FIVE top tips to maintain YOUR focus.
Have you ever experienced frustration at work caused by the challenge of returning to a task following an interruption…a snail wouldn’t let that happen! A snail focuses on its own needs first, and although some may say the snail is scared, perhaps, but it certainly is protecting its own interests, and if we all protect our priorities and interests at work, there’s no doubting we would be more productive? In this article I provide five top tips to ensure you regain and retain your focus and get the most out of the time you spend at work.
With the leaves changing colour and trees changing their appearance. My children love watching the leaves fall to the floor, in anticipation of running through them, as if they were waves in the sea. At this time of year, I enjoy outdoor walks, observing nature and the changes that take place as we transition into the winter months.
We’ve seen lots of snails recently, and as I kneeled down on the floor with my daughter to explain what snails are, we tried to move one out of the footpath to safety. Of course, as you attempt to pick up or move a snail, it innately stops what it is doing and retreats to its shell for safety. It got me thinking… I don’t know about you, but I’ve sure felt like that before… those times when you don’t want to be disturbed (for a change) and want to be left alone to focus on something, without having to multitask.
Perhaps, at times like this, you would snap up the opportunity to become invisible even for just that moment. With the joys of modern technology, we’re contactable (and perceived as available) 24-7, or at least it can feel that way, would you agree?
Picture this, you decide you’re going to focus on a single task, something that is important to YOU, not someone else, you want to take the time to complete it before moving to the next item on your to do list… as you settle down to focus, someone approaches your desk, and like a snail, you sense the disturbance and you’re gone! There’s nothing anyone can do to get you back out, rather, when you’re ready to reappear, you will.
With information and distractions constantly surrounding us, our brains have to work that much harder to focus on one task at a time, and filter out distractions. The average office worker is distracted once every three minutes, and can take up to 25 minutes to re-gain focus following a distraction*(1). What’s more, our brain power has been found to be reduced by 20 percent as a result of being distracted. The ‘brain drain’ associated with a distraction causes individuals to be 20 percent ‘less capable’, which academically is the difference between a B minus and a fail*(2). Relating this back to your success at work, that’s perhaps the difference between a promotion /bonus or remaining as you are; try one of my FIVE top tips to maintain your focus and increase your productivity.
- Reduce Distractions within Your Control
Whether you’re a fan of keeping up to date with the latest trends of Pinterest, or keeping up appearances on Facebook and Instagram – save this distraction for a later time. Research shows this is an addictive behaviour and the chemical dopamine is released into our system when using social media platforms, which is the same as with other addictions such as smoking cigarettes and alcohol consumption. Keep your phone out of sight to minimise unexpected and unnecessary distraction from things that can wait until later (and if you need to, set specific times in your mind when you allow yourself to be distracted by your phone).
- Pre-define When You Read Your Emails
Have you ever tried turning off your email alerts? Did you know you could even do this? Although this can sound bizarre, and maybe even uncomfortable, it’s rare that emails need an IMMEDIATE response. However, I’ sure like me, you may have found yourself being distracted by an email notification, when you were concentrating on a task? Emails are not usually an urgent form of communication, if something was really urgent, it would probably be wise to see the person face to face with the request, or use the phone. Turning off your email notifications, puts you back in control. To make it feel more comfortable for you, decide what you think a suitable turnaround time is for an email response. In my mind a response rate of 2 hours for emails is likely to be sufficient in most cases. Give it a go (even if only for a day, or just whilst your working on something important if you prefer) Turn off your email pop up notifications, and instead, put a reminder in your calendar and block out times to check and respond to emails.
- Align Your Activity with Your Body’s Natural Rhythm
On average, we are able to maintain focus for 90 minutes at a time, before productivity and energy levels decrease. Set a reminder in your calendar to take a 5-minute break. Having the reminder will prompt you, therefore helping you to be more productive. Whilst research suggests we avoid looking at our phones during this time, I know that’s unlikely to happen, but do try giving your mind and eyes a break from screen time before reaching for your phone perhaps? Try these desk exercises to help you recharge your energy. Doing this will stop you from disrupting your own focus and keep you energised.
- Avoid Multitasking
Many of us like to believe we’re capable and or great at multitasking, but the truth is, doing more than one thing at the same time has the same impact as all other distractions, the only difference being we’re choosing them. Break your tasks down and focus on one task at a time. If it’s a particularly big task, break that down into smaller manageable tasks. I was able to grow my entire business in this way. The thought of building a business was extremely daunting. When I realised I don’t need to focus on the whole ‘project’ and I could choose to focus on one small task at a time, I was surprised how easily I managed to complete the tasks needed to build a website, my brand, various programmes and awesome content.
- Stick to The List
Its good practice to create a task list for the following day before leaving work. Put a star next to the Top Three tasks that you MUST complete the following day. Complete your most dreaded or difficult task first. As the day progresses, more distractions creep in like hunger, tiredness, and other people’s requests! Knowing what you must complete vs. what you’d like to complete will help you to manage what you focus on. Try to make sure that your engaged by what you’re doing, and if not, try to find a way to make it fun for yourself.
Perhaps after reading this, you’re thinking you don’t have time to do any of these things, remember, the increase in productivity that a few moments of headspace can provide (examples provided in top tips above). So, go ahead and just try one, if you don’t like it, don’t do it again, but you may just find it made a positive difference to you and your output at work.
If you’d like to read more about this, I would recommend this book: Your Brain at Work by David Rock.
1*according to research by the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon Institute.
2* according to Psychologists at Carnegie Mellon Institute.