Find your Focus

Get more stuff done!

You’re constantly getting interrupted by notifications on your phone, people coming into your office, or emails popping up in your inbox. This constant interruption prevents you from completing tasks and being productive.

Imagine having the ability to focus on a task for hours at a time without getting distracted. This would allow you to get more done in less time and be more productive overall.

Reduce distractopms
Protect your focus – reduce distractions

Stop Multitasking

Multitasking was introduced to our vocabulary in 1965 – when IBM was talking about the capabilities of the Computer. Computers are built to have the capability to multitask – to process multiple tasks simultaneously (initially computers too were only task switching but with the introduction of Multi-core computers each CPU can run a separate task).  Humans do not have the capability to do lots of things simultaneously! 

Research has shown that Multitasking is actually inefficient.  When you are doing two things at once, your brain has to do twice as much work to switch between the tasks and the brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks optimally.  It takes time for your brain to switch gears and it slows down your mental process resulting in less attention span.

Some of the negative effects on multitasking are

  • Increased errors and poorer quality of work
  • Takes longer to complete tasks due to constant switching between them
  • Reduced attention span
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Loss of focus and lead to feeling more tired

This might not be noticeable when you are doing simple, routine actions e.g. walking and listening to music or watching TV and playing with your pet. But as soon as the tasks begin to get more complex, trying to multitask can negatively affect our lives.

Multitasking divides your attention, resulting in giving less full attention to any one particular task.  Learning becomes affected because in order to learn, we need to focus, so the more we multitask the less we accomplish

If you believe you are multitasking, think again – you may believe you are good at switching between tasks but ultimately it will end up making you less productive and leave you feeling tired and stressed.  Completing a task and then moving on to the next one is a much more efficient way of getting stuff done!

Minimise Distraction

Control your Mobile Phone

According to Professor Larry Rosen (author of Distracted Mind), “most people check their phone every 15 minutes or less, even if they have no notifications” for fear of missing out.  This results in us becoming more anxious and less able to focus on what we are doing.

Aside from wasting so much time, studies have also shown that too much time on Social Media can be bad for your mental health.

So what are some strategies for managing the interruptions from these devices

During the day

  • Keep your phone on silent and leave it behind when going into a meeting!
  • Wean yourself off checking the phone as frequently by setting a timer (and gradually increasing the amount of time between the timer)  When the timer goes off, spend 1 minute going through your notifications and reset the timer
  • Tell people that regularly contact you that you will only be checking your phone on an hourly basis and not constantly
  • Turn off as many non-essential notification as possible – you don’t need to see every time a friend posts on Instagram or Linkedin
  • Remove the most distracting apps from your home screen – if you have to look for an app – you are less likely to use it than if it is readily available.

Night time and early morning

  • Kick your phone out of your bedroom – use an alarm clock instead.
  • Don’t look at your phone just before you turn out the lights in the evening – it becomes too tempting to scroll through Social media and will result in disturbed sleep patterns
  • Put your phone on Do not Disturb or greyscale at a reasonable time in the evening – I have found this very effective in stopping my screen time after a certain time at night.

Tame your inbox

  • Check emails at set times in the day

Set some time aside at the beginning, end (and if necessary middle) of your day to check emails.  Constant checking of emails destroys productivity.  Turn off your notifications and shut down your email client until you are ready to check it.

  • Remove items from the inbox when you are done with them

Get into the habit of archiving or deleting emails once you have read them – aim to get your inbox as empty as possible.  Its easy to keep all the emails in the inbox but leads to a cluttered inbox.

Emails in the inbox should only be for those items you need to action.

  • Unsubscribe

Get rid of all those marketing emails and newsletters that fill up your inbox.  If you don’t want to unsubscribe – create a filter to remove them from your inbox to a folder that you can check when you have some free time.

  • Your inbox is not a task manager

Use a task list to manage your tasks. – its easy to fall into the trap of keeping things in your inbox to respond to later.  If it is a short task – deal with it immediately and archive it!  If it requires longer responses – add the task to your task list and remove it from the inbox.

