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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Stay on Task And Be Laser Focused

How to Stay on Task And Be Laser Focused

Focus is one of the most critical tools in your productivity arsenal. Remaining focused throughout the day will increase your likelihood of staying committed to your priorities. It will reduce the amount of time you waste on distractions and unnecessary priorities. And it will increase your efficiency when working on a task because you’re committing your full cognitive resources to it. The question is, how can you intentionally stay on task with so many distractions in the workplace?

It’s hard to increase your focus through willpower alone, so consider using these habits and strategies to make it easier to focus regularly:

1. Turn Off Notifications

Notifications are stealing your focus — at least, that’s an excellent way to think about them. Whenever you receive a notification, you’re going to look up from your work, even if it’s just for a moment. When this happens, your focus breaks, and it takes time for you to build it back up. In some situations, notifications may pull you entirely away from your work, causing you to shift priorities inefficiently.

You’re better off without them in most contexts, so turn off notifications wherever you can and minimize them wherever you can’t.

2. Disable Access to Distracting Websites

If you’re like most people, there are at least a handful of websites responsible for hours of your time wasted every week. These are probably social media sites, forums, or other sources of content that pull you away from more important projects.

Consider downloading a browser extension or an app that allows you to selectively block these websites or put a limit on the amount of time you can use them. Eventually, you’ll develop much more responsible habits.

3. Delete Your Biggest Time-Wasting Apps

Similarly, you should know which apps on your phone are responsible for your biggest distractions and time waste. Again, these are probably social media sites, games, or other sources of entertaining information, so consider deleting them altogether.

If you truly miss the apps, you can always reinstall them later. Otherwise, you can hide them in a different part of your phone’s interface. This way, you’re less likely to open the app unconsciously.

4. Stop People From Interrupting You

How long do you go without being interrupted? The average knowledge worker spends only 11 minutes on a given project before facing an interruption from another person.[1] This is incredibly frustrating if you’re trying to focus on a heads-down project.

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There are a few ways you can stop people from interrupting you. For example, you can create a physical barrier (e.g., closing a door) or notify them that you’re going to be unavailable to deter them from talking to you. If not, you can completely unplug from the internet to cut down digital conversational requests, albeit temporarily.

5. Get More Sleep

Sleep has a significant impact on your ability to focus. If you miss even one night of good sleep, it’s going to impact your ability to concentrate the next day and possibly for several days to follow. Adults are recommended to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.[2] If you’re struggling to achieve it, consider scheduling sleep as you’d do with any other important activity.

You can also try different tactics like buying a new mattress, keeping your room cooler, and improving your overall lifestyle (meaning, eating healthily and exercising).

6. Consume Caffeine (in Moderation)

Anyone who drinks coffee regularly can tell you that even a small amount of caffeine can make it easier to focus, especially if you’re feeling tired). Try grabbing a mug of coffee or a cup of tea whenever you feel the need for a focus boost.

Just make sure you’re not overindulging, or you can wind up with adverse side effects, such as excessive anxiety or insomnia.

7. Try the ABC Method

One article from the Harvard Business Review suggests using the ABC method, which stands for “Aware, Breathe, and Choose.”[3] The basic idea is to catch yourself when your focus is broken (the “aware” step). Once you do this, take a moment to breathe. Don’t judge yourself, and give yourself a minute to clear your mind.

From there, make a conscious, deliberate decision on what to do next. Do you want to continue being distracted? Or do you want to return to work?

8. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

You can accomplish something similar by practicing mindfulness meditation. This branch of meditation encourages users to spend time improving their awareness of the present moment regularly. You must allow your thoughts to come and go naturally, often with the help of a focal point like a deep breathing exercise or a mantra.

The first several times you do this, you may struggle to notice the results. But over time, you’ll get better at it until you realize that mindfulness meditation is an excellent tool for decluttering your mind and improving your focus.

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9. Stop Multitasking

Too many people falsely believe that they’re the exception to the concept that multitasking doesn’t work. One study found that multitasking makes you 40% less productive.[4] It’s tempting to do some light reading during a boring meeting or try to answer two different employee requests simultaneously. But whenever you try to split your focus between two or more tasks, you end up doing all of them inefficiently.

You’re much better off focusing on one thing at a time, even if it feels less productive at the moment. Plus, the more you do this, the easier it will be to focus on singular tasks.

10. Turn Up the Thermostat

One study found that people were almost twice as productive in a room of 77 degrees as they were in a place with a room temperature of 68 degrees.[5] There are a few possible explanations for this, including the idea that we are simply more comfortable in 77-degree air than 68-degree air. It can also be that people are more active in the former temperature.

But whatever the case is, this effect seems to be scientifically valid.

Just take it with a grain of salt. Different people have different climate preferences, so you may end up focusing better in other conditions, too.

11. Invest in Better Lighting

Almost universally, people find it easier to focus when they’re surrounded by bright, high-quality light. The best option here is to allow more natural sunlight into your workspace. However, if this isn’t possible, invest in high-quality LEDs that can replicate sunlight.

