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Last Updated on December 15, 2017

Learn How To Work Not 1, But 3 Of Your Brain Regions For Maximum Smartness!

Learn How To Work Not 1, But 3 Of Your Brain Regions For Maximum Smartness!

How many times do you find yourself distracted when trying to complete an important task? How often do you suddenly snap out of a daydream for the hundredth time when you know you need your full attention on what’s in front of you?

Procrastination is a natural byproduct of the human brain being unable to focus 100% for long periods of time. Research has found that we can only focus on what’s in front of us 53% of the time. So working on developing a strong “attention muscle” is the key to creating more focus on tasks and, in turn, allows us to spend our time and attention optimally in the moment.

But how can we train our minds to pay more attention and become more focused?

The Two Ways Our Brain Stops Us From Focusing

It causes feelings of frustration, demotivation and even failure, but when we’re faced with a task that needs our focus and energy there’s only so long our brain will allow us to 100% put our attention into it. The two main procrastination avenues are:

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  • Daydreaming or Zoning Off: We all have times when our thoughts drift away but an interesting study [1] conducted by Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, found that we actually spend around 47% of our waking hours in this daydreaming mode. This means that while you’re supposed to be focused on various important tasks throughout your day, half the time you’re actually focused on something else. We’re usually more mindful of this when we feel stuck on a task that requires a lot of our energy and focus. Our brain dreads the ‘hard work’ and wants to avoid it as much as possible hence we eventually lose focus.
  • Distractions: How we decide to spend each moment makes or breaks our productivity. While technology has made things much faster in many areas of our life, it’s also the biggest cause of distraction. The quick-fix stimulation it provides us outweighs the meaningfulness we find in tasks and projects. In terms of convenience and speed, technology allows us to work much quicker yet the paradox here is that the faster we complete tasks, the harder it is for us to work in a deliberate manner. And this is why we spend 47% focused on anything but the task at hand.

It goes without saying that this has massive productivity costs especially as our time and attention are so intricately connected in order to get things done. In other words, the less attention you devote to a task, the more time you have to complete it because you’re actually working less efficiently.

    Why Productivity is More About Mindfulness and Intention

    When we talk about productivity, we tend to assume it’s more about getting work done in less time but this isn’t the case. If we’re looking at it from a place of energy, focus and attention, then it’s more about being deliberate with what we do and doing it with intention.

    The power of being productive is all about carving out more time and attentional space around the tasks that you do. As a result you create the room to work on higher-return tasks in each mindful moment, and fend off low-return tasks and so become a more productive person.

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    According to neuroscientists, our attention is made up of three parts:

    1. Central Executive: This is the thinking and planning part of your brain located in the prefrontal cortex.
    2. Focus: This is the process of narrowing your attentional spotlight on any given task in order to help you work more efficiently.
    3. Awareness: This helps you become more aware of both your external and internal environments in order to help you work more mindfully and deliberately.

    The three of these together are what makes up your main attention muscle and building up this important muscle involves using all these elements equally.

      How To Train Your All-Important Attention Muscle

      Be Mindful of Your Distractions

      Next time you have an important task to complete, keep a notepad by your desk and make a note of every distraction, interruption and daydream that occurs. This will make you much more aware of how often it happens and can eventually allow you to deal with distractions before they pop up. Switching off alerts on your phone is a common one especially as it can take as long as 25 minutes to refocus after an interruption has happened.

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      This is an important strategy of defence against interruptions that will minimise the need to refocus while boosting your attention, focus and flow.

      Single-Tasking

      Focusing on just one thing at a time is the absolute best thing you can do to be optimally productive. This doesn’t necessarily mean “focus harder” but instead prioritise your list of things to do and start with the most important first. Yes, your mind mind may wander or you might start reaching for your phone but try to resist those thoughts and stick to what you need to do in the moment. Catching yourself and acknowledging the distraction is the best way to renew your focus before too much time has passed.

      There’s nothing better than the feeling of flow and being fully immersed in whatever task or project you choose to do so allow yourself to feel that benefit.

      Chew Gum

      Yes you heard right! You may have heard this trick before and thought it was an old wives’ tale but a study by researchers at Cardiff University found that chewing gum can increase your alertness and improve attention span. The act of chewing ignites the brain and tells the body that nutrients are on the way, therefore decreasing hunger pains (a common excuse for procrastination). But another more mindful way of using gum to lessen distraction is to provide focus with the repetitive chewing action and bringing awareness to the breath especially if you opt for the minty variety.

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      Focus and Refocus

      The consistency of a task is down to your attention span and we all have an attention span limit. What you do when you reach this limit is the crucial key for success. Most of us are unable to sustain attention on one thing for more than around 40 minutes at a time so this is usually a great moment to stop and have a break. However, it’s important to come back to the task and refocus.

      People with the best focus simply realise that when they get off-track they must repeatedly choose to refocus. It’s a good habit to get into because this ability to renew attention, trains you to “pay attention” to things that last for more than a few minutes such as a long movie. So the secret key to improving your attention span is a constant cycle of focus, distraction and refocus.

        So be honest with yourself. Do you spend more time on distractions when trying to get a task done? Could you have finished the project in half the time? Try becoming more mindful of where your focus is going. Note how often your thoughts wonder or how many times you check your phone notifications and aim to improve your attention span by focusing for short bursts, breaking and then refocusing. By doing this you’ll experience the wonderful feeling of flow, success and fulfilment in completing difficult tasks.

        Featured photo credit: snapwire via pexels.com

        Reference

        [1]https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/

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        Leon Ho

        Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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        Last Updated on November 14, 2018

        Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

        Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

        Do you find yourself constantly feeling busy? Or, maybe you feel like you have too much on your plate? Perhaps you have a to-do list with no end in sight, or many responsibilities to juggle on a daily basis at work. When you get home, you have household responsibilities to take care of, too, and it just seems like you never have much time for a breather.

