How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity
From Lifehack - March 12, 2018

Until you know how to focus, youll never be able to think clearly, solve problems, make decisions, or remember things. Being focused is important but staying on a task is becoming harder and harder. A symphony of notifications can draw you out of whatever youre doing at a moments notice.Until you know how to focus, youll never be able to think clearly, solve problems, make decisions, or remember things. Being focused is important but staying on a task is becoming harder and harder. A symphony of notifications can draw you out of whatever youre doing at a moments notice.

Every time your mind wanders from your work, you have to waste time and energy getting back on track.A recent study from the University of California calculated that it took people an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get back to work after an interruption.1 This means that every time something takes your attention off your work, you lose nearly half an hour of your precious time.

Interruptions are bound to happen, but when they happen several times per day, youll waste lots of time and energy. In this guide, youll learn more about why its so hard to stay focused and what you can do to reduce distractions, be more productive, and increase your focus.

What makes staying focused difficult

Physically unfit

Everything is more difficult when you feel sick or tired. If you havent been getting enough sleep, your mind is bound to wander.

Human bodies are meant to be in motion, many of us lead sedentary lifestyles. Not getting enough exercise is another common reason you might lose focus quickly. Exercised helps your body regulate hormones and process insulin. It also alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety.2 A British study found that peoples work performance were better on the days they exercised:

What you eat and drink can play a major role in your ability to settle into your work, too. Start by staying properly hydrated. About 60% of your body is water. If youre dehydrated youre going to feel sluggish, and your brain wont be able to work as well.

Digestive upsets and imbalanced gut bacteria are disruptive no matter what youre doing. An upset digestive system is uncomfortable, but it also prevents you from making use of all the nutrients in your food. This means that even if you are eating well, you may not be getting the nutrition that helps you focus.

For example, B Vitamins are essential for digestion and we deplete them rapidly when exposed to stress. A lack of B Vitamins will almost certainly leave you feeling foggy-headed.3

An emotional brain

You know how hard it can be to focus when youre worried about something else. Your limbic system, the epicenter for all your emotions and memories, attaches feelings to everything.Based on a study conducted by Bond University professor of management Cynthia Fisher, there are some common emotions at work shown to shape performance:4

The way you feel about your work can destroy your productivity and focus if you have a negative point of view. Its worthwhile to take some time to get to know yourself so that you can figure out what triggers emotional reactions and loss of focus.

One of the best things you can do is infuse your life with positivity. When your work triggers positive emotions, youll be more interested in what youre doing, and itll be easier to stay on task.5

Too many distractions

Were fortunate to have so much technology at our fingertips, but these advances are a double-edged sword. As you work, phone calls, text messages, emails, and social media notifications threaten to derail your focus.

A 2012 study from the McKinsey Global Institute found that people spend around 13 hours or 28% of their workweek managing emails.6 Thats not to say that all time spent on technology is non-productive. Its just that most of us have a hard time compartmentalizing our inboxes and notifications so that they dont pull us from other tasks. As mentioned, it takes a whopping 25 minutes and 26 seconds to regain focus on average. Distractions are costly.

Multitasking through the day

You may think youre being more efficient when you multitask, but only about 2% of the population can effectively multitask.7 James Clears illustration has best described the myth of multitasking:

For the other 98%, they mutitask in three different ways:8

Human brains arent designed to do that kind of cognitive shuffling. People end up with a nasty build up of attention residue when they switch between tasks.9

If youve ever been distracted by thinking about something else you have to do while youre working on another project, youve experienced the effects of attention residue. Constantly shifting between tasks can cost you about 40% or 16 hours of your workweek. Thats like tossing two days out of every workweek in the trash. 10

Multitasking can cause you to perform as though youve lost 10-15 points on your IQ score. No matter how smart you are, thats a significant drop in your effectiveness. A study from the University of London likened this to missing an entire night of sleep.11

Youll thrive if you can learn how to focus and carve out time for deep work. Youll need to create windows of time that are completely free of distractions like emails if you want to be most effective.12

How to find focus in a distracted world

Tricks to tackle distractions

1. Block out time for uninterrupted work

Make sure you schedule important time for yourself where you can focus on your tasks in uninterrupted silence. Let people know that you wont be responding unless absolutely necessary. Think of this as scheduling a meeting with yourself and treat it the same as you would when scheduling a meeting with others.

Put your status as busy on your messaging apps and shared calendars. Wear headphones (even if you arent listening to anything) to make yourself appear that youre focusing on your work. Intentionally carving out this block of time will help you focus and cause others to be more hesitant about distracting you.

2. Email batching

Emails can come into our inbox continuously through the day and its tempting to respond to them as and when we receive them. Similar to blocking out specific time for focus, carve out time to deal with emails in one go.

Doing this will create more productivity and keep you in the flow of dealing with emails one after the other. If you find you still get distracted easily by every new email, you can install a Chrome extension called Block Site which allows you to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times.

3. Turn technology from distraction to a useful tool

These days, many people feel controlled by technology and their phones to some extent so make use of the disabling options it gives you. Turn off email alerts, app notifications, set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages.

4. Schedule a distraction time

5. Anticipate your internal needs

6. Practice mindfulness

7. Exercise regularly

8. Create a willpower workout

A solid routine to stay focused


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