There are only so many hours in a day. Yet, it seems like we are trying to fit an increasingly large amount of activities into our waking hours. Funnily enough, sometimes we get the least amount of tasks done on the days we feel the busiest.
Even with enough time on our hands, our ability to focus is influenced by so many different variables. To help you improve your focus and productivity, we will explain these distracting factors, and provide you with practical tips to help smash your daily goals.
PRODUCTIVITY VS COUNTERPRODUCTIVITY
Now, let’s reflect on those workdays where you came home late, feeling completely drained. How did the morning start? What did you have planned for the day? How many of these tasks did you actually complete? These are some very important questions to ask.
You will probably remember that you started work knowing you had a lot to do. So, you decided to waste no precious time and get straight to it. However, even with so much work piled up, you found yourself scrolling through social media, struggling to stay focused. In the end, you could only tick two-and-a-half tasks off your list of five. How on earth did it come to that?
This is a common pitfall. Forcing yourself to be too productive is actually counterproductive. Setting unrealistic daily goals with too many tasks will subconsciously make you feel restless, which negatively impacts your attention span in turn. You might find yourself trying to do multiple tasks at once, which is even worse.
Many people pride themselves on their ability to multitask. However, multitasking is overrated. It’s actually the ability to focus on one underrated thing. This ability will really help you improve focus and productivity.
Feeling the pressure of too many tasks will also make you much more sensitive to distractions. Furthermore, it might send you down a spiral of endless procrastination—the ultimate height of counterproductivity, and effectively a form of writer’s block.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY VS BRAIN ACTIVITY
The mind can’t focus when the body is restless, and the body can’t relax when the brain is anxious. Take that in for a second.
Referring back to our above example, when diving in all at once on a busy workday, you probably denied yourself some typical morning rituals. This might include catching up with colleagues, enjoying a morning coffee, doing some push-ups, or reading a few interesting news/blog articles on your own.
These are exactly the things that ease you into the day; and by taking care of the body and mind first, you are ultimately more equipped to improve focus and productivity. Everything you skip to win time might negatively impact your focus and drive.
Not taking enough breaks, skipping a workout, not eating properly, or pushing yourself when you are getting too tired will all hamper your ability to concentrate and stay on task. And if you don’t get enough sleep, you will wake up the next day with even less energy to finish everything that’s still left.
HOW TO IMPROVE CONCENTRATION AND FOCUS AT WORK
Now that we’ve gone over some of the most common pitfalls and distractions, let’s talk about what you can do to enhance concentration and focus during the workday.
With so much to focus on, learning how to focus on absolutely nothing is quintessential. Practising mediation is challenging for some, but even if you manage to do it for 10 minutes a day, you will reap the benefits. Meditation is known to relieve stress and declutter the mind. Surely you can fit in a 10-minute session before you open your laptop in the morning?
DO A MORNING WORKOUT
Physical activity benefits the mind too. Even a 30-minute run on the treadmill will release enough dopamine to keep your mind relaxed throughout the day. You could also opt for a yoga session, which combines physical exercise with meditation. Two birds with one stone, as they say!
If you are not a morning person and are unlikely to get up early for a workout, don’t worry. You can also stick to evening workouts straight after work. This will help you sleep better later. It doesn’t really matter much when you do it, as long as you exercise regularly.
TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
This might come as a surprise, but taking multiple short breaks has a much better effect than a few long breaks. Set your alarm at 90-minute intervals, and take 5–10 minute breaks. Important: Do not spend these breaks aimlessly checking your phone! Go for a little walk, do a sudoku puzzle, try out some yoga poses, or take a short virtual museum tour.
Choose anything that involves physical activity or stimulates brain activity. It could even be something productive that is non-work-related; like quickly practising a few rounds of vocabulary on a language learning app, for example. You will find that a short, effective break has the power to increase focus quickly. It’s a little boost.
PLAY MUSIC IN THE BACKGROUND
One might think that only complete silence encourages focus. On the contrary; playing some music softly in the background can help increase focus, if done correctly. Of course, not every type of music is suitable for every type of work. Check out these recommended playlists created with productivity and focus in mind.
Forcing yourself to be too productive is actually counterproductive. Setting unrealistic daily goals with too many tasks will subconsciously make you feel restless, which negatively impacts your attention span in turn.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR ENERGY LEVEL HIGH
You need to have enough energy to maintain a base level of focus, let alone to increase your focus. So how are you going to keep your energy level up? You must listen to your body—that’s all there is to it.
