How to Access Your Life Insurance Policy's Cash Value - Shield Insurance Agency Blog

How to access your life insurance policy’s cash value

The most important job of life insurance is to take care of those who count on you if something were to happen to you. While all life insurance provides a death benefit to fill this role, some types also build cash value.

What is cash value?

When you make a premium payment into a cash value life insurance policy, part of that money stays with the policy, earns a return, and accumulates over time. This is the cash value. It’s what you’d get if you surrendered the policy (less any surrender fees).

Some policies have a provision to pay out the cash value as part of the death benefit while others do not. Check your policy or check with your insurance agent to confirm which type you have.

Types of cash value life insurance

Permanent policies, including whole and universal life, offer lifelong coverage and have cash value. This cash value accumulates differently based on the type of policy.

  • Whole life cash values are pre-defined and guaranteed. In exchange for guarantees, the cash value grows at a conservative rate.
  • A fixed universal life (UL) credits the cash value with a rate determined by the insurance company based on market conditions. This rate can vary over time but won’t be less than a guaranteed minimum.
  • Indexed UL earns a rate tied to a market index, like the S&P 500®, which offers greater upside potential than the above types. When the market performs poorly, the rate may be lower, but there’s no risk of market loss since you’re not actually invested in the market.
  • Variable UL cash value accumulates based on the market performance of the mix of available investment options chosen by the policy owner. These policies can lose money.

6 ways to use your cash value

The cash value can be a useful financial tool and can be accessed in several ways — but make sure to ask your insurance agent for details to avoid any unintended consequences.

1. Pay policy premiums.
Another option to use cash value is to pay some or possibly all the premiums for your life insurance policy.

2. Take out a loan.
You can also take out a loan from your policy. The rate is usually lower than a bank loan — and you don’t have to qualify for the loan since it’s your money (good news for those with a weak credit history).

You don’t have to repay these loans, but interest will continue to accumulate. If the total outstanding loan balance including interest ever exceeds the cash value, the policy will lapse, ending your coverage. To avoid this situation, either pay the interest each year or keep an eye on the situation and take action when needed.

Any unpaid loan balances will reduce the death benefit when the insured person dies.

3. Make a withdrawal.
You can also withdraw some or all of your cash value — may be for an emergency expense or to get you through a tough time. Withdrawals can reduce the death benefit, though, so consult your agent before you pull the trigger. There are no taxes on a withdrawal as long as the amount is withdrawn is less than what you’ve paid in.

4. Supplement your retirement.
Cash-value life insurance can add to your retirement portfolio. Since it grows tax-deferred, it can accumulate faster, but it still may take a number of years, maybe 10 to 15, to become a significant asset.

Some policies also allow you to receive part or all of the death benefit early for terminal illness, long-term care, or chronic conditions, which can help protect your nest egg.

5. Surrender your policy completely.
If you no longer need the coverage, you can completely cancel or surrender your life insurance policy and receive the accumulated cash value, less any fees and outstanding loan balances.

Any money you receive that’s above what you paid into the policy will be taxed as ordinary income. So, if you paid in a total of $10,000 and you receive $12,500 after your surrender, you’ll be taxed on $2,500.

6. Sell your policy.
As an alternative to surrendering your life insurance policy, you may be able to sell it to a life insurance settlement company. The company will take over the payments and become the policy’s beneficiary.

Like a surrender, you’ll be taxed on amounts in excess of what you paid in premiums. You should still end up with more money than a surrender. However, the process can be time-consuming, and it may be hard to find an interested buyer.

With these many options, life insurance can not only protect your family, but it can also provide a flexible financial resource over the years.

A special thank you to Grange Life Insurance Company and Kansas City Life Insurance Company for contributing this article.

Life policies are offered by Kansas City Life Insurance Company, Kansas City, Mo., and are subject to underwriting approval.

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Is Work Life Insurance Enough - Shield Insurance Agency Blog

Is Work Life Insurance Enough?

Is the life insurance you have at work enough? 3 ways to tell

If you work full-time, chances are you have some life insurance through your employer — 75% of full-time workers in the U.S. have access to life insurance as an employee benefit and 98% of those workers are covered.1 But is it all the life insurance coverage you need?

