Robyn Tse, RN, RNCP


It’s crunch time and you can’t focus on the upcoming presentation you have to give later today. You’ve completely zoned-out of the Zoom meeting. The list of to-dos is piling up and multiple thoughts race through your head as you secretly scroll through social media on your phone.

Does this sound like you? It can be really hard to focus at work and concentrate on completing tasks well. Not to fret, we have some science-backed tips on how you can work towards improving focus at work right here. We’ll talk about the importance of sleep, taking breaks, mindfulness, and magnesium supplementation. Be sure to also check out our fun recipes!

The Science of Sleep

We spend a third of our lives sleeping and yet, 50% of people say they are not sleeping well enough. Once thought to be a dormant activity, sleep is an incredibly engaging process crucial for daily functioning. While we snooze, multiple parts of the brain light up to do β€œhousekeeping”. Sleep affects almost every single part of your body from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that a chronic lack of quality sleep can affect our productivity levels the next day. A big part of improving focus at work is getting consistent, quality rest every night. One of the biggest reasons we need sleep is for restoration. Throughout the day, our brain accumulates metabolic waste products that need to be removed at night. Research shows that that cells in the brain shrink by a startling 60% so that toxins are more easily removed. The result? A refreshed, restored, and rested mind in the morning.   

Dr. Maiken Nedergaard explains this well, β€œThe brain only has limited energy at its disposal and it appears that it must choice between two different functional states – awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up,” said Nedergaard. β€œYou can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time.”  A good way to kickstart healthy sleep is with a sleep-supporting meal. Filled with satiating, nutrient-dense ingredients, this salad will help keep you calm and rested for a good night of sleep. Experts advise adults to aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. While some people find no problems getting a full wink of sleep, better sleep is waiting for many others. Some quick tips that can help include:

  • Try to have your last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime
  • Having a bedtime routine to prepare the body for sleep
  • Investing in blackout curtains, as any light triggers the body to stay awake
  • No electronics 2 hours before bed
  • Have a restful environment and make sure your bedroom is quiet and cool in temperature

For more sleep tips, check out this article that also includes a Sleepy Time Smoothie.

Taking Breaks for Productivity

When working on a complex problem or task, it can be easy to forget to take breaks. However, research shows that taking breaks can be very beneficial for you and the work you do. Micro-breaks, lunch breaks, and longer breaks are important for improving focus at work and boosting productivity. Studies have found that physical activity and relaxation throughout the workday can reduce or prevent stress, help maintain performance throughout the day, and reduce the need for a long recovery at the end of the day.

Taking a breather helps boost productivity and gives our brain the chance to reset and refocus. This is especially important when we’re learning a new skill or synthesizing information. Additionally, a relaxing break can help reset your mood and promote positive well-being and reduce stress.

Tips for Ensuring you Take Breaks:

  1. Check in with peers and keep each other accountable for breaks you’ve agreed to
  2. Set an alarm on your phone to prompt you
  3. Plan to do something relaxing on your break – something you really enjoy
  4. Make sure your breaks include a positive aspect so you’ll be motivated to take breaks in the future
  5. Use post-it notes or drawings in your workspace to remind you to take a breather, and that completing a task well involves taking breaks
  6. Mood-boosting team-building events

Some ideas for purposeful, energizing breaks:

  • Reconnect with nature
  • Meditate with guided meditation apps
  • Take a walk 
  • Eat lunch outside with coworkers and/or friends
  • Take a 15- to 20-minute power nap 
  • Take a shower 
  • Practice deep breathing
  • Tidy up/organize your workspace
  • Listen to music
  • Stretch – chances are your body is tense from sitting in the same position for hours on end, so take some time to stretch your neck, your back, your arms, and wrist. 
  • Phone a friend 
  • Cook a healthy meal or have a healthy snack
  • Laugh! 
  • Express yourself through creativity – draw, doodle, color, etc. 
  • Dance party!
  • Bring live, green plants indoors

Mind the Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Though mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, the busyness of life can make it difficult to stay present with ourselves. When we intentionally bring awareness to our senses, we are practicing mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the research-backed stress-reduction program Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) explains, β€œMindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.”

Mindfulness is wonderful for improving focus at work. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Try meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer
  • Have a clean workspace, clear up any clutter, and have your phone on airplane mode
  • Try box breathing, a form of yogic deep breathing used by US Navy SEALs
  • Body scan – moving your attention slowly through different parts of your body, relaxing each part as you go
  • Mindful coloring books
  • Incorporate mindfulness during work breaks, whether that’s a walk outside during lunch, listening to music, or chatting with a friend
  • Bring corporate wellness to your office with virtual events

Magnesium supplementation

Magnesium plays an essential role in every single cell of our bodies. It is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions! It is important for nerve transmission, protects the nervous system from overstimulation, and has a relaxing effect on the body. Great food sources of magnesium include almonds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, dark leafy greens, bananas, avocados, legumes, peas, soy, whole grains, and dark chocolate. Here are some fun, magnesium-forward recipes to try: chocolate zucchini muffins or chocolate peanut butter energy bars.

Typically, sufficient amounts of magnesium can be obtained from the diet. However, conventional, modern-day farming practices have depleted this crucial mineral from our food. Improving focus at work can be as simple as adding in a high-quality magnesium supplement.

Improve focus at work today with good sleep, scheduled breaks, and mindfulness. And of course, add magnesium supplements into your routine for even better concentration on the job.

To your good health,

Leave a Comment: