Why is it so hard to focus on the task at hand these days? Could it be because we live in a world of seemingly constant and endless distractions? Think back on the events of the last week or so. How often did your productivity fall victim to distractions? How many times a day did you start to do something, only to end up doing everything except what you wanted to do?
It’s not just information overload that presents a challenge to our ability to stay focused. It’s everything overload. Our attention is being pulled in so many different directions that the simplest tasks can seem impossible to get to.
Multitasking does not increase productivity!
Productivity is not about how many things you can do at once. It’s about how many things you complete. If you are jumping around, a few minutes here and a few minutes there, it’s very unlikely that you will actually see anything through to completion. Even if you do manage to complete something, chances are it took you way longer than it should have.
When you try to do more than one thing at a time, what happens to your focus? It’s divided, right? The more divided your concentration is, the busier you will be, and the less you will get done. I’m sure we all know from experience that we can be very busy and still accomplish very little. It happens to me much too often, and I’m guessing it happens to you as well.
What’s the opposite of multitasking?
The opposite of multitasking is doing one, and only one, thing at a time. What happens to your ability to stay focused when you restrict your efforts to just a single task? Your concentration increases dramatically, doesn’t it? And with increased focus comes increased productivity.
What if you are focused on a single task and you don’t experience any distractions or interruptions? You will probably be able to complete that task in record time. Now when you compare the way you feel after completing something in record time, compared to not being able to get anything done, which one makes you feel better?
Let’s face it, productivity feels really good
Everyone loves the feeling of accomplishment. It makes us feel like our efforts paid off, and now we have something to show for it. The quicker we can get something completed they better we feel about it.
There are other benefits to increased productivity, like more free time to spend doing things we really want to do. All too often important personal or family activities get put on the back burner because we end up spending too much time working. This is not a very balanced way to live. It was happening to me and I got tired of it.
Applied focus to the rescue!
Is it possible to increase you productivity, accomplish more, and to do it in less time? Yes it is, and the way we do that is by increasing our concentration, while simultaneously eliminating ALL distractions. And it’s important to recognize that one really depends on the other.
No matter how focused you are, one little distraction can derail you efforts. If you stop what you’re doing long enough to answer the phone or check your email, you break your concentration. When that happens it will take several minutes to get back in the zone. That means you have effectively delayed the completion of that particular task.
How applied focus increases productivity
Applied focus is a simple strategy I teach my coaching clients to quickly multiply their productivity based on the principles we just discussed. It works for them and it will work for you. Each applied focus session is 45 minutes long, followed by a 15 minute focus shift, or 90 minutes followed by a 30 minute focus shift. Choose the one that works best for you. This means that you will intentionally stop focusing on the task at hand and do something completely different during the 15 or 30 minutes of focus shift.
It also means that during your 45 or 90 minute applied focus session you will not allow anything (except dire emergencies) to distract you. No phone calls in or out, no checking emails, no texting, and no facebook. The goal is either 45 or 90 minutes of uninterrupted concentration on a single predetermined task.
Here are some guidelines
Because most of my work is done on a computer, I’m going to use that as an example. You can adjust these guidelines to fit your particular situation. The same principles can be applied to any task.
1) Only open one window on your computer. For example, if you are writing an article the only thing on your computer screen is your favorite word processor. That means that your browser is closed. This will greatly reduce the temptation to wander from the task at hand and your productivity will skyrocket.
2) Time your sessions. One of the hardest things to do is stop in the middle of a task that you are totally focused on. It’s much easier to lose track of time and just keep working. Don’t do it! After 45 or 90 minutes of focus, your mind needs a few minutes to do some neurological reorganization. Otherwise, your ability to maintain optimal concentration will suffer.
3) Get up from your desk. If you work at a desk, get up and walk away during your 15 or 30 minutes of focus shift. Go get a drink, walk around, visit, have a snack, use the bathroom, whatever you need to do. Let your eyes look at something else, and give your mind a break.
4) Get prepared ahead of time. If you are writing an article, do your outline and research during a separate, applied focus session. That way you can concentrate on the writing. If you have to stop writing to do some research, you have broken your concentration and reduced your level of productivity. Use separate focus sessions to handle different aspects of the same task.
5) Relegate email and telephone calls to their own session. Have one or two time slots specifically for “other necessary activities.” Make your calls, read and respond to emails, do your social networking, reply to comments on your blog, etc. Reserve one or two applied focus session just for those activities instead of allowing them to become interruptions.
Ease into it slowly!
Using applied focus sessions to increase your productivity takes some getting used to. Don’t start out by scheduling eight sessions your first day. You need to train yourself, and those around you, to a new way of thinking.
To minimize interruptions, tell others that you are only available for brief phone conversations, for example, during the last 15 minutes of each hour or last 30 minutes of each 2 hours. If they require more time, have them call back during the time slot you have set aside for that purpose.
The rewards are worth the effort
Once you become accustomed to using applied focus sessions it will change your life. Your increased productivity will carry the added benefit of more free time for personal pursuits. Even things like exercising can be consolidated and optimized using this approach.
Your increased ability to concentrate will also improve your relationships. When you are with people you care about, you will be better at focusing on the moment. Conversations and other interactions will be enhanced because you won’t be so easily distracted. Learning to focus is truly an advanced life skill worth mastering.
What is the greatest challenge to your ability to focus?
Which distractions tend to interfere with your productivity?
The lines are open!
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