        Being busy is good, it’s better than not having anything to do and letting time slip away. But, what many people don’t realize is, being busy doesn’t always mean you’re being productive. The more time you take to complete something does not equal to more success. Many people end up falling into this trap as they pack their day with tasks and errands that may sometimes produce little outcome or output for the effort that they’ve put in.

        For example, let’s say that your washing machine at home broke down and you need to fix it. Instead of calling the handyman to come, your husband decides he’s going to fix the machine. He ends up spending half a day figuring out the machine, and does eventually fix it. He did however have to make a trip to the tool shop to buy some extra tools and parts for the machine. Now, if you had called the handy man, it would probably have taken the handyman much less time, and he would have all the necessary tools and parts already, because that is his job. So in this instance, was your husband’s time and effort worth it? Oh, and because he took half the day fixing the machine, you now had to take over his duties of dropping the kids off at soccer and swim practice.

        We Need Not Be That Busy

        I hope you would agree, that it would have been ideal to delegate this task to the handyman. That would have saved you time and effort, so that you and your husband could focus on doing other things that were more important to you, like being there for your kids or spending time with each other. This is just one example of how we often impose busyness on ourselves without us even realizing it.

        But, I’m going to show you just how you can gain quality time from external sources. Whatever big goals or ambitions that you may have, it’s normal for them to involve a lot more of your time than you first expect. I’m talking about things like starting a new business, changing careers, perhaps even moving to a new city. New challenges often involve things that are outside of our experience and expertise, so covering all the bases ourselves is sometimes not feasible as it takes too much time to learn and do everything.

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        You Are Just One Person

        At the end of the day, you are just one person, and you have a limited amount of time. So, you have to do things that are meaningful to you. While an overall goal may be meaningful, not all of the milestones needed to get there may be meaningful. Because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, not every task will be enjoyable or all fun & games. Some simply require pure willpower and discipline to grind through. And that is where delegation comes in.

        What is Delegation?

        You may hear this term a lot in the business or corporate world; it’s an effective way for managers to distribute (or sometimes avoid!) work. But, that’s not what I’m referring to. Instead, delegation means leveraging time from an outside source to give you opportunities to increase your quality time. By outside source, we simply mean that it’s not your own time that you’re spending.

        What Should You Delegate?

        To delegate effectively, it has to be done with deliberate intention. So the aim of delegation is to create more quality time for yourself. There are 3 types of tasks that you should generally delegate, called the Delegation Triangle.

        The first are tasks you don’t enjoy doing. These are things that you know how to do, but don’t enjoy. Second, are tasks you shouldn’t do. These are things you know how to do and may even enjoy, but may not be the best use of your time. Third, are tasks you can’t do. These are things that need doing, but you don’t have the skills or expertise to follow through with them at this moment.

        Have a look through your daily tasks and responsibilities, and see if you can fit them under these 3 categories.

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        Pitfalls of Delegation

        Using the Delegation Triangle, you can decide which tasks are worth delegating. In theory, it might look easy to sort actions at first glance; but often, it’s actually harder than you think! 

        One such example, is diverting time on tasks you shouldn’t do. Let’s go back to the washing machine example. Your husband decides to fix it on his own instead of simply getting an expert to fix it. Why? Because it’s probably a challenge he enjoys, and it’s an accomplishment that would bring him satisfaction. However, if the value of the task is too low, you really ought to delegate it to others.

        Sometimes, when you have a larger goal in mind, you might have to sacrifice some actions in return for making progress. Always think about the bigger picture! One thing that can help you avoid this pitfall is to keep your deadlines in mind whenever you set milestones for a project or task.

        Deadlines are a commitment to yourself, and every bit of time is precious. So if an activity you’re focusing on is taking time away from progress towards your goal, it may be time to let go of it for now. You can always decide to pick it up again later.

        Then there’s the other extreme of delegation. And that’s when you start delegating everything you dislike doing to external sources.Sometimes it’s tempting to abuse delegation and get carried away outsourcing everything on your “don’t like doing” list.

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        Some people are too picky on what they’re going to do. But sometimes, if you don’t like doing so but you’re the only one who can do it, you still need to finish the job. At the end of the day, it does take your own hard work and effort to achieve the success you want.

        So if you find that you’re constantly running into this problem of over delegating, then it may be time to re-evaluate your motivation, or reason for doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

        Ask yourself, “Is this task contributing towards a meaningful objective that I want to achieve?” and “what kind of progress do I make each time I carry out the task myself?” If the task is both meaningful and creates progress, then the next step is to ask yourself questions that can help you create actions.

        What obstacles are causing you to avoid this task? Is it because of low confidence in your ability? Do you think someone else can do a better job? Is it your level of focus? Or is there an alternative action you can take that can produce the same results?

        Take Action Now

        Take a look at your current tasks or to-do’s that you have planned this week. Which tasks are possible candidates that fall under the Delegation Triangle? Are there any that fall under the pitfalls mentioned above? Which tasks can you immediately identify that should be delegated out right now?

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        I hope this exercise helps declutter your tasks and responsibilities a little and allows you to see how much more time you can be saving for more important things. But, this is not the end of delegation. After you’ve sorted out the tasks that can be delegated, the next step is to determine who it should be delegated to. Besides people like your co workers, or spouse/family members, did you know that there is a whole delegating industry out there?

        If you’re keen to learn more about this delegating industry, and find out how you can decide who’s the best fit to do your delegated tasks, subscribe to our newsletter today. We will help you discover many more skills that will boost your productivity by leaps and bounds!

        Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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