You’ll feel less tired when surrounded by this light, and you’ll find it easier to concentrate on the papers and screens in front of you.

12. Work and Relax in Different Areas

If you’re working from home or have any flexibility in where you work, make sure you work and relax in different areas. Our minds tend to acclimate to different environments based on their purpose. Thus, if you use your bed for general lounging throughout the day, you may not associate it with sleep (and may have difficulty sleeping as a result).

If you enjoy movies and video games on your living room couch, and you try to work on that same couch with a laptop, you’re naturally going to feel distracted. Improve your focus by setting up a specific workstation.

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13. Stare at Something Red

This is a strange tip, but consider staring at something red when you’re feeling distracted. One study found that after staring at the color red, workers were more likely to stay focused on tasks and showed improvements in memory, performance, and even attention to detail.[6]

These results were not found in participants who stared at the color blue. So, there’s no harm in keeping a red flag or sheet of paper nearby in case you need a quick concentration boost.

14. Exercise Every Day

Make time every day to exercise, even if you can’t fit in a full-body workout. The physical exertion releases endorphins and dopamine, giving you a burst of energy and helping you focus throughout the day. It’s also a great way to relieve stress, so there’s no reason not to try it.[7]

The next time you find your focus drifting, go for a brisk walk, or do some pushups and sit-ups near your desk. You might be surprised at how much easier it is to focus afterward.

15. Break Things Down

When a task seems intimidating or complicated, people tend to have difficulty focusing. You can make everything more manageable and easier to focus on by breaking these monster tasks down. Split each major project into several smaller pieces.

Instead of scheduling hours of your day continuously, block off time in 15-minute intervals. It’s much easier to stay focused for 15 minutes at a time than to try and focus for two hours straight.

16. Take a Break

Taking a break is the only real way to “recharge” in the middle of a heavy work session.[8] It’s a way for you to declutter your mind and an opportunity to reevaluate your priorities and your approach to work.

Try to take a break for at least a few minutes every hour or two and walk away from the screen if you can. When you return, you’ll likely find it much easier to focus on your tasks.

17. Establish Visual Reminders

When our focus falters, it doesn’t usually happen all at once. Instead, it starts to drift without us being aware of it. Before we realize what’s happening, we’re already paying attention to something entirely new.

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You can fight back against this by establishing visual reminders for yourself. For example, writing the phrase “Are you focused?” on a brightly colored sticky note and sticking it next to your screen can force you to challenge your current attention levels.

Whenever your attention drifts away from your main project, you’ll see this phrase and ask yourself the question. Hopefully, it will return your attention to where it belongs. Just make sure to change these visuals from time to time so that you don’t get used to them.

18. Turn on a White Noise Machine

If you’re the type of person who’s consistently distracted by environmental noise, consider finding a way to introduce gentle background noise to your environment. If you play low-volume ambient music or turn on a white noise machine, you’ll likely drown out whatever micro-noises that usually distract you (e.g., footsteps, chitchat, or construction sounds). Experiment with different types of noise to see what helps you focus best.

19. Stay Focused in Other Areas of Your Life

Focus is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it’s going to become. If you’re not focused in any areas of your life, you’re not going to become and remain focused at work. For example, if you can’t get through watching a movie without looking at your smartphone 20 times, it’s a sign you have a bigger focus problem.

Work on keeping your focus as much as possible in other areas of your life — not just at work. You’ll notice a significant difference in as little as a few weeks.

Making Iterative Improvements

If you struggle to stay on task, you may be disappointed to learn that no shortcut can make you instantly and permanently more attentive. However, you shouldn’t be discouraged. Make iterative improvements, gradually tweaking your habits and approaches so that you can evolve.

Rotate through the strategies we’ve listed above, and figure out a combination of approaches that works for you!

More Tips to Help You Stay Focused

Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Jayson DeMers

Entrepreneur and Productivity Expert

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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Not Ideal to Make a Living Today

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Not Ideal to Make a Living Today

In the early 1900s, Henry Ford needed to hire factory workers for his exploding auto empire. So, he took a unique path to attract his employees: by offering them an eight-hour workday.

Ford’s proposition of a 9-5 gig in a car factory may not seem all that alluring now, but his logic was quite innovative for the time.

A hundred and twenty years ago, most workers were accustomed to grueling shifts of 12 hours or more. Working a mere eight hours at Henry Ford’s factory probably felt like a vacation—one that, thanks to more alert workers, also bolstered productivity and output.

Fast forward 120 or so years, and working 9 to 5 (or some variation of it) has become the norm. But just because a 9-to-5 gig is standard practice doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee for efficiency, productivity, or employee happiness.

In the last few decades, as technology has advanced, work hours have remained the same—potentially at a cost to workers and their companies. It’s time to revisit work schedule expectations and reap the benefits of autonomy along with it.

Here are four reasons why working 9 to 5 isn’t ideal to make a living today.

