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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 July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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