Take regular Breaks

Did you know that the average office worker takes just three breaks per day, and one of those is for lunch.  Research from the University of Sydney found that people who took short breaks were more productive than those who didn’t take any breaks at all,  a study has found that taking a break every twenty minutes can increase productivity by 37%.

Often when we get involved in complex tasks or when the to do list seems overwhelming, it is easy to think that taking a break will be a waste of time.  Research has proved that taking regular breaks is beneficial to both your energy levels and to the quality of the work you produce.

Whether it is a 5 minute micro break, taking the time to have a lunch break or a longer break -all of them are shown to be beneficial to your wellbeing and productivity – taking breaks is shown to boost performance.

Some key benefits of taking a break include

  • Improved focus and concentration while working
  • Time to move your body and get exercise
  • give you a chance to socialize with others
  • reduce stress levels
  • provide an opportunity for mental stimulation and relaxation
  • they are necessary for overall health and well-being

A Time management Technique –

Time BlockingA strategy to plan your day

Time blocking will help if:

  • You frequently try to multitask
  • You need help focusing on one task and reducing distractions
  • You want to be intentional about your time and energy at work
  • You need a clearer sense of where your time is going each day
  • You struggle with overworking

Time blocking is a time management strategy in which you plan out every part of your day. Basically, you’re breaking up your work week into bite-sized chunks where you check your email, work on projects, take a break, etc.

How to time block

To create a time block, group similar tasks and schedule a block of time to work on those tasks. By putting in the blocks on your calendar, this prevents your work being interrupted or scheduled over.

(You may schedule an hour in the morning for emails, a time block for an important project in the morning and another time block for lunch etc)

By time blocking you carve out time for critical work and reduce the context switching which leads to burnout.

Make sure you schedule in those much-needed breaks in your time blocks!

Tips to implementing time blocking

  • Identify what you need to work on for the day

(You may need to implement a todo list for a while to see what you actually do in a day) – Prioritise the most important tasks and put them into the calendar first! Even with time blocking you may not get through all the work and if you haven’t prioritised, you won’t know what can wait till the next day.

  • Figure out the time of day you are most productive and schedule your work accordingly

save the most important tasks for when you have the most energy – it is often easier to do the simple tasks when you have less energy (e.g. could be at 4pm)

  • Group meetings if possible

The Mental interruption of having meetings scattered throughout the day can impede your productivity by not having enough time for focussed work and free time.  This cant always be managed but to succeed with time blocking try to be flexible and reschedule where necessary.

  • Schedule your time blocks

Once you have decided when you are most productive and arranged the meetings the best you can, its time to schedule the blocks.  Work out priorities and dedicate times to batches of tasks – it’s ok to come back to tasks more than once a day (e.g. email may need to be checked multiple times)

By putting your blocks into your calendar – it is harder for team members to interrupt your flow and disturb your concentration. Avoid labelling each time block (put in something like “focus time” or “personal time” or “work block – do not schedule”.  This still leaves flexibility for colleagues to schedule over blocks if necessary.

  • Block off personal time

You may choose not to put a purpose here which leaves flexibility for whatever you need to do in that time block (lunch break, exercise, or just relax)

  • Allow for unexpected interruptions or work

Dedicate a small block of time to be flexible or for unexpected tasks – having some slack in your day can relieve the pressure if something unforseen turns up.

Make sure any new task that crops up is higher priority than what you’re currently working on. Oftentimes, unexpected work feels urgent, but that doesn’t mean it’s more important than what you were initially working on.

  • Adjust as needed

Adjust your time blocks until they feel right for you. It wont be perfect when you start, give it some time and do what feels right. Remember: this is only effective if it meets your goals and needs—so optimize for what works and discard any strategies that don’t help you feel more productive.

 About the auther, Arlaine Berman

 IT Trainer, Course Developer

 Helping you quickly and simply understand your technology for growth

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