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9 Ways To Focus and Be Super Productive At Work

9 Ways To Focus and Be Super Productive At Work

In this modern age, our working environment requires much more creativity and patience. However, it is also much easier to get distracted with the internet and our phones which moves us further away from being productive while working. Here are 9 ways to focus and be super productive while working:

1. Remove Distractions

This includes distracting websites and co-workers.

Research has shown that after an external distraction such as a co-worker trying to start a conversation or checking email notifications, it takes nearly 25 minutes to re-engage with whatever you were doing. This is important because it’s remarkably easy to get distracted while working. If we keep giving into distractions, then it increases the amount of time we have to spend to complete tasks and reduces the amount of enjoyment we get from it.

Removing distractions makes it easier to focus on difficult tasks.

How can you do this?

  • Turn off email notifications.
  • Ask co-workers (kindly) not to distract you while working.
  • Remove digital clutter (unneeded open tabs, half finished documents on your desktop).

2. Focus on one task

We can’t multi-task too well. (Which is supported by study after study after study).

We’re better off focusing on one task at a time, especially if our work is cognitively demanding. We’ll get more done during our allocated time, enjoy it more because we’re more engaged and spend less time feeling frantic. When we try focusing on more than one thing, we tend to do both of them poorly. It leads to more mistakes and as a result, we need to correct ourselves more often.

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How can you do this?

  • Remove distractions.
  • Prioritize tasks and work on the most important at the time.
  • Move smaller tasks to later in the day.
  • Practice being more mindful while completing the activities.

3. Focus in Short Bursts

Focusing hard can be difficult. that’s why we do it in short bursts.

Welcome to the “pomodoro technique”. It’s rather simple. We focus on a task for a short time without distractions and take a break. Then repeat until the task is completed. It understands that focusing on difficult tasks is both efficient but tiring.

  1. Work for 25 minutes.
  2. Take a break for 5.
  3. Repeat 4 times.
  4. After 2 hours, take a longer break.
  5. Start again.

By doing this, we’ll have more energy to focus on the tasks we have instead of becoming extremely tired and falling into the trap of pseudo-work. That is, working for long hours without accomplishing much of value. You’ll feel busy and tired while having done much less than you could have.

How can you do this?

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  • Remove distractions.
  • Take frequent breaks.

4. Check email less

Email is very good at distracting us with things that might be important but often aren’t. It’s extremely tempting to keep our email open because we think we have to be connected to other people all the time.

We don’t need to check our email so often. If something is so urgent that it needs your immediate attention, communicating by email is a bad choice. They’ll call you instead.

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How can you do this?

  • Disable email notifications.
  • Assign email checking time. Either in the morning, just before lunch or in the middle of the afternoon. The rest of your time is for working.
  • Keep emails to five sentences or less. You’ll spend less time with emails and free up time for more important tasks.

5. Find the most important activities

This is often known as the 80/20 rule in many productivity circles. It simply says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. For example, 20% of paying customers might give 80% of your revenue.

If we do this, we find the tasks we want to focus our time rather than doing tasks that require a lot of work with a low payout.

How can you do this?

  • Make a list of all the things you need to do.
  • Ask, if you could only do one activity here, what would it be?
  • After you’ve compiled a short list of activities, aim to focus most of your energy there.

6. Make a procrastination list

With this in mind, it’s helpful to make a list of less important tasks you can still complete while you put off the most important task. This way, time spent procrastinating does not always mean browsing the internet mindlessly – time can still be used somewhat productively.

How can you do this?

  • Make a list of tasks.
  • Prioritize them on a scale of one to five (one being the most important).
  • When you find yourself procrastinating, start doing the second most important task on your list.

7. Go outside and walk around

More often than not, while working, we’re sitting down in a room with a lot of artificial light. It’s remarkably helpful to spend some time outside during breaks.

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Firstly, changing your environment and getting some fresh air is a great way to reduce stress. If we find a problem difficult, going for a short walk gives us a good chance at returning to the problem with a relaxed mindset and new ways to approach a problem.

Secondly, a lot of research is coming out about the hazards of sitting down too much. In a study of nearly a million people, it was found that it increases our chances of diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

Thirdly, most of us should simply exercise more. A short walk during a lunch break can be a useful starting point to increasing our energy levels through the day.

How can you do this?

  • During short breaks and lunchtimes, move away from the desk and go outside.
  • Have lunch outside.
  • Change location completely and work in a public garden.

8. Be Kind to Yourself

We are our harshest critics. Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, claims that 80% of our thoughts are negative in some way.

You’ve probably noticed yourself being extremely critical over small things. Forgetting to reply to an email or complete a task, doing poorly in an exam, or even smaller things like saying “you too” when a server says “enjoy your food”.

They occupy our mind and make us less likely to try again because they’re very easy to believe. If we’re kinder to ourselves, we’ll spend less time criticizing ourselves over simple mistakes.

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Why bother being more productive if we hate ourselves in the process?

How can you do this?

  • Label needlessly negative thoughts as unhelpful (they rarely inspire you to try harder or try something new).
  • Remember that they’re simply reactions to a task in front of you. Not facts.
  • Talk to yourself as if you were a friend.

9. Practice Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the act of focusing all of your attention onto your breathing and your nearby surroundings.

It helps you engage with tasks quicker and with greater consistency. While meditating, you’ll practise noticing a distraction and calmly returning your attention back to your breath. When we experience external distractions (co-worker popping in to say hi) and internal distractions (I feel like browsing the internet again), we’ll slowly learn to let them pass and return to our work in hand.

If the fact you’ll concentrate isn’t enough, meditation is extremely calming. Our overall stress will reduce, we’ll become more immersed in the present moment and enjoy our journey to being more productive and creating more.

How can you do this?

  • Sit (or lie down) in a comfortable but alert position.
  • Set a timer for 2 minutes.
  • Focus on your breathing.

At first it’ll be difficult. Thoughts will fly into your head and it’ll be difficult to just focus on your breathing. With practice, you get better at returning your attention to your breathing.

Productivity is much more enjoyable when we experience greater focus, fewer distractions and more engagement with our tasks.

Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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