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Last Updated on February 16, 2021

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[1] 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.[2]

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,[3] 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

Reference

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Published on May 3, 2021

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

What Is Decision Fatigue And How To Combat It

How often have you had the experience of needing to make tough decisions that pull you in different directions? You go round and round in circles and, in the end, you either flip a coin or make a snap decision because you’re just too tired to think anymore. Or maybe, you simply put off reaching a decision indefinitely, which is sometimes easier than making a tough call.

Can you relate to this currently? If so, then you’re likely suffering from decision fatigue. Poor decisions are made not because of incapability but because arriving at one or more choices takes its toll—to the extent that it severely weakens our mental energy.

Now that we know what decision fatigue is, let’s explore the primary ways to combat it to enable a stronger mental state coupled with better decision-making.

1. Identify and Make the Most Important Decisions First

If you have a busy personal or work life where many tricky decisions are on the table every day, this can easily and quickly become overwhelming. In this instance, create mental space by initially laying out all situations and challenges requiring a decision. Use a basic software tool or write them down on paper—a notepad file or word document is sufficient.

Once you have your complete list, carefully pick out the most important items needing a conclusion sooner rather than later. Be mindful of the fact that you can’t treat everything as urgent or requiring immediate attention. There have to be some things that are more important than others!

Prioritize and Declare the Appropriate Options

Equipped with your most pressing items awaiting decisions, add another layer of scrutiny by prioritizing them even further. The result should allow you to identify, in order, your most urgent and important tasks without any conflicting priorities.

The last part of this exercise is to highlight all of the options to consider for your most important decision and work through them one by one. With the visual representation of options and most critical decisions out the way first, you’ll be able to think more clearly and prevent decision fatigue from subtly kicking in.

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2. Implement Daily Routines to Automate Less Important Decisions

“Shall I have a healthy lunch today?” “Should I wake up earlier tomorrow?” “What time should I prepare dinner tonight?”

As trivial as these questions appear to be, each one still requires a decision. Stack them on top of other straightforward everyday questions in addition to more significant ones, and things can start to add up unpleasantly.

Small or less important decisions can eat away at your time and productivity. When many other decisions need to be made in parallel, it can lead to decision fatigue. However, there’s a method to avoid this. It involves streamlining aspects of your life by automating repetitive decisions, and this drives the ability to make better decisions overall.[1]

It’s Your Routine—Control It to Create Time for Other Activities

Instead of having to decide multiple times per week if you should have a healthy lunch, create a daily routine sufficiently ahead of time by dictating what healthy food you’ll eat for lunch every day. In doing so, you’re putting that particular decision on autopilot. Your predefined routine commits you to a decision immediately and without hesitation.

Invest time into highlighting all of the trivial and recurring situations requiring decisions daily, then implement a collective routine that relieves the need for you to give them much thought (if any thought at all).

3. Put a Time Limit on Every Decision

Making complex or big decisions increases the risk of draining your energy. This is especially true if you struggle with the fear of making the wrong decision. The doubt and worry bouncing around inside continuously are enough for the majority of people to become fed up and exhausted.

To make good decisions, you need to be in the right position to act. A tactic to deploy is to essentially force yourself to act by setting a time limit on your decision-making process. What might seem a little daunting—given that it can create a sense of added pressure—actually provides clarity on when you need to conclude since you can see the end in sight.

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Grow in Confidence by Reducing Hesitation

After making the decision, it’s time to move on. You’ll feel good and build self-confidence knowing that you didn’t linger on the choices available.

Only consider revisiting a previous decision if something unexpected occurs that impacts it. If that’s the case, then follow the same process by ensuring you make the revised decision before a new deadline.

4. Seek Input From Other People—Don’t Decide Alone

There’s a time and place to make decisions alone, but sometimes, it’s appropriate to involve others. If there’s any degree of struggle in reaching a verdict, then seeking opinions from people in your network can lessen the mental burden of indecisiveness.

Do you feel comfortable seeking input from other people to help make decisions? Trust and feeling secure in your relationships are crucial to answer “yes” to this question.

Explore the Thoughts of Others and Gain a Different Perspective

An insecure business leader likely won’t trust their team(s) to help them make decisions. On the other hand, an assured and secure business leader realizes they don’t “know it all.” Instead of going solo on all work-related decisions, they install trust among their team and get the support required to arrive at the best possible decisions.

The ability to make a great decision can depend on the information related to it that’s at your disposal. When faced with a difficult choice, don’t be afraid to lean on the relevant people for help. They can offer valid alternatives that are otherwise easy to overlook or hold the key to you making a well-informed decision.

5. Simplify and Lower the Number of Available Options

You’re standing in the store, facing an aisle of more than 20 varieties of peanut butter. You have no idea which one to choose, and although there are subtle differences, they all look fairly similar. No doubt you’ve been in this situation at least once in the past (maybe with a substitute for peanut butter!).

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This is a classic example of having too many choices—an event that makes you prone to decide to do nothing or waste time by continually pondering on which product to buy.

According to the psychological concept known as choice overload, simply having too many options can be disruptive and overburdening, causing decision fatigue.[2] Using the example above, you might make the easiest choice of avoiding any further thought, which often results in the purchase of the wrong item.

Extract Meaningful Information and Evaluate Options With a Binary Outcome

To simplify and lower your range of options, leverage the information available and extract what’s most important for you to make a decision. Is it the price? The protein content? Whether it has sustainable packaging or a combination of multiple details?

Keep a tight lid on having too many important components. Prioritize if necessary, and implement a binary outcome (of “yes” or “no” / “true” or “false”) to help arrive at decisions earlier, such as defining a limited price range that the product must fall within.

6. Eliminate Unnecessary Distractions

Arguably, attention is the currency of the modern world. The ability to concentrate better than the next person can mean the difference between a successful student, a thriving business, a happy parent, and a great decision-maker.

So, how can you improve your attention span to make better choices and avoid decision fatigue? There are many strategies, and one of the most optimal ways is to eliminate distractions. Today, the easiest distractions are a result of technology and the devices running it—all of which are at your fingertips 24/7.

Create Extended Periods of Time to Increase Focus

These distractions might be small or large, but the broader issue is the frequency of them, and they repeatedly cause a break in your focus. Dealing with this while trying to make the right decision can be mentally debilitating.

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Technology distractions commonly relate to email, instant messages, push notifications from mobile apps, and scrolling through social media feeds. Access to all of these technologies and tools must be limited to scheduled time blocks (ideally, using a calendar if it’s during a working day).

Switch off notifications entirely to all of the above to prevent distractions (where possible) when it’s not time to look at them. This enables you to think more deeply and focus for prolonged periods of time, ultimately boosting the chances of making good decisions.

Final Thoughts

Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon that can deplete energy levels and increase stress. It can affect anyone who has to make decisions, whether they are minor or major ones.

Overcoming decision fatigue needs patience and dedication. By applying the best practices discussed in this article, you’ll be on the path to implement valuable changes. These changes will increase your productivity, as well as drastically improve your consistency and ability to make the right choices.

More About Decision Fatigue

Featured photo credit: Jake Melara via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] FlexRule: Decision Automation
[2] Behavioral Economics: Choice Overload

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