Whether it’s fatigue, distractions or lack of motivation, our inability to focus hinders our productivity and limits our chances of success. Consequently, by eliminating distractions, investing time in maintaining physical and mental wellness, as well as establishing healthy habits, our productivity can be improved tremendously.
s humans, we can be very easily distracted. What is worst, we live in times when distractions are available in every place and time; be it a notification on our phone or computer, social media, endless scrolling on the internet, having many competing priorities or increased workload, our own natural behaviors or short attention spans that can put us off our stride. For that matter, setting a routine and forming habits is crucial. Even small things such as putting our phone away while we work, or putting it on airplane mode, can make a big difference and help us focus. Getting plenty of sleep, moving our body, and protecting our eyes from screen burnout can also help.
Moreover, it is of vital importance to remember to take breaks. In fact, time-blocking and including rest periods between sessions of work can help us organize our time and optimize our schedule. Namely, our attention span runs between 10-20 minutes, so it is easy to understand how one will quickly drift off from the task in hand. What is more, once distracted and moving away from our task, it can take us up to 23 minutes to go back into deep focus again. That’s why it is essential to have a few simple tips and tricks that can help us zone in and stay on track with our tasks every day, cultivating those routines and habits.
#1 Get rid of distractions: While we can’t do away with everything, we can try to reduce or get rid of as many distractions as possible, starting with the simple things, such as turning off notifications on our phone, or turning our phone off altogether, or by simply telling those around us not to distract us for a period of time.
#2 Practice the Pomodoro technique: This timing method helps us train our brains to stay on task for short periods of time. Here’s how it works: Set your timer for 25 minutes and get to work. When the buzzer sounds, take a 5-minute break. Then, set the timer again and get back to work. Once you’ve done four rounds of this, you can take a longer break, approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
#3 Put a lock on social media: How many times have we found ourselves checking and endlessly scrolling through social media, apps and sites such as YouTube, Netflix and Amazon, text messages and emails, or playing online games during breaks and losing track of time? In fact, using an app which
blocks social media or distraction-busting programs can allow us stay focused and away from disruptions.
#4 Be more mindful: Sometimes our minds wander away from where they are supposed to be, and these short “mental vacations” often make it harder to focus on the task in front of us. By being mindful and recognizing distracted thinking when our attention starts to drift, we can quickly bring our focus back to where it needs to be. What is more, we can actually train our brain to be more mindful by practicing breathing techniques, meditation, and mindful movement, such as yoga.
#5 Fuel our body: Keeping our brain focused, our energy levels up and our emotions on an even keel go hand in hand with how we eat. Namely, according to the Harvard Medical School some good “brain foods” include green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli; fatty fish such as salmon; blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries; walnuts and caffeine can help us stay focused.
#6 Coffee in moderation: This brings us to the next point. Drinking coffee, or other caffeinated beverages, in small doses may have a positive impact on our ability to focus. On the other hand, if we drink too much of it, we may end up feeling anxious or nervous, which generally reduces our ability to stay focused.
#7 Get enough sleep: While a few nights of minimal sleep is manageable, not getting enough sleep most nights of the week can negatively impact both our short and long-term memory, as well as our ability to concentrate. The recommended amount of sleep for adults aged 18 to 60 years old is 7 or more hours a night.
#8 Set a SMART goal: Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed by a complex project that we have to fulfil. In that case it is helpful to try breaking it down into smaller parts and plugging the smaller steps into the SMART formula. When we take a large, complex project and break it down into smaller, bite-size tasks, we can boost our ability to concentrate and focus on specific tasks. That’s because we end up with goals that we actually feel like we can accomplish.
SMART stands for:
- Specific. What exactly needs to be done?
- Measurable. How will you track your progress?
- Achievable. Is it realistic? Can it be done by the deadline?
- Relevant. How does it fit with the overall plan or bigger goal?
- Timely. When does it need to be done?
#9 Make a to-do list: When we make our list it can be helpful to choose two or three key tasks and put them at the top. Then rank the rest of the items in order of importance. This allows us to tackle urgent tasks when our brain is fresh, and our energy levels are high.
#10 Focus on similar tasks: It has been said before; Multitasking is not more effective or efficient, especially when we are struggling with staying focused. The American Psychological Association (APA) has reported that multitasking may reduce our productivity by as much as 40%. In fact, it is more helpful to pick tasks that are similar, group them together, and do one at a time. This makes transitions smoother, and we may find that we get a lot more done by not jumping from one type of task to another.