When was the last time you were able to concentrate on one single task for a dedicated period of time?
Can’t remember? That’s not surprising. The majority of us, while suffering from information overload, are frantically multi-tasking our way through life in an effort to conquer our ever-increasing to-do lists.
No wonder we’re distracted.
The NeuroLeadership Institute, a leading global research organization and the pioneer of bringing neuroscience to leadership, reports that we are only truly focused for an average of six hours a week. A week!
Given that we are working with only 3.5 percent of our week, it’s pretty important that we make those few hours count. That’s where focus comes in.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you become less distracted and work more efficiently by improving your focus.
Find Your Sweet Spot, Literally and Figuratively
Physically, find a space where you are most focused and work from that spot when you need to concentrate on a task. Mentally, determine when in the day you are most productive. Are you more focused in the morning while enjoying a cup of joe or late at night when the kids are asleep? Figure out when you are at your best and focus on your tasks during that time.
Meditation is all about focus. Focus on the present. With practice, you can learn to decrease brain chatter and refocus more quickly when you get distracted (which you will). As a result, you will become more attentive. The more you practise, the longer your attentiveness will last.
Be Unreachable to Limit Interruptions
Close your door. Clean off your desk. Silence your phone. Turn off email alerts. You are now sitting in the middle of your very own work desert and the only thing you have to do is concentrate on the task at hand.
Set Deadlines and Refuse to Break Them
Just setting a deadline can push us to prioritize. It’s like a bull’s-eye that helps you get locked in and focused on the task at hand. But remember to be realistic with those deadlines. Think of Goldilocks: not too easy, not too hard, but just right. Determine the steps to take to accomplish your tasks, and set deadlines accordingly. Then, come hell or high water, refuse to break them.
Find a Buddy
Here’s where a buddy might come in handy. Enlist someone who is going to hold you accountable. Perhaps friends can check in to ensure that you are keeping those deadlines. If your buddy is in your workplace, they can also advocate for you and suggest to others that it’s important to respect your boundaries when you are in your “work desert.”
Believe it or not, taking short breaks actually improves your attentiveness. Studies show that after 50–60 minutes of continuous work, performance starts to deteriorate. Stepping away for ten minutes will help you clear your mind without losing total focus on the task at hand. Instead of getting bored, you’ll come back with increased eagerness.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: multi-tasking is a myth. Not only does it make us up to 40 percent less productive, it actually helps to train our brains into thinking that distractions are the norm. When we multi-task, we are actually training our brains to become less focused. Choose one task, allot a period of time to work on it, and then move on to the next. Don’t worry about finishing; just concentrate fully on that one task.
Train Your Brain
And speaking of training, while your brain is not technically a muscle, it can be trained like one. Just as with any new exercise routine, start small. Set a goal to focus on one task per day for ten minutes. If your brain wanders, bring it back to the task at hand. As you get better, increase your focus time.