Many people mistakenly think it is, even though they could benefit from having their own life insurance outside of work.

Here are three things to consider:

1. Is it enough coverage?

If your employer offers life insurance and you signed up for it, at least you have some coverage. That’s better than no coverage. But it might not be enough to give your family the funds they need to make ends meet if the worst happens to you.

Research shows that one of every three families would be in financial trouble in less than one month if they lost a primary wage earner — and the percentage grows to 70% within six months.2

You can help your family avoid this hardship by making sure you have enough life insurance to replace your paycheck as long as needed (for example, until the kids leave home or the mortgage is paid off).

Your employer may limit the amount of group coverage available to you, leaving you short.

2. You can’t take Life Insurance with you.

Even if you can get enough coverage through your employer, that coverage may end before you want it to — and may end suddenly

Group life insurance is an employee benefit that usually ends when your employment ends. Even if you’re going to a new job immediately, you may not be eligible for benefits right away — if the new employer offers it at all. And, if you lose your job to a lay-off, downsizing, or firing — or if you retire — it might be a while before you can replace the coverage.

If your strategy is to buy individual life insurance later, keep in mind, that your health, driving record, and credit history must remain solid in order to qualify for it. Also, coverage generally costs more as you age.

3. No extra benefits or cash value.

Employer coverage is usually affordable and reliable. But it’s also usually pretty basic, meaning it doesn’t accumulate cash value over time or have any extra benefits under your control

  • Cash value. An individual policy you buy from an insurance agent can last for life — usually up to age 100 or 120 — and, depending on the type of policy, can build up a cash value that you can borrow against or use to pay part of the cost of the policy. Employer group plans don’t offer these options.
  • Extra benefits. These days, many individual life insurance policies offer additional benefits during the living years. These include features that provide part of the death benefit early if the insured person is diagnosed with a terminal illness or needs long-term care. Another feature can extend coverage to others in the family. These extra benefits may carry an additional cost, but that cost may still be lower than stand-alone coverage.

For these reasons, it might be wise to think of employer coverage as a supplement to your own individual policy, instead of relying on it as your only source of life insurance coverage. That puts you in the driver’s seat to choose the type and amount of coverage that’s right for you — and that can be customized to your needs.

1 – National Compensation Survey, Employee Benefits, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
2 – Insurance Barometer Study, LIMRA, 2017

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6 Home Renovations That Can Affect Your Insurance - Shield Insurance Agency Blog

6 Home Renovations that Can Affect Your Insurance

If you’re planning a home renovation, you may want to call your insurance agent first because this decision can impact your homeowners insurance. Some home renovations will change the amount of coverage you need, while others could even help you qualify for a discount. We cover six common scenarios that could affect your insurance, so you can plan ahead.

1. Building a New Addition

When you expand and improve your home with a home renovation, you could likely increase its replacement value. This is the cost to repair or rebuild your home. Some additions that could increase your replacement value include: adding a second-story bedroom, expanding the living room or building a new garage.

After building a new addition, or making updates or other improvements, you may need to increase your coverage because the value of your home, and the cost to rebuild it will likely have increased. Most insurance companies require your Coverage A or dwelling coverage limit be at least 80 percent of the replacement value of your home.

Your insurance agent can recalculate your home value to determine whether you’ll need more coverage because of the addition or improvement.

2. Building a Pool

If you’re looking to add a pool, you will want to contact your insurance agent to review coverage for changes to your property’s value, as well as any increase in risk. When people are swimming and running around the pool, there’s the chance for an accident. If someone gets hurt, they could try to hold you responsible for damages. This can apply even if the accident isn’t your fault.

Check with your agent to see whether your existing policy covers a pool and if you need to increase your liability coverage. This coverage can help pay damages to injured persons and provide for a defense if you are sued as a result of their injuries.

You should also ask your agent what steps you can take to keep your pool safe so you can avoid accidents. Adding a fence with a lock is a smart move. You could also add lights with motion sensors or a pool alarm to discourage trespassers. Consider skipping the diving board, because this increases the chance of an accident and your insurance cost.

