Focus, Concentration, and Distractions. These are keywords in the rumbling discussion of productivity and efficiency. Staying focused is harder each day! Thanks to the total adoption of open workspaces and open internet surfing its hard not to get pulled into that inspiring TED Talk, Post on reddit, and that funny video someone was watching across the room.
I have struggled with focusing as long as I could remember. It was so bad at one point, I couldn't sit at my desk at home without getting up, surfing the web aimlessly, or moving on to other things! It had to stop. I wanted to understand why! What I discovered would be life changing and so simple that I am able to break it down for us.
1. Discover Your Distractions
What distracts you? The internet? Random Bad Song on your playlist? Or that haunting to do list? Discover what it is and write it down. Write down when you get distracted if you can as well! Our mind like to work in cycles and you may discover a distraction cycle!
Writing down the problem will help you see the problem completely. DONT SKIP THIS STEP!
2. Practice Mindfulness
It's already well known that meditation is beneficial in many ways to the human mind and body. use it help train our focus!
Mindfulness and Meditation are most likely the largest buzz words in modern health and success discussions. You might not be into this idea and really don't (think you) have the time to sit for 30min. Personally, I have re-worked my schedules and time to fit it in. Focus is like any other skill, you need to learn it and practice it and meditation is a great healthy way to practice.
For those busy bees, Maria Gonzalez at the Harvard Business Review Blog has a method for you! Micro-Meditation! 1-3mins or mindfulness, several times a day.
Exercise is also a great method for mindfulness. Working Out really forces you to "live in the moment". Strength Training is one of my favorite activities because of its mindfulness. Each rep requires focus and control. You don't have the luxury to think about the bill you need to pay or the email you forgot to send when you are squatting twice your body weight. My good trainer buddy explained to me this one session,
Practicing Mindfulness with help you in everyday life and improve your focus drastically.
3. Time Blocking and Managing.
Many people under-estimate making time blocks for creative activities. We live in a society where "good customer-service" means instant satisfaction or else. We get bombarded with emails that need answered now, people need our help now, and tasks need to be done now! With all these 'urgent' updates and tasks that need attention 'now', where is the time to focus on our tasks?
In my short experience and study about focus the best thing you can do is allocate a couple hours a day to focus on your most creative tasks and problems, preferably in the morning. Allocating this time is the the most important step simply because you help trigger a routine. More on routines later.... ( Try out this book by 99u )
If you're like me, you work in an open environment, problems are everywhere, and people need help immediately. Truth is, it can wait. Being a 'Yes Person' all the time is actually quite unproductive and stressful. Jumping from task to task and hardly completing any of them. What I did is from 9 to lunch time, that is MY TIME! Its all about me. Seriously, 9-1, ME. Sure, I have exceptions but those exceptions are dictated by the true gravity of the request. I use a tester question like, "Can it wait an hour?" If the answer is yes then its not important right NOW. Email? No one is going to die if they don't get a response for a couple hours. If they really needed you, they would come to your desk or call you. NOTE! change up your tester questions. People will start to realize your methods!
In an open environment, like my workplace, you are going to have more people approach you then you would if you had an office. What I did was use three tools
- Headphones - I put them on without music playing sometimes. Why? Headphones not only muffle the sounds in an open space they also convey a message of "Leave me the hell alone" and for those few precious hours, thats exactly what you want
- Notebook - An open notebook also conveys a message of "working on a problem". This also helps when someone still comes up to you and asks for help and gives a task. Let them know you will get on it later but right now you are working on something else. Next, write it done while they are still there to see. It not only tells them that you heard them, it will help you remember later.
- Complete Ignorance. - It's bliss. I notice when people are standing behind me. Its annoying. I always felt if someone was watching me its to talk to me so I would stop what I am doing. Well, I was wrong. In my little office study with myself, I started only removing my headphones and engaging that person if they purposely tried to get my attention. I even waited for them to tap on my shoulder and ignore when people called my name sometimes. Why? It makes them think if they should bother me and it helps me practice my ability to focus. what I found was in one day, 17 people approached me. Only 2 needed my attention. That was a lot of time saved and the 2 people addressed me at the end of the day.
These three tools made a difference for me, find your own tools and remember that your job is about getting YOUR work done, not getting everybody elses work done.This also helped me ignore movements and distractions in my office space.
Create that time block and make it a routine and speaking routines!
4. Routines will jumpstart your Brain!
There is a reason we do warms up before physical activity, singing, and almost every activity. It gets us ready to perform! Ever wonder why you could work pretty well at work but on the weekends, at home, good luck getting your mind to even think about that problem! Your commute to work and waking up became a warm-up, a routine, a trigger.
I found out was that our Minds/Brains thrive on routine and structure. Our mind uses triggers to change states by using our senses. Thats why marketing and ads work so well to make me crave a good tub of ice cream. Triggers, Routines and Warm-Ups are all apart of the same system in our mind.
Develop Routines for Waking Up, Getting to Work, Going to Bed and you can pretty much program yourself!
A routine can be as simple as listening to the same playlists while working or as complex as performing same wake process every morning. I have 4 routines I use daily. One for waking up, getting into the zone, getting ready to exercise, and going to bed.
It will take 7-21 days for it to set in but once it does, being able to switch on a song and just be in the Zone is pretty magical.
5. Breaks and Rest.
Do Not Under-estimate sleep and breaks. Our minds needs it. There really is not much else to explain, this topic has been beaten RAW into oblivion. The only thing I want to add is our mind loves 90 min blocks (SOURCE). Its just how we work. its why 7.5 hours is the ideal amount of sleep! This also goes for breaks! every 60-90mins take 5-15min break and get some air. Just do it. Not only with this prevent the 'grind' it was just jump start your mind. Once the break is over. Launch your startup routine and get back to it! I have been doing this for a while and its awesome. the day flies by and I feel better. Plus being a VFX Artist in a dark office can be tough on the mind with ot some sun!
I saved this one for last because I feel this is the one that we sometimes have limited control over. You need to make an environment where their are no distractions. In an open office, its rather limited. Clean your desk, close the browser. At home it could be as simple as dim the lights, turn off the TV.