A row of burnt out matches, with one in the centre that has managed to not be burned depicting how to stay focused and avoid burnout.
Image: Fanfo/Shutterstock

How to stay focused at work without burning out

19 Jun 2018

Sometimes, we need to stay alert and focused to power through major deadlines, but you have to be careful while doing this.

Turning your productivity up to the max isn’t always good for your health. In fact, in this world of hyper-productivity, more people have become busy simply being busy. This leads to an unhealthy work-life balance and, in some cases, burnout.

However, while taking a step back and slowing down can actually help our mind work better and help our creativity flourish, sometimes it’s necessary to power through certain projects.

Even with the best will in the world, we have to deal with certain curve balls. So, how do you power through without burning out?

I’m sure you’ve already reached for the coffee, but filling your veins with caffeine for the week could do more harm than good and it certainly won’t stop you from burning out.

Instead, try a few of these tips to get you through those big, scary deadlines and projects so that you can come out the other side with your mental health intact.

Get the right sleep

If you’re heading into an intensive work period, being prepared can often be half the battle. Being as well rested as possible before heading into an extremely busy situation is an essential, but it’s not just about the level of sleep you get.

A recent survey showed that those who think of themselves as night owls are more than twice as likely to feel overworked than early birds – so, just because you sleep in after you stay up late, doesn’t mean you’re avoiding burnout.

If the horse has already bolted on a good night’s sleep ahead of your hard work, see if there’s a way for you to get a quick power nap in during the day to help you reset.

Move around

Sitting down at your desk all day isn’t good for when you want to stay focused. It’s important to keep your body moving regularly to stimulate your mind and keep yourself awake.

A good general rule to stick to while you’re working hard is to get up from your desk once an hour and move around for a full five minutes. I say ‘full five minutes’ because doing one quick lap of the floor doesn’t count – unless that lap really does take five minutes.

If you’re determined to fit more than just a quick walk around the room into your day, exercise can provide so many benefits to your mental health to stop you from burning out, and we can help you find a way to realistically fit it into your busy schedule.

Have good snacks at the ready

Part of avoiding burnout means getting out of the stuffy office and walking around in the fresh air, which would be ideal during your lunch break. However, for those who need to snack at their desks during a particularly busy period, what you snack on is important.

For a start, make sure you don’t let yourself get hungry, or you risk watching your productivity plummet. This also means you’re more likely to make a break for the vending machine for chocolate.

Your brain seriously craves high-energy foods and, while glucose is important, sugar-filled foods aren’t the best idea. Dried fruit, nuts and yoghurt are good options to keep nearby.

Have a chat

It’s easy to feel too busy to stop and talk to anyone while you’re powering through work, but taking a break to have a stimulating chat with a colleague can help you avoid burnout and make sure you stay focused.

Most of us can’t focus on a single task for more than 30 minutes without taking a break. Even if you can’t afford to stop for long, chatting for a few minutes every so often can be good for helping your mind refocus on the task at hand.

It doesn’t even have to be a work-related chat. Yes, bouncing ideas off someone else can help keep creativity flowing, but even just having a completely unrelated conversation or a laugh with another person can help you stay focused and productive for when you return to work.

Stay hydrated

I’m sure this sounds obvious but when you’re determined to stay focused in work, you can easily forget to drink water regularly.

This is where the coffee doesn’t always help. While I’m absolutely not condemning you to an intensive work period without any caffeine, it’s important to remember that it is extremely dehydrating. While it might keep you awake, it won’t do your body any favours.

It’s a good idea to keep a bottle of water on your desk to take constant sips from throughout the day. You should also make a point of drinking a full cup of water alongside each cup of coffee to make up for the diuretic effect.

Add a soundtrack

Some need complete silence to work on something with deep concentration. However, in order to block out excess distractions – especially in an open plan office – you might want to add some background noise or music to your playlist.

When it comes to avoiding burnout, some studies show that listening to music you perceive as ‘positive’ can make you more productive.

If you’re looking for some inspiration about what you should listen to in order to stay focused and block out any distractions, we’ve got you covered.

Schedule your day properly

Creating a to-do list ahead of a big project or heavy work period is a must. Remember what I said about preparation?

For a start, having a to-do list of what you need to do each day, with an approximate, reasonable timeline, will help you stay focused on your goals and will also create little wins throughout the day to ensure you stay motivated.

The order you give to these tasks matters, too. Often, it can be best practice to ‘eat the frog’ and start with the biggest challenge first, especially if you’re particularly tired – you’re only going to get more tired as time moves on.

However, giving yourself a couple of quick wins at the beginning of the day can also help you feel productive and stay focused.

Remember to breathe

Depending on how far into your intensive work period you are, breathing deeply might seem like a fruitless task. However, you should not underestimate this skill, especially when you’re struggling to stay focused.

Practising mindfulness throughout the day is essential for avoiding burnout during a stressful time at work, and it’s important to keep you focused and energised.

Taking five minutes out of your day to do some breathing exercises can work wonders for your mental health and productivity levels.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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