What do chocolate chip cookies, furniture, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony have in common? Well, according to some experts, a glucose snack for your brain, a comfortable chair, and some good music will all help keep you focused.
You know that wonderful feeling, when you can just zip through what needs to be done – almost on autopilot?
And here’s an apparent contradiction for you: What many people think makes them more productive – multi-tasking – is the total opposite from the focus other authorities, and research have shown to increase productivity. Try multi-tasking less. See what works for you.
How does Mr. Webster define focus? While definitions of “focus” are multiple and diverse, probably the one we want here is, “a state or condition permitting clear perception or understanding…” maybe even similar to concentration? Focusing on just one thing at a time? And how one achieves that productive state, and indeed how productive that very state itself is, may well vary from person to person.
But as 95% of the people asked replied that getting and maintaining focus is a struggle for them, it’s clear some help is needed here. See which of these suggestions might increase your focus, and thereby your productivity – in an ideal world:
- Clear your work area of anything you are not working on right now. To get a good start each morning, to make sure everything you need can be found right at hand, and to become more confident and relaxed, knowing you have not forgotten anything today, clear your desk or work area before leaving for the day.
- Set Daily Goals. Know what you’re going to do each day, why, and how it fits into the overall goal of the organization, and your own. Be specific. Be careful not to send yourself mixed messages. If you tell yourself you will be informing, when you really mean to persuade, it will be far more difficult to get the job done at all, let alone to get it done right.
- Have a list. Lists are great focusers. Avoid distraction by keeping your list short, and don’t worry, or even think about, getting all, or any of it done right now, or at all. Making a list lets you prioritize easily, and decide what has to be done today, and what can go on tomorrow’s list. You will gain new confidence as you put yourself in charge in this way.
- Get rid of all distraction that you can. Turn off the phone, and every other distractor you do not need right now while you complete the specific task you’re working on. This especially includes social media – a huge, and often unnecessary use of time on the job – as well as email or texts.
- Clear your mind of the other things you will work on today. Put them on your short list until you are ready to work on them. Don’t look at, or think about anything else until you’ve finished what you are working on right now.
- Take breaks as allowed, and try to keep your workweek below a maximum of 55 hours, the point where productivity begins to diminish for most people.
- Have a snack readily available – it is said that glucose helps the brain focus.
- Try classical or other music (use headphones at the office) – some people find music helpful; for others it is a distraction.
- Some people find bringing a pet to work, if allowed; having a comfortable work area; and enjoying small rewards for completing parts of the task, work for them. Others not so much, especially with pet distractions.
- Set up a consistent system for repetitive projects or tasks, so you can focus on doing it, instead of being distracted by having to figure out how to do it every time.
- Build up your “focus muscle.” (a) Practice focusing by giving yourself a definite, reasonable period of time to complete all, or a specific part of the piece you’re working on. Work against the clock to get it done. Give yourself a small reward, e.g., “As soon as I get this finished, I can (walk around the building; take a break; go to lunch…)”
(b) Read things on paper, forcing yourself to focus on just that one thing at a time.
- Exercise. Even if it’s only walking to the deli at lunchtime. It’s another way to clear your head, and increase your productivity. Remember to work with your physical muscle as well as the mental.
My favorite way to get and to keep focus is to think about what needs to be accomplished the next day – e., g., a project, a piece to write, or the schedule, before drifting off at night. Next morning it’s been automatically sorted out, and we’re ready to go! So, like they always told us, “Try sleeping on it!”
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