3. Adding a Deck

A new deck is another improvement that can add value but also risk, especially if the deck is attached to a second story or higher. You should let your agent know that you’ve added a deck, so he or she can adjust your policy as necessary.

4. Renovating the Kitchen

Upgrading the kitchen can significantly increase the value of your home, especially if you switch to higher-quality counter tops, appliances and new flooring. You should contact your agent to see if you need to increase your insurance coverage.

If your contractor upgrades the plumbing or electrical wiring as part of the renovation, ask your homeowners insurance agent if you qualify for a discount or if your coverage needs to be adjusted. These upgrades can reduce the chance of flooding water damage and fire, so check if your insurance company has discounts that can help to reduce your premium.

5. Basement Renovations

Finishing your basement can also increase the value of your home. That means, yet again, you may need more homeowners coverage. Flooding can be a concern, especially for the lowest floor in your house. It is important to note that most homeowners insurance policies do not cover damage caused by floods. Ask your agent to review your coverage and look to see if there are steps you can take to help prevent future damage, like installing a sump pump.

6. Redoing the Roof

Before you redo your roof, ask your insurance agent whether this could qualify for a discount. Some companies offer a discount when you reinforce the roof or use stronger roofing materials that are wind, hail and leak-resistant. Your agent can explain how to qualify. At the same time, redoing the roof could increase your property value, which means you might need more coverage.

Home Renovations

It is a good idea to contact your agent when you’re considering making home renovations. Their knowledge and expertise can help you get the most out of your discounts while making sure your home is adequately insured.

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5 Home Renovation Projects For The Best ROI - Shield Insurance Agency Blog

5 Home Renovation Projects for the best ROI

5 Home Improvement Renovation Projects That May Have the Biggest Return on Investment

Conventional wisdom has long held that kitchens and baths sell homes. Those are also two of the more expensive areas to tackle for home renovation, but if you make sound design decisions and choose the right materials, you could end up making your home more appealing to potential buyers – and a more enjoyable place for you to live. And, if you’re handy, some of these ideas may even be great DIY (do-it-yourself) home projects.

A study from the National Association of Realtors confirms that kitchens and baths still top the list of interior home improvement projects that appeal most to potential buyers. The survey ranked the projects by the percentage of the remodel cost that would likely be recovered based on the home’s resale value after the remodel. These five home improvements can potentially provide the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to ROI.

Complete Kitchen Renovation

  • National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s (NARI®) cost estimate for the project: $68,000
  • REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $40,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 59%

The look and feel of a kitchen can serve as shorthand for how up-to-date the owners have kept a house. Potential buyers have been known to rule out homes based on kitchens alone. Stainless steel appliances and granite countertops continue to be on many buyers’ checklists, especially those who want to move right in and start entertaining.

The top reason for renovating a kitchen, cited by 24% of homeowners, was to upgrade worn-out surfaces, finishes, and materials. According to the Remodeling Impact Report, 10% of realtors said a completely renovated kitchen most recently helped them clinch a deal, resulting in a closed sale.

Kitchen Upgrade

  • NARI’s cost estimate for the project: $38,300
  • REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $20,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 52%

A less expensive alternative to completely gutting a kitchen is an upgrade to the current design. Replacing dated appliances, refinishing cabinets, and changing out tile backsplashes are some cost-effective updates that can still modernize a kitchen and make it more appealing to buyers.

While 12% of realtors suggest that sellers completely remodel their kitchens, 57% have suggested a kitchen upgrade. Twenty percent of realtors have said a kitchen upgrade most recently helped complete a deal. In addition to the resale value, kitchen improvements can also help you enjoy your time in your home, with better functionality and livability cited by 29% of respondents as the most important result of their remodel.

Travelers want to help you protect the things that matter to you. We offer a wide breadth of products so you can be covered at home and on the road.

Bathroom Renovation

  • NARI’s cost estimate for the project: $35,000
  • REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $20,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 57%

Bathrooms are another place where a home can show its age, and potential buyers may hesitate at the cost and work involved in remodeling an outdated bathroom after buying a home. Still, while 33% of realtors have suggested sellers complete a bathroom renovation before completing a sale, only 4% said the project most recently helped them complete a deal.

