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Published on February 23, 2021

How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks

How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks

Knowledge was what once separated the rich and successful from the rest of the pack. The internet combined with the iPhone leveled the playing field. Then came along social media and put people in touch from all corners of the world. Now, Clubhouse is rewriting all the rules again. While our knowledge grows exponentially, sadly, our focus doesn’t. We must learn—as Warren Buffet does—to “say no to almost everything”. The key to success isn’t how to learn more, but how to increase focus.

The working-from-home model (WFH) wasn’t something many companies embraced just a short time ago. Today, Covid-19 has made WFH ubiquitous. With it, all sorts of challenges have arisen and companies and individuals alike are still adjusting to the new normal.

Pre-Covid, people had to deal with distractions at the office from walk-ins, colleagues asking for assistance, office gossip, and the likes. Today’s environment, for many people, is completely different. Isolated at home, a lack of focus can’t be blamed on your micromanaging boss, obnoxious coworkers, or persistent customers. At home, your focus is entirely in your hands now. So, what can you do about it?

Here are 12 different ways you can increase your focus.

1. Exercise

Get your day started right by getting the blood flowing. In Japanese, companies used to have their employees start their mornings with some light exercise. Stretching, yoga, or easy calisthenics are all that’s needed. Exercise does so much good for our bodies and mind.

According to the Harvard Medical School, exercise “reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”[1]

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2. Monotask

Multitasking was a cute catchphrase that sounded as if you were able to get more done in less time. Science says that’s dead wrong. By jumping from one task to another, our brain needs time to restart.

According to psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life,

“multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls.”

Therefore, to increase focus, simply monotask. By limiting your mind to a single topic, you create a laser-like ability to cut through it.

3. Chunking

While we might not be able to multitask, we can do two activities simultaneously if they use different parts of our brain. That’s why we can drive and listen to podcasts at the same time and keep control of our cars—driving has become internalized. Watching TV while doing your exercise routine is another prime example.

While chunking doesn’t qualify as something that will increase focus, what it does is free up time that we can use for other tasks. Good time management means having the ability to do more. When we have so much on our plate, getting through it all can be daunting. But by chunking activities, we kill two birds with one stone.

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4. Music

You might not think music can increase our focus, but you’d be wrong. A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, done in 2007, states that music, specifically classical music, can help your brain absorb and interpret new information more easily.[2] If you’re looking for an easy way on how to increase focus, Mozart or Beethoven have got you covered.

5. Nature

David Strayer is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention. He’s also an avid backpacker, and he talks about something called the “3-day effect.” He demonstrated with a group of Outward Bound participants that after three days of a wilderness backpacking adventure, they performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks.[3]

According to him, “on the third day, my senses recalibrate – I smell things and hear things I didn’t hear before.” So, if you’ve been cramped up in your house during the lockdowns, a trip to the Great Outdoors might be just what the doctor ordered.

6. Mingle

The effects the lockdowns have had on our mental health have been severe. Isolating people isn’t good for us. We’re social animals. We need to get out and mingle. While we often view chit-chat as a mindless, time-wasting activity, it does have its benefits. Talking to different people exposes our minds to new and fresh ideas as well as alleviate stress. The less stress we have, the more we can focus.

7. Sleep

The simplest and easiest way to increase focus is having good old-fashioned sleep. Too many of us have gotten accustomed to cutting hours off our sleep to be able to watch another episode of Game of Thrones or get to the next level in the Spiderman: Miles Morales on the PlayStation 5.

None of us can operate at optimum levels for long periods of time without a good night’s rest. Short term, we might be able to get away with it, but over time the effects add up. In essence, by denying yourself sleep, you are denying your body the rest it needs to realign itself.

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8. Diet

The food we eat is the fuel for our bodies. A Ferrari can only perform its best with quality gasoline. The same can be said for our bodies, yet it seems too many people don’t connect the two.

While the vegetarian diet is certainly healthy, I prefer to take a more balanced approach. Fish, meat, and pork all provide us with amino acids essential for health. I compliment my proteins with a variety of vegetables and carbohydrates. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. Ever since I focused on creating a more balanced diet, I have not lost a day of work.

9. Cooking Timers

It sounds rather silly until you’ve tried it, but force yourself to work on one task for a solid 30 minutes—no interruptions of any kind. You’ll be amazed at how hard it is for us to do that. We have gotten so used to jumping from one browser tab to another. We happily bounce around on the internet whenever we see something that catches our eye. It’s amazing how much time we flutter away without knowing it. A cooking timer is your commitment to give a single task your undivided attention.

10. Switch Things Up

While I have spoken about focus, monotasking, and timers, we have to understand that there are times when we just get stuck. It’s at moments like that we need a change of scenery. It’s no use beating a dead horse.

There are days when our creative juices just aren’t flowing. At times like this, it’s better to just get your mind completely off what you’re doing. Clear your mind by doing something completely different. That breather will give your mind time to reboot itself. Playing a video game, reading a book, or doing something completely different from what you usually do can work. It’s amazing how, by simply switching things up, we can increase our focus.

11. Go for a Walk

Something as simple as going for a walk can be just what the doctor ordered. In fact, under the current circumstances of work-from-home, it’s something we all need to do more of.

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There were days when my wife didn’t go outside for days on end. She’d start going stir crazy. Going for a walk—away from technology—and breathing in the fresh air can make a world of difference to someone stuck at home.

12. Deadlines

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted. Put simply, we adjust our work to the time available for its completion.

Say you’re told to finish a project by next Tuesday. Most people will get it done by next Tuesday. Unlike school where we have the eager beavers, as adults, we have so much on our plate so we put off things that do not need our immediate attention. So, if you want to increase focus, simply bring in the time frame.

Don’t allow yourself to put things off and instead, attack them head-on. Combined with the other techniques and strategies outlined in this article, you’ll be able to rip right through things.

Conclusion

Focus, not knowledge, is the key to success in today’s world. Unfortunately, so many things are competing for our focus and attention. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and the new kid on the block—Clubhouse—are all vying for your attention, not to mention our friends, family, and colleagues.

It’s a battle for your mind, and you are in the driver’s seat. Armed with these 12 brain hacks, you’ll be able to win more wars than you lose.

More Tips on How to Increase Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Chase Clark via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Exercising to relax
[2] Stanford Medicine: Study shows different brains have similar responses to music
[3] National Geographic: This Is Your Brain on Nature

More by this author

Adrian Shepherd

Adrian is a productivity consultant and the CEO of iSucceed

How to Stay Awake at Work Without Caffeine 11 Ways to Naturally Increase Your Focus How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks Why Can’t I Focus? 8 Reasons and Possible Solutions How To Increase Your Efficiency At Work (14 Simple Ways)

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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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