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How to Focus on Work Better and Boost Productivity

How to Focus on Work Better and Boost Productivity
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What comes to your mind first when it comes to boosting your team’s productivity?

Until everyone on your team knows how to focus, they will never be able to think clearly and solve problems efficiently.

However, staying focused has become harder these days. Every time your mind wanders, you waste time and energy trying to get back on track.

Interruptions are bound to happen every now and then among your team members, so how to increase team productivity and help everyone stay focused?

Recently, I’ve had an interview about how to focus better with Wade Foster, the co-founder/CEO of Zapier, a Y Combinator company that’s bringing all of these services together so people can focus on work that really matters.

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    In the interview, Foster shared with us the greatest enemy of productivity today, and how we can make good use of productivity tools to help the team  stay focused.

    The Greatest Enemy of Productivity

    Why do you think people are getting harder and harder to focus on work these days?

    There are two main reasons why many people struggle to focus on work:

    There are many different types of productivity tools at our disposal, and context-switching between these tools is hard to do.

    Think about how many different apps or software you use at work: depending on what you do for a living, you might use as many as 15 apps to do your job. Switching between all of these different tasks, apps, and steps is tough for most people to do, and it often decreases productivity.

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    More tools and technologies are emerging that will help us streamline and prioritize our work lives and quiet the noise. Some of these tools include automation, “do not disturb” functionality, and time limit caps on app usage.

    What’s your suggestion on staying focused and progressing forward?

    Automation is the easiest thing you can do to be more efficient with your time, yet it’s one of the most underused productivity tactics. It helps you complete the small, tedious tasks on your To Do list, so you can focus on higher value work.

    We work with a law firm called Chi City Legal who use automation to create proposals, service requests forms and other documents.[1] Simply cutting out the manual, repetitive process of creating all of those documents made the team more productive. In fact, the Chi City Legal team now has more time to take on more clients and dedicate more attention to their cases.

    The Role of Productivity Tools These Days

    Some people say that productivity tools distract people from working, what do you think?

    I did a podcast interview with David Zisner, a Zapier customer, partner, and expert recently and he said something that stuck with me: “Automation is a mindset.”

    The same can be said for productivity. It’s less about the tools and the technical skills, and it’s really more about how you approach your work.

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    There are simple habits we can build and ways of thinking that can help us achieve our goals. Productivity tools are a way to help us get there because they remove a constraint, but they’re only part of the solution.

    In order to remove those constraints, you have to get into the right mindset to recognize that the constraints exist, and find creative ways to remove those constraints.

    What is the best way to use productivity tools?

    If you’re new to productivity tools, ask your co-workers what types of apps they use to stay organized. Try just a small handful of tools (chat, email, and calendaring) over a period of time so you can see if they help you get more work done. Ask your co-workers what tools they use, so it’ll be easier for you to collaborate with them.

    At Zapier, we use a variety of cloud-based apps to manage projects, share designs, you name it. We’re a 100% remote team, so productivity tools are essential to our collaboration.

    Lastly, try introducing automation into your work. A good place to start is by listing all of the tasks that you need to do on a regular basis, and noting which ones seem manual or repetitive.

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    If you can automate those tasks, you have the potential to free up a lot of time that could be better spent on projects that advance your career or impact the bottom line.

    The Bottom Line

    As Foster shared, productivity is less about the tools and the technical skills, but more about how you approach your work. In order to increase productivity, start paying attention to the existing constraints and try to figure out ways to tackle them — this is when you should find the suitable techniques and tools to help you.

    More Practical Tips to Boost Productivity

    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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