New Bathroom

  • NARI’s cost estimate for the project: $60,000
  • REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $30,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 50%

A remodeling decision often driven by function rather than a desire to modernize, adding a new bathroom is nearly as expensive as completely remodeling a kitchen, but with less of a “wow factor” for potential buyers. With only 5% of realtors suggesting that sellers add a bathroom and only 1% saying the project most recently helped clinch a deal for them, this may be one project that makes more sense for homeowners planning to be in their homes for several years.

New Master Suite/Owners’ Suite

  • NARI’s cost estimate for the project: $150,000
  • REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $75,000
  • Percent of value recovered from the project: 50%

The costliest project on the list, a new master suite or owner’s suite, is another project that may have greater value to you while living in the home rather than in making it attractive to future buyers. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they have a greater desire to be home since completing the project. Only 3% of realtors have suggested that sellers complete an owner’s suite before attempting to sell, and less than 1% said the project most recently helped clinch a deal for them.

Still deciding where to focus your budget for home improvement? Make a list of the reasons you’re considering each project, and be sure to consider the impact on your home insurance, too. Want to attract future buyers and increase the value of your home? Kitchens and bathrooms remain a good place to start. If you plan to remain in your home for a number of years, you may want to update a bedroom, add a bathroom, convert a basement to a living area or tackle any other project that will add to your own appreciation of where you live.

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Renovating Your Home to Fortified Standards - Shield Insurance Agency Blog

Renovating Your Home to FORTIFIED Standards

If you’re working on your home or putting on a new roof, consider renovating to FORTIFIED standards. Developed by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), FORTIFIED Home™ construction practices are designed to help homeowners and communities better weather future storms, including hurricanes, high winds, hail, and severe thunderstorms.  Building codes set a minimum standard for construction techniques and materials. Building FORTIFIED means exceeding those requirements.

The goal of building FORTIFIED is to take action today to make homes and communities more resilient to natural disasters tomorrow. Using data from more than 20 years of storm damage, IBHS created a set of standards for new and existing construction that can be affordable and can be incorporated into your home’s building design.

If you’re working on your home or putting on a new roof, consider renovating to FORTIFIED standards. Developed by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), FORTIFIED Home™ construction practices are designed to help homeowners and communities better weather future storms, including hurricanes, high winds, hail, and severe thunderstorms.  Building codes set a minimum standard for construction techniques and materials. Building FORTIFIED means exceeding those requirements.

The goal of building FORTIFIED is to take action today to make homes and communities more resilient to natural disasters tomorrow. Using data from more than 20 years of storm damage, IBHS created a set of standards for new and existing construction that can be affordable and can be incorporated into your home’s building design.

Three Levels of FORTIFIED Home Designations

  1. Bronze: As part of the bronze level, a wind-driven rain management system in the roof protects against water damage. It features ring shank nails to protect against wind uplift resistance, which provides double the strength of nails used on traditional homes. Another important technique is sealing the seams of your roof deck to prevent water intrusion from wind-driven rain.
  2. Silver: The silver designation adds features such as impact-resistant windows and pressure-rated doors to protect the home from flying debris in strong winds. 
  3. Gold: The gold designation focuses on creating a continuous load path by tying the roof to the walls, the walls to the floors, and the floors to the foundation to help make the home able to withstand hurricane-force winds.

Adding Value and Safety

After a certified, third-party evaluator verifies that the home meets FORTIFIED standards, you receive a certificate and a unique ID number valid for five years. The FORTIFIED designation helps show you have made consistent and defined structural updates to your home. 
To learn more, visit the IBHS website.

Learn more about homeowners insurance, or if you’re ready to take the next step, give us a Call or Text: 616-896-4600, and we will get you started!

