what to read, it’s hard to go wrong with a Pulitzer Prize winner.

  • Make art: Whether or not you think you have artistic talent, digging down to ask what you’d like to see is a creative act in itself. Commit to even scribbling something out. Draw a stick figure with a speech bubble and explore what they’ll say. Anything works.

  • Journal: Few activities take as much focus as investigating your own thoughts. Spend some time each day documenting what happened and how you feel about it. Over time, journal entries start to provide insight about thought patterns and habits, all of which can inform your work style.

There are plenty more activities that make you a more detail-oriented person. If nothing here appeals to you, Google ideas that do and set time aside for them.

It’s a challenge to maintain focus. Struggling is normal, but you’ll improve as you keep trying. Regular, sustained effort is the secret.