1. Humans Aren’t Machines

In Ford’s day, maximum output was the key to success. The more cars you built during a shift, the more successful you were—and workers on the assembly line were just another cog in the overall wheel of production.

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But now, most of us don’t assemble Model T’s in factories. And there’s just no magic formula to guarantee maximum output or effectiveness.

“The idea that employees are like machines—if they put eight hours in you’ll get x dollars out—is absurd,” Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse, told Inc.[1]

Humans aren’t machines. That means not every person’s rhythms and the skills required for their jobs will mesh with a traditional, 9-5 work schedule. Yes, working 9 to 5 every day might empower one employee for success. But a traditional schedule could also quench another person’s ability to tap into other skills, like creativity, innovation, or teamwork.

I’ll be the first to say there’s a time and place for office hours. Whenever possible, I highly value having team members together to collaborate (plus, scheduling meetings is convenient when everyone’s in the office at the same time).

But I don’t see my “office hours” as the most important part of my job. Actually, some of my best ideas come to me when I’m not at my desk. I often brainstorm while hiking on weekends or while at the gym early in the morning. When these unexpected ideas creep up on me, I carve out time to get work done—and it’s usually not between 9 and 5.

With a bit of flexibility, workers can determine when they do their best work, and then plan accordingly. That’s why one CEO allows his employees to pick between four 10-hour days or five eight-hour days, and why many companies are following suit—the goal is to let go of rigidity in favor of flexibility and all the benefits that come with it.

To determine what type of work schedule is ideal for you to do your job well, think about when you do your best work. When are you most creative and alert? When do you feel most motivated?

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You might be more productive and creative first thing in the morning. If that’s the case, work then. On the other hand, if the late evening hours fuel your best ideas, carve out a few hours of work time before bed.

2. Flexibility Increases Productivity

Flexibility at work isn’t just a nice add-on to a benefits package or a positive aspect of workplace culture. In fact, I’ve come to believe flexibility is essential for the success of both employees and companies.

Think about a time in your life you adhered to a rigid, predictable work schedule, whether or not by any decision of your own. Next, reflect on a time when you worked more hours than you wanted to, just to meet a demanding supervisor’s expectations for your role.

How happy were you during that time of life? And be honest, how well did you really do at your job? Did you enjoy showing up every day, or did you dread “clocking in”?

If you’ve experienced burnout before (or if you’re in the midst of it now), you will probably be happy to hear that working too much isn’t just bad for you. It’s also not good for your employer’s bottom line. There’s evidence that the more hours you work, the less productive you will be.[2]

On the flip side, it’s happier workers who actually do the best work. That’s right: Your brain actually works better when you’re content.[3]

It follows, then, that when people have time for a personal life—to pursue hobbies, invest in relationships, and get a good night’s sleep—they’ll be better workers as a result.[4]

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3. Flexibility Enhances Focus

Another argument against working 9 to 5: The constraints of a traditional “day job” schedule could keep people from focusing on the work in front of them.

If you’re someone who works well under the pressure of a deadline, then you understand how your most productive workdays aren’t necessarily your longest ones.

I know the feeling. Personally, I tend to lose focus and momentum when I’m stuck at my computer for too many hours. As the day drags on, my attention and interest in the tasks at hand dwindle little by little.

There may be something psychological at play in either scenario. In their book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir argue that having less time to get something done heightens productivity by increasing focus. The idea is that constraints force strategy, which leads to better (and often, more) work.

A flexible work schedule yields benefits for employees and employers alike. If you constrain yourself to a shorter (or simply more flexible) workday, you’ll have more incentive to manage your time well, which means high-priority tasks and projects will receive priority.

4. Working From Home Adds New Distractions and Demands

Life today feels unfamiliar to many of us, and our work is no exception. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, many employees are working from their homes instead of at the office—and forcing remote workers to adhere to the same 9-5 work hours they held in the office may not make sense.

Generally, with a new environment, you can’t expect people to play by the same rules. For one thing, many employees might want to start the day sooner or later than usual, without the burden of commuting to and from the office.

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On the other hand, doing one’s job from a home office presents all kinds of new distractions, from taking care of kids and pets to the allure of a midday nap on the couch.

It’s not just the work environment that’s shifted due to the pandemic but also the workers’ abilities to meet the demands of their jobs in general.

Take parents, for example, who may now be responsible for taking care of a toddler or overseeing their kids’ distance learning along with juggling the demands of their jobs. With these new demands in the work environment, a traditional 9-5 schedule simply isn’t a fair, or realistic, expectation.

Final Thoughts

Flexibility enables these worn-down workers to focus on the most important things in their lives—their well-being and the health of their families—so they can in turn bring their best to work to the table.

It might take time for the culture to catch up to modern realities—legend has it, it took an auto tycoon to change the norm more than a century ago. But in my book, the perks of autonomy at work are a win-win for everyone.

More on New Ways of Working

Featured photo credit: Matthew Henry via unsplash.com

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