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Contractor Checklist and Tips for Hiring - Shield Insurance Agency Blog

Contractor Checklist and Tips for Hiring

Contractor Checklist and Tips

As you plan your next home renovation project, choosing the right contractor for the job is a critical first step in your planning process. You want to make a contractor checklist and be sure you vet the quality of their work in advance, spell out in writing what work you want to be performed and agree upon the scope of the project, and inquire whether the contractor is properly licensed and insured in case something goes wrong.

This checklist compiles the top 10 tips to consider when selecting a contractor:

1. Get Multiple Estimates

Talk to several contractors and get written estimates from at least three. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when you get multiple estimates. Look at building materials, work methods, timelines, and other factors that may vary by contractor. Be cautious of estimates that are too high or too low.

2. Hire Local, Licensed Contractors Whenever Possible

Local contractors are easier to contact if problems develop with the work in the future, and they are more likely to be familiar with building codes in your area. Ask the contractor for their local, physical address. Be suspicious of anyone who goes door-to-door or refuses to leave a contract overnight.

3. Check Their Past Work

How has their work turned out in the past? Do they specialize in the kind of work you want to be done? Check references about the quality of their products, their workmanship, and their customer service. Inquire about their professional reputation and years in business with the Better Business Bureau. A contractor with more than five years of experience is preferable.

4. Take Your Time Making a Sound Decision

Get multiple bids before making a decision. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision, particularly with regard to signing a contract. Be cautious when asked to pay a large deposit upfront. Make sure to read the fine print on all estimates and contracts. If you’re having emergency repairs done and don’t have time to thoroughly research a contractor, ask neighbors, family or friends to see if they have had a good experience with an emergency services contractor.

5. Check Their Insurance and Bonding

Make sure the contractor is properly insured and bonded. Ask the contractor for a certificate of insurance (COI), which should provide the name of the insurance company, policy number and policy limits the contractor carries. You can contact the insurance company directly to verify the coverage and make sure the policy is still in effect. Do not do business with a contractor who does not carry the appropriate insurance coverage. If the contractor is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.

6. Get Everything in Writing

Secure a comprehensive contract before work begins. Get everything in writing, and make sure the contract is clear and well written. Consider having a lawyer review the proposed contract for your protection before you sign it if the project involves substantial costs. The contract should include:

  • A detailed description of the work to be completed and the price of each item.
  • A payment schedule – for example one-half down and one-third when work is partially completed, and the balance due upon completion of repairs.
  • The estimated start date and completion date on larger projects.
  • Any applicable guarantees, which should be written into the contract and clearly state what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee, and how long the guarantee is valid.
  • Signatures from both parties. You should never sign a contract containing blank sections.

Changes to the contract should be acknowledged by all parties in writing. Ask the contractor for confirmation that he or she has obtained all applicable building permits. If you decide to cancel a signed contract, you should follow the contract’s cancellation clause. Written notification of the cancellation should be sent by registered mail to ensure you have proof of the cancellation.

7. Understand Your Right to Cancel

Federal law may require a “cooling off” period, in which you can cancel the contract without penalty. Check with the Federal Trade Commission and the laws of your state to understand your rights. Be sure to follow applicable rules during the cooling-off period. If you do cancel, consider sending the notice of cancellation by registered mail to ensure you have proof of the cancellation.

8. Don’t Pay Up-Front

Don’t pay for the entire project before it is completed. Make sure you make checks payable to a company, not an individual and do not pay in cash. For larger projects, it is standard practice to pay one-third of the estimated costs as an initial payment. That way, you can retain your cashed check as a receipt.

9. Anticipate Delays

Delays happen, and may not be the fault of your contractor. In spite of the timeline outlined in your contract, circumstances such as weather may prevent the work from remaining on schedule. Be realistic and prepare to adjust your plans accordingly.

10. Keep a Job File

Keep your contract and all the supporting documents in one folder. Your file should also contain the contractor’s checklist, any change orders, plans and specifications, bills and invoices, canceled checks, and certificates of insurance, and any letters, notes, or correspondence with the contractor.

Learn more about Travelers home insurance, you can fill out this form, or give us a call or text at 616-896-4600 and we’ll get you started. We even offer insurance for the Contractor.