MAKE SURE YOU GET ENOUGH SLEEP
This should go without saying, yet sleep seems to be the number one thing busy people deprive themselves of. If you want to get a lot done during the day, you need to feel fully charged. And don’t think you can compensate for a late night by simply sleeping in and starting the workday later. Once you stay up long enough to use up your reserves, the damage is done. Your energy levels will not feel as freshly replenished as usual. Go to bed early—period.
This one is not for everybody but works wonders for some. You could schedule a power nap in the middle of the workday. Limit this to 30 minutes max, as it’s not supposed to turn into a full-fledged siesta. If you don’t manage to actually fall asleep within that half an hour, don’t keep trying longer. Get up and go back to work, and try again the next day. It might take a week before it actually works. It might not work at all. In that case, stick to the original plan; go to bed early!
Many busy people feel fatigued regularly but choose to ignore it. But not eating properly often happens unintentionally. Sometimes you are so preoccupied that you simply forget. Even if you were feeling a little rumble in your tummy earlier, you can feel “over it” moments later. In the long run, this feeling always catches up, depleting your energy level in the meantime.
So, strive to eat at set times throughout the day. Consider setting an alarm. If you tend to order in, you might even want to pre-order your meal to be delivered at a certain time. Another great tip is to make sure you always have a stash of snacks at your workplace. A fruit bowl will look cheerful on your desk and provide you with healthy vitamins in between tasks. Things like granola bars and instant soup are handy to keep in your desk drawers.
HOW TO INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY
With the above recommendations on how to increase focus and maintain high energy, it’s time to go over some effective ways to increase overall productivity in your day-to-day life.
FREE YOURSELF FROM DISTRACTIONS
Identify your most pressing distractions, and do what you need to do to eliminate them. For most people, this means locking their smartphones away. Notifications lighting up the screen are simply too tempting for some to ignore.
Setting your status to “do not disturb” is highly recommended. You can also do this on your computer. Furthermore, you could consider working offline for a large portion of the day, or keeping only one window or tab open to focus on.
Also, make sure you keep your surroundings tidy. A messy working environment can be very distracting. Suddenly that pile of unopened mail is more interesting to read through than your job assignment. Store everything away in designated areas at all times.
This is particularly challenging for those who work from home. More effort is needed to separate private life from work life. The number one solution to this is setting up a separate working area. Mimic a real office as much as possible. Refrain from working on the sofa where you chill out with friends and watch TV, and try not to work at the same table where you eat your meals.
CREATE A REALISTIC TO-DO LIST
Create an overview of tasks you can realistically complete in one working day. Rather too few than too many. You can always add more when everything is finished, right? Visualise these tasks in a practical way. This will help you focus on one thing at a time. For example, divide everything over the “to do”, “in progress”, and “done” columns of a Kanban board.
BREAK TASKS DOWN INTO SMALLER CHUNKS
Tasks are simply much easier to work through when divided into smaller chunks. A lot of tasks involve multiple activities, so they can be broken down into subtasks. Finalising each subtask will show your progress toward completing the main task. This has an encouraging effect as well.
Detailing tasks with subtasks can’t be done with a Kanban board. However, there is a lot of amazing project management software out there that can help you with this. Many highly intuitive tools allow you to track your progress with different viewing options. These include visualisations displayed in percentages, or in a diagram, chart, or table.
GET THE MOST TAXING THINGS OUT OF THE WAY FIRST
First things first! Determine which of your tasks will be the hardest or take the most time to complete. Usually, this is the task many people tend to put off for as long as possible, which is a big mistake.
Bite off this chunk of work first, preferably in the morning when you are fresh and have the most energy. With the most taxing task out of the way, the hardest part of the day is over and the rest of the tasks will seem like a breeze in comparison.
ALTERNATE BETWEEN INTERESTING AND BORING TASKS
With the hardest task behind you, there will be a list of smaller tasks left. However, the degree to which you enjoy completing them will vary. Try alternating between the ones you find interesting and those you find rather boring. This way, there is always a more fun task to look forward to while you complete the tedious ones.
IMPROVING FOCUS AND PRODUCTIVITY AT WORK — THE TAKEAWAY
As we’ve expressed, trying to cram in as many tasks as possible and limiting yourself of vital resources is no way to improve focus, productivity, or concentration. Take care of your mind and body, as both need to be in peak shape to encourage peak performance.
Using the tips mentioned, determine how you want to integrate them, and then take the steps to do so. This may involve writing things down or using a spreadsheet. But once you make the necessary changes, you may be shocked by just how much your focus improves!