One of the key factors to getting things done at work is focus. But that’s not where focus stops. It also improves our social life, our family life, our time off when we just want to chill. Here’s why.
When we try and do too many things at once we end up not doing anything properly. Our brains simply aren’t made to concentrate on more than one thing. Multitasking is a myth that has been propagated for way too long. When we try to multitask, our brain rapidly switches between the tasks that we’re trying to work on and a lot of time is lost in this switching process. This can slow us down by up to 70% instead of the intended effect of speeding up.
The news gets worse if you’re trying to multitask a lot. Our brains seem to wear out and we lose even more time instead of getting better at it. The only solution is getting back to focus, to doing one thing at a time.
Sometimes our brain doesn’t make this easy for us. While working on a task we often remember things we need to do, items we need to buy, people we should be calling or we start to worry about something. Concentration is gone.
Tip: When this happens it’s a good idea to simply write the thought down. Keep a notepad handy for this purpose so you can quickly jot some details down, then get back to your task. Once it’s written down, your brain is then more likely to stay on task. The more you practice focusing, the better you’ll get at it.
In her book “Time Management for Unmanageable People” Ann McGee-Cooper talks about contaminated time. This is worktime that gets interrupted by worrying about your family, wondering how your football team may be doing or what you would love to eat for dinner. Our rest and relaxation time, on the other hand, gets contaminated by messages and phone calls that are work related, thoughts of spreadsheets and reports that need to be finished or problems at work.
We never seem to be fully present which makes it that much harder to fully focus on the thing we’re actually doing. We don’t get the full benefit of our time off or the time we’re at work. Wouldn’t life be more enjoyable if we did though? Wouldn’t it be better to be fully present in your relationship, with your children, in your hobbies and pastimes? Couldn’t you get more done during the workday if you were able to concentrate on your work? Focus makes all of this possible which is why it is so important to work on this skill. Being able to focus improves your productivity and makes life so much more enjoyable.
What can you do to improve your focus?
Here are my top 3 tips.
Single tasking only – don’t even attempt multitasking.
Set a timer – most people can only focus for between 15 and 45 minutes before needing a break. This only needs to be 2-5 minutes, but a stretch, walking to the window to get away from the screen for a bit or making yourself a drink is often enough. Or you could do something enjoyable for a few minutes, such as read a couple of pages of a book or daydream. Then you’re ready to get back to it with renewed energy.
Phone/notifications off – while concentrating on a task it’s important not to get interrupted. The most insidious interruptions come from our phones so it’s best to either switch them off or put them in flight mode. If you want to make a real difference to your working life, switch off all social media notifications. Trust me, you can live without them.
There are, of course, some useful strategies you can use to improve your leisure time as well. Here’s two of them:
Mindfulness – really be in the moment. Use all your senses to experience a good meal, a nice walk or playtime with your children.
Let go of guilt – we need our time off to relax and play just as much as need a good night’s sleep. This is where our brains refresh, renew and increase our capacity for good quality work.
PS: Multitasking in the above context refers only to doing multiple tasks at a time that all require concentration. If you can mindlessly do one task (such as walking or listening to music) you can definitely stack another task on top without problems.
If you would like to make a start on your journey to better focus, why not download my complimentary Weekly Productivity Planner? It was especially created to improve focus and get the important things done.