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Independent Agents vs Captive Agents - Shield Insurance Agency Blog

Independent Agents vs. Captive Agents

When you’re in the market for insurance, whether it’s home, auto or commercial insurance, you typically work with an agent who can help you find a policy that meets your needs. But most people don’t know that there are two different kinds of insurance agents—captive and independent agents.

So what is an independent insurance agent vs. a captive insurance agent? In short, captive insurance agents are contracted to work for one insurance company and can only sell that company’s policies. On the other hand, independent agents are contracted to work with a variety of insurance companies and can sell policies from multiple providers.

As a consumer, it’s important to understand the distinctions between captive and independent agents. Although they sound the same, some people may benefit from working with a captive agent and others with an independent agent. In this article, we’ll explain the key differences and help you decide which agent is best for you.

Captive Agents

Most of the major insurance companies, like State Farm, Allstate and Farmers, use captive agents to sell their insurance products. Their agents are only selling policies from that one insurer, so the agents are experts at knowing the different policies available, discounts and coverage add-ons for their one carrier.

Because of that, they can be helpful for people who are buying insurance for the first time or for people who aren’t sure how much coverage to purchase.

Client satisfaction is crucial for captive agents because they get a commission for every earned sale. However, their commission rate tends to be lower than for independent agents because they are also paid a salary from the insurance company and get financial assistance with costs like advertising and hiring.

Independent Agents

Independent agents partner with several insurance companies of their choosing to sell certain policies from each provider. For example, an independent agent might contract with Pioneer Insurance, Frankenmuth Insurance,and Citizens Insurance and sell any of their auto and home insurance policies.

Many consumers like working an independent insurance agent because an independent agent gives the customer more options. They aren’t locked into purchasing from a small number of plans that might be too expensive or not a great fit for their coverage needs. Those options help people shop around for plans before settling on one.

Which is better?

Generally speaking, there isn’t one better type of insurance agent. Whether you choose to work with a captive agent or an independent agent depends on you.

The main benefit of working with a captive agent is that they have extensive knowledge of their insurers products and policies, because they have one carrier. However, working with a captive agent tends to be more expensive, due to extra fees that the insurance company charges.

If you work with an independent agent, you’ll get more options, which also means a wider price range. But independent agents have in-depth knowledge about numerous carriers, where captives only need to learn one. Also, independent agents usually charge less because there isn’t one parent company to support.

If you’re concerned with keeping costs low, working with an independent agent will save you money. Keep in mind that you should already have a general idea of what you’re looking for before meeting with an agent.

Frequently asked questions

What type of insurance do independent agents and captive agents sell?

Both independent and captive agents can sell any kind of insurance they want. Some choose to sell every product that an insurer offers, while others specialize in a few areas, like home and life insurance.

Should I choose an independent agent or a captive agent?

There are a few main reasons why you would choose an independent vs. a captive agent. The first is cost—working with an independent agent will be cheaper than working with a captive agent. Secondly, independent agents can offer a wider variety of plans, so you have more choices and a wider price range to work from.

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Traffic Tickets That Raise Car Insurance Rates - Shield Insurance Agency Blog

Traffic Tickets That Raise Car Insurance Rates

Odds are, motorists are bound to get traffic tickets for some kind of moving violation at some point. How much that ticket will cost can be minimal, but its impact on insurance premiums can be significant.

Overall, the more a driver puts themselves and others at risk, the costlier their insurance policy will be.

For instance, drivers who get traffic tickets for forgetting to turn on their lights pay an average of $68 more per year for car insurance than drivers without any violations on their record, according to The Zebra. Drivers who get a ticket for speeding in a school zone will see an average insurance increase of $342 per year.

The riskiest violations, however, can more than double an existing auto premium. Depending on the state or city, the same offense could increase rates by 36% or by 383%. Moreover, high-cost penalties hit drivers twice as hard in low-income states, The Zebra researchers said.

Focusing on the greatest threats to insureds, six violations in traffic tickets cost drivers over $1,000 a year in rate hikes and have the biggest impact on auto insurance premiums.

