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Published on January 2, 2019

How to Focus on Work Better and Boost Productivity

How to Focus on Work Better and Boost Productivity

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 16, 2019

    6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

    6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

    Have you ever thought of yourself as a problem solver? I’m guessing not. But in reality, we are constantly solving problems. And the better our problem solving skills are, the easier our lives are.

    Problems arise in many shapes and forms. They can be mundane, everyday problems, or larger more complex problems:

    What to have for dinner tonight?

    Which route to take to work?

    How to fix a project that’s running behind schedule?

    How to change from an uninspiring job to a career you’re really passionate about?

    Every day, you’ll be faced with at least one problem to solve. But it gets easier when you realize that problems are simply choices. There’s nothing ‘scary’ about them other than having to make a decision.

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    No matter what job you’re in, where you live, who your partner is, how many friends you have, you will be judged on your ability to solve problems. Because problems equal hassles for everyone concerned. And people don’t like hassle. So the more problems you can solve, the less hassle all-round, the happier people are with you. Everyone wins.

    Why Are Problem Solving Skills Important?

    Problem is something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with. It can be a task, a situation, or even a person. Problem solving involves methods and skills to find the best solutions to problems.

    Problem solving is important because we all have decisions to make, and questions to answer in our lives. Amazing people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., are all great problems solvers. Good parents, teachers, doctors and waiters all have to be good at solving different sort of problems as well.

    Problem solving skills are for our everyday lives.

    How to Enhance Problem Solving Skills

    Most people believe that you have to be very intelligent in order to be a good problem solver, but that’s not true.

    You don’t have to be super smart to be a problem solver, you just need practice.

    When you understand the different steps to solve a problem, you’ll be able to come up with great solutions.

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    1. Focus on the Solution, Not the Problem

    Neuroscientists have proven that your brain cannot find solutions if you focus on the problem.[1] This is because when you focus on the problem, you’re effectively feeding ‘negativity,’ which in turn activates negative emotions in the brain. These emotions block potential solutions.

    I’m not saying you should ‘ignore the problem,’ instead, try to remain calm. It helps to first, acknowledge the problem; and then, move your focus to a solution-oriented mindset where you keep fixed on what the ‘answer’ could be, rather than lingering on ‘what went wrong’ and ‘who’s fault it is’.

    2. Adapt 5 Whys to Clearly Define the Problem

    5 Whys is a problem solving framework to help you get to the root of a problem.

    By repeatedly asking the question “why” on a problem, you can dig into the root cause of a problem, and that’s how you can find the best solution to tackle the root problem once and for all. And it can go deeper than just asking why for five times.

    For example:

    If the problem is “always late to work”…

    • Why am I late to work?
      I always click the snooze button and just want to go on sleeping.
    • Why do I want to go on sleeping?
      I feel so tired in the morning.
    • Why do I feel tired in the morning?
      I slept late the night before, that’s why.
    • Why did I sleep late?
      I wasn’t sleepy after drinking coffee, and I just kept scrolling my Facebook feed and somehow I couldn’t stop.
    • Why did I drink coffee?
      Because I was too sleepy at work in the afternoon, not having enough sleep the night before.

    So there you see, if you didn’t try to dig out the root of the problem, you may just set a few more alarms and have it beep every five minutes in the morning. But in fact, the problem you need to solve is to quit Facebook surfing endlessly at night so you’ll feel more energetic in the day time, and you won’t even need coffee.

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    3. Simplify Things

    As human beings, we have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be! Try simplifying your problem by generalizing it.

    Remove all the details and go back to the basics. Try looking for a really easy, obvious solution – you might be surprised at the results! And we all know that it’s often the simple things that are the most productive.

    4. List out as Many Solutions as Possible

    Try to come up with ‘ALL POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS’ – even if they seem ridiculous at first. It’s important you keep an open mind to boost creative thinking, which can trigger potential solutions.

    Coming from 10 years in the corporate advertising industry, it is drummed into you that ‘No idea is a bad idea’ and this aids creative thinking in brainstorms and other problem-solving techniques.

    Whatever you do, do not ridicule yourself for coming up with ‘stupid solutions’ as it’s often the crazy ideas that trigger other more viable solutions.

    5. Think Laterally

    Change the ‘direction’ of your thoughts by thinking laterally. Pay attention to the saying,

    ‘You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging it deeper.”

    Try to change your approach and look at things in a new way. You can try flipping your objective around and looking for a solution that is the polar opposite!

    Even if it feels silly, a fresh and unique approach usually stimulates a fresh solution.

    6. Use Language That Creates Possibility

    Lead your thinking with phrases like ‘what if…’ and ‘imagine if…’ These terms open up our brains to think creatively and encourage solutions.

    Avoid closed, negative language such as ‘I don’t think…’ or ‘But this is not right…’.

    The Bottom Line

    There’s nothing scary about a problem when you start to adapt my advice.

    Try not to view problems as ‘scary’ things! If you think about what a problem really is, it’s really just feedback on your current situation.

    Every problem is telling you that something is not currently working and that you need to find a new way around it.

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    So try to approach problems neutrally – without any judgment. Practice focusing on defining a problem, keep calm and not to make things too complicated.

    More About Problem Solving

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Planet of Success: Problem vs Solution Focused Thinking

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