How do you hack your focus and actively engage your productivity muscle when we are bombarded with information from every outlet and bodily orifice in the face of so many immediate tasks? Well, with SoMe[Social Media] and the internet of things, it has become almost impossible to focus on one task at a time. There always seems to be a distraction of some kind that takes us off track and off task.
We are all craving for information, ideas and engagement with others- peers, colleagues, family, children, etc…. Family, career or personal responsibilities will never receive your full attention, because in an instant, there is another distraction. The doorbell rings, the baby cries, your boss needs that expense report like yesterday, and overwhelmed describes emotions felt- system overload… not enough hours in a day for all we are called to do.
So, how to we become more single-minded, organized and motivated to complete tasks, especially when we’re not in the mood? Undivided attention!
Attention implies singularity and being in the moment. If you’re paying attention to lots of things—that’s not truly paying attention. It’s an understatement that focusing on one thing at a time can be difficult. But it’s the key to succeeding at work and in life. It’s hard to do anything, let alone do it well, if you can’t concentrate on it.
The good thing about focus is that it’s a learnable skill. It takes practice and it takes experimenting with different methods, but you actually can improve your ability to do it. And you can do it without downloading any apps or studying up on hacks.
You can start teaching yourself by checking out these four really simple approaches.
1. Do One Thing at a Time
What’s Stopping You: Technology
A study done by Larry Rosen, PhD, at California State University looked at how long students could pay attention to a specific task. The average length of time they could concentrate on what they were studying? Three minutes. The culprit? Technology. Every time something bings, beeps, or flashes, you’re no longer 100% focused on what you were doing.
The Fix: Turn Off Your Notifications
The next time you sit down to focus, turn off your notifications for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, email, Dropbox— every last one. Your likes, tags, comments, and messages will all still be there when you’re ready.
Try it, even for a day or just a few hours. Turn off anything that breaks your attention, including your Wi-Fi if possible. And then (hopefully) you’ll notice that the world didn’t stop when the notifications did. But you did happen to get a lot more accomplished.
2. Group Similar Tasks
What’s Stopping You: Your Job Involves a Variety of Tasks
You wear a lot of hats at work. That’s the norm now, but it can take 15 minutes or more to regain the same intense focus or flow as before the interruption that robbed you of that attention.
So, every time you switch tasks, your brain needs at least that amount of time to get back into the work. If you switch tasks just four times in a morning, that’s an hour of total focus you’ve lost.
The Fix: Batching Your Work
“Batching” builds off the idea of only working on one type of task at a time. Rather that jumping from one project to another, you do all related tasks in a set amount of time. By “batching” the work you have to accomplish, you don’t have to constantly shift gears.
3. Focus on the Present
What’s Stopping You: Daydreaming
Paying attention to the work at hand, instead of daydreaming about what will come of that work, is always a challenge. Too often, we get sucked into imagining that what we’re working on will go viral or make us millions. While it’s a nice thought, it’s also not getting you any closer to making it a reality.
The Fix: The Pomodoro Method
The Pomodoro method is the notion that short, but laser-focused, bursts of attention lead to much greater productivity. It’s simple—you set a timer for 25 minutes, you turn off or silence all other distractions, and you work on a single task. When the time’s up, you can take a short break (for daydreaming) before moving onto another task.
The more attention I pay to what I’m working on, the faster (and better) it gets done. Instead of thinking about all the items on your list and getting stressed or simply getting lost in thought, try to think about just the one at hand.
4. Give Yourself a Break
What’s Stopping You: You Think You’re a Robot
Too many productivity tips don’t take this into account: We need to sleep, eat, and move our bodies. As humans, our attention spans need variety, and we can’t always control our thoughts or motivations. No matter how motivated or focused you are, you can’t stay that way forever.
The Fix: Act Like a Human
It might seem counterproductive, but I’m much more likely to get my work done quickly (and well), if I take breaks away from my desk. Whether you’re taking nature walks, doing five minutes of stretching, or sitting on the porch and drinking coffee (instead of slurping it while compulsively working), all of those breaks contribute to being able to focus better.
That’s it. No special programs, secret life hacks, or expensive apps. You simply need to give your brain a task, space, and rest—it will reward you for it by gifting you with productivity. Focus, focus, focus! If there are more hacks in your own personal repertoire, please share. We can always use the feedback.[At least, I can definitely benefit from better focus.] What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, focus!