Six most expensive traffic tickets

  1. Hit-and-run, Average rate increase: $1,212 (78.3%)
  2. Racing, Average rate increase: $1,131 (73.1%)
  3. DUI, Average rate increase: $1,100 (71%)
  4. Refusing a breathalyzer, Average rate increase: $1,080 (69.8%)
  5. Driving with a suspended license, Average rate increase: $1,044 (67.4%)
  6. Reckless driving, Average rate increase: $1,038 (67%)
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Stay Focused at Work - Shield Insurance Agency Blog

15 Ways to Stay Focused at Work

How to Stay Focused at Work

Staying on task can be a challenge at home or at work, and sometimes even more difficult when you’re working from home. In this article, you’ll get 15 tips on how to stay focused at work…

Wait! First I want to watch a video of a honey badger fighting off an anaconda, and a couple of jackals. After that, I’ll get right back to writing about how to stay focused at work.

The lure of interesting things on social media is just one of the challenges to overcome. Here’s how to best that challenge, and others, to stay focused.

15 Ways to Stay Focused at Work

Here are 15 of the best ways to focus at work — especially when you can’t focus!

1. Take Breaks

Sounds counterproductive, right? Shouldn’t you dig in, nose to the grindstone and all that, until the task or project is complete?

Wrong. We are more productive when we take breaks. This is particularly true if the work and breaks are structured. That removes the risk of extending a break. Working towards a scheduled break helps keep your stress levels at bay.

2. Plan Ahead

Having a plan for your workday, and workweek will help you stay on track for the task at hand. Some projects may take half a day, some, half a month. Taking time at the outset to make a plan for the work will help you keep your eye on the prize.

3. Put it on a Calendar

Does the work need to be finished by Thursday at the latest, so it can be shipping Friday morning? With a lengthy project, are there certain target dates within the work? Post it on a calendar, at your desk or on a wall, if multiple employees are involved.

4. Organize Your Work Station

This is key. The time you spend straightening up your work station will pay back in dividends. Organizing your work station will help keep you focused at work.

It can be very distracting to stop working to search for a document or some needed supplies throughout the day. A clean workspace sets the tone for the workday, every day.

5. Reduce Distractions

At work, you can reduce distractions by letting coworkers know that you don’t wish to be disturbed for specified periods of time. You’re free only for emergency calls. If you’re in a busy office, you may have to vacate your desk and find a quiet place to work. Is there an unused meeting room or board room?

If you’re working from home, and you’re home alone, you can take steps as needed to reduce distractions. But if you’re a working parent, working from home with a child who is learning virtually, you are tasked with trying to find a balance.

How can you keep an eye on the kids and be a productive worker at the same time? As advised earlier, schedule break and work time. Make that schedule identical for all who are working from home.

6. Lock Down Social Media

C’mon, admit it. You’ve already watched the video of the honey badger fighting off the anaconda…

FB can help us feel connected, even during this social distancing era. But it can also be a time sucker, keeping you from the tasks of the day and staying focused.

Just as you’ve made a schedule for break and work time, schedule social media or internet surfing time. The best time for that is when the tasks for the day have been completed.

7. Schedule Blocks of Time for Tasks

Each work assignment or project is predicted to be completed in a certain amount of time. As you make a plan for the day or week, block out the anticipated start and completion times of the tasks.

This simple exercise will do more than help you stay focused. It can help reduce your stress level. It can help you find it easier to “turn off your mind” and fall asleep at bedtime.

8. Get Enough Sleep

For all adults between 20 and 60, the recommended amount of sleep per night is 7 hours. Studies have proven that sleep deprivation makes it much, much harder to focus.

Without enough sleep, you’re likely to get angry and frustrated throughout the day. If you haven’t gotten enough sleep, you can recharge with a short – no longer than 20 minutes – power nap.

9. Graze, Eat

See above, “angry and frustrated throughout the day.” There’s a word for it – Hangry, the combo of hungry and angry. You won’t be able to stay focused at work if you don’t take the time to eat, and snack.

But, not just any snack or meal will cut it. Foods high in carbohydrates, sugar and sodium may give you a quick boost. But the quick boost will be followed by a crash.

