“Now, what was I doing again?”
We all do it, because it’s a very human thing. Get distracted that is. Apparently, the average human gets distracted every 3 minutes*, and then it takes around 25 minutes to regain our focus. (*according to research conducted by The Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University). So, you can imagine in an average day, that’s a lot of time we are not doing what we could be doing.
"The sun's energy warms the world. But when you focus it through a magnifying glass it can start a fire. Focus is so powerful!" Alan Pariser
We are always taking in information, and these days especially, we get super distracted with social media, emails and general noise, as well as finding it harder to keep our attention on something when we’re not motivated or tired. So, what can we do to help maintain focus?
Here are a few tips:
1. Multi-tasking does not work
Many of us think we can manage being in action with several things at the same time.It’s a myth and a misnomer.It just means we switch fast from one activity to another, but it does not mean we get through things faster.In fact, it uses up a lot of energy to keep diverting our attention from one thing to another.
Instead: prioritise your list, and work through one thing at a time until it is completed.
“One thing at a time: It is important that we focus on the task that is at present in hand.” John Hughes
2. Take proper breaks
If you have a mountain of things to do, it can feel very overwhelming, and thinking about the overwhelm can end up paralysing your productivity.
Instead: schedule in breaks every few hours, and ensure you take the time free from distraction, like a nice walk around the block, or closing your eyes for 10 minutes.
3. Work with your best rhythms
How do you find you work after lunch? The post-lunch slump is very common, and therefore we tend to feel more distracted between 12-4pm.
Instead: tackle the more cognitive tasks from around 10am when your brain is fully awake.
4. Manage the stress
Being stressed can really inhibit clear and focused thinking – obviously not helpful given that we want to be super productive when we have loads to do!
Instead: try meditation (there are great apps like Headspace and Buddhify to help with this); and mindfulness practices, such as a full body scan
5. Anchor yourself to a productive zone
If you find yourself checking emails at the kitchen table, reviewing work on the sofa, or reading up on the train, you are bound to be distracted by your surroundings. As we only have a finite amount of willpower, working in different spaces can mean we respond differently to our environment and our productivity can therefore suffer.
Instead: help remove distractions by creating and sticking to a good, clear space in which you ‘anchor’ your productivity – a zone where you can really focus, free from distractions, to give you a better chance to concentrate on the task at hand.
“You don’t get results by focusing on results. You get results by focusing on the actions that produce results.” Mike Hawkins
6. Eat, sleep, walk…
It may seem more productive to just keep going through the piles of ‘things to do’ but nourishing our bodies can help our brains function better.
Instead: boost your energy with a few healthy snacks when you feel your energy is depleted. Make sure you get some good sleep to improve your concentration levels. And take a walk – mid afternoon is good when your brain is usually in ‘slump’. Stay hydrated too, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water (and occasionally, a coffee to give you a little boost).
7. Switch off notifications
Does your laptop and phone ping with every notification that comes in? Every time you get some kind of alert, it’s an opportunity to come ‘off task’ and head off down a tangent that isn’t related to the job at hand.
Instead: turn off notifications and pop ups and designate times in the day when you can review your emails or social media feeds.
"Given that we cannot manage time, we must focus on what we can manage. And what we can manage are the choices we make and actions we take with the time we have."Nancy Morris