All things in moderation. Eat and snack sensibly. Stay hydrated with plenty of water. If you’re a coffee drinker, have at it. Studies have shown that small cups of coffee spaced over the workday will help you stay focused.

10. Break Large Projects into Segments

You can lose focus if you feel that you’re not making progress. Rather than simply write down the end goal, break it down into separate parts.

For example, let’s go back to school days and use “Turn in Term Paper” as the end goal. But it seemed to be an overwhelming goal, 20 pages, how could you do it? Well, you did it by doing it in pieces. You organized the main points, you did the research. Then you wrote a draft, worked on that, and finally turned it in.

It’s no different in the workplace. A seemingly insurmountable task looms large. It’s unwieldy, complicated, in the sum of its parts. But if you take those parts one by one, and steadily get each part out of the way, suddenly it’s doable.

11. To-Do List, with Priorities

This fits hand-in-hand with breaking a large project into segments. Making a list is extremely helpful and possibly the one thing that is the most effective tool for staying focused.

Mentally, a detailed list can become a form of reward. One by one, as tasks are accomplished, you get to draw a line through them. Then, with one step of the work done, you can turn your focus to the next task on the list.

12. Know Yourself

Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you find yourself having more trouble focusing at certain times of the day? Do you seem to lose focus at the same time every day?

One way to find the answer to how to be focused is to recognize your personal strengths and weaknesses. If you know you do your best work first thing in the morning, take advantage of that. Plan to focus on the most complicated or difficult part of your task during your most productive time.

13. Work and No Work Zones

Scheduled work and break times are important. And it’s also important to separate those areas.

Here’s a for instance: You’re working from home and after a couple of hours, head to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. You take that steaming mug back to your work area, sipping away at it as you review your work.

Well, that’s not a break. Sitting down in the kitchen for 15 minutes to drink the coffee is a break. In order to get full advantage of a break, it needs to be a full break away from work. Keep those zones separate.

14. Pictures and Words

Remember that organized work area? Now add some bling, in the form of inspirational photographs and words.

The photographs can be family members or pets – to remind yourself who your work is supporting. Or you might display a photograph of someone in your field who you admire.

What about words? Inspirational quotes can be a way to boost your spirits when the way gets challenging.

“It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.” Henry Ford

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Helen Keller.

You can choose any pictures and words for workspace inspiration. You can change them freely, as you wish. Reminding yourself of key people and thoughts/ideas is one of the ways to stay focused on the importance of your tasks.

Discover our Motivational Quotes for Business.

15. Reward

One sure way to lose your focus for new tasks is to skip taking time to enjoy the completed task. You did it! You’re not resting on your laurels, but you’re savoring the moment.

If you’re a manager or boss, this is the time to acknowledge and thank the team of workers, who stayed focused right along with you. Before you turn everyone’s eyes to the next project, take time to reward yourself and others for a job well done.

Mental Focus FAQs

People often ask questions about specific things that can help them focus. In general, mental focus is tied to the ability to withstand distractions. You can either remove distractions or learn to focus despite distractions.

What are some foods that help you stay focus?

Several foods can improve focus and mental alertness. Those foods include blueberries, fatty fish, green tea, flaxseed, nuts, and dark chocolate. But it’s important to note chowing down on blueberries and nuts during a break at work might not help – to aid with focus, these foods need to be part of a person’s regular diet.

Will meditation help me focus?

Yes, meditation can improve focus. Here’s why. During meditation, a person learns to relax, remain calm, and focus the mind on a simple activity, such as deep breathing. In other words, meditation helps train your mind to focus.

Here are the Best 10 Meditation Apps for Stressed Out Entrepreneurs.

How many hours of sleep do I need to work productively?

Experts say humans need 7 hours of sleep a night. That’s the figure for all adults between the ages of 20 and 60.

Here are our Top Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep and Increased Work Productivity.

Does music help you stay focus?

Learning to play a musical instrument helps a person learn to focus. Learning to play an instrument requires training, concentration and focus – all things that can carry over into career achievement.

The answer to whether listening to music helps you focus depends on an individual’s feelings. For some, music is soothing and is little more than background sounds. For others, music can be distracting and take away from the ability to focus.

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