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Published on March 22, 2021

11 Ways to Naturally Increase Your Focus

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11 Ways to Naturally Increase Your Focus

According to a study done by Microsoft, we lose interest in just eight seconds.[1] That means our attention span is less than that of a goldfish’s (which is nine).

The battle for our mind is very real. Never before in history have we had so many different vehicles vying for our attention. Disney+, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok are just some of the heavy hitters out there and unfortunately for us, they are all very good at what they do.

The good news is we can fight back.

As a productivity consultant, I help clients regain their focus in a number of ways. Here are 11 ways to naturally increase your focus.

1. A Good Night’s Rest

As a society, we have become obsessed with getting ahead. We come in early, stay late, put in time on the weekends, and burn the midnight oil. We do so in order to give ourselves advantages over our peers and competition which lead to promotions and higher salaries.

Every time a new client walks through my door (metaphorically in today’s world), I run a time audit. I want to know how they invest their time, where the leaks are and how best I can serve them. Inevitably, nearly every executive that comes to me, shortchanges themselves when it comes to their sleep.

There are the sleepless elites (1 to 3 percent of the population)[2] that are able to get by on less than five hours sleep, but most of us simply can’t. Researchers have found that we need between seven and eight hours a night to operate at peak performance.[3] Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma and Lebron James are just a few of the people that get a good night’s rest.

A good night’s sleep allows our body to reset itself; reducing stress and alleviating muscle wear. Our ability to focus increases and we are able to reduce our mistakes.

Solution: It isn’t rocket science – schedule your sleep as you would a meeting with an important client. It’s that important.

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2. Dust Off Your Jogging Shoes

We have become a sedentary society spending an average of ten hours a day seated. Our body suffers as a result. To counter the effects sitting has on our body we need to move so it’s time to dust off your jogging shoes and get out there. It doesn’t have to be jogging, but we do need to get our blood pumping.

Martial arts such as Karate or Aikido are a great way to not only boost your stamina and improve your focus naturally, but you develop the ability to protect yourself at the same time.

Bouldering is another excellent sport which can be done alone. What’s great about going to a bouldering gym is you can listen to your favorite podcast or listen to lectures with your AirPods, killing two birds with one stone.

The benefits of regular exercise are well documented. Exercise benefits everyone, from the very young to even older adults. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), just a year of moderate aerobic physical activity an help stop or even reverse memory loss that can occur with aging.[4]

Most people fail when it comes to exercise because they try to do too much, too fast and simply give up. Don’t think of your health as a sprint, but rather a marathon. Play the long game. Experience has taught me that it’s not actually working out that’s tough, but creating the habit that’s the real challenge.

Solution: Start with just five minutes of exercise a day. Everyone can find five minutes. One the habit sticks, it’s easy enough to increase it to ten or twenty, but without the habit, your chance of success is low.

3. Nature is Your Friend

When it comes to natural ways to improve focus, nature is a winner. Too many of us go through our day simply moving from one screen to another. We sit in front of our laptop and work on our upcoming PowerPoint presentation, then pick up our iPhone to skim our social media feeds, then turning on our giant 65’ TV to catch up on our favorite shows. The strain on our eyes is intense, and worst of all, we don’t even notice it.

The solution here is simple – put your smartphone away, and get outside. Even just a short walk for 15 to 20 minutes can boost your concentration. Got a writer’s block? Same thing, get outside and simply enjoy nature. A short walk around the neighborhood or wandering through a park will do wonders to get your creative juices flowing. If you’re near a beach or river, even better.

Any natural environment has benefits. In fact, according to research from 2014, there is evidence to suggest that by simply adding plants to your office space increases concentration and productivity,[5] not to mention workplace satisfaction and air quality.

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It’s not just adults who benefit from natural environments either. Children with ADHD could improve concentration from a 20-minute walk in the park over a simply walk in an urban setting.[6]

Solution: Spend more time in nature. Here’s what happens to your brain when you walk in nature.

4. Brain Training Activities

Sudoku, crosswords, chess, jigsaw puzzles are popular for a reason. Not just are they challenging, but they help improve focus and patience.

Solution: Add more games to your mental diet. Here’re 8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

5. Music

Studies have shown that listening to classical music improves cognitive ability.[7] Perhaps it’s the combination of a lack of lyrics with beautiful sounds that works so effectively. Our mind doesn’t get caught up trying to sing along with Taylor Swift, while at the same time, creates a sense of relaxation.

Solution: Add more classical music, nature sounds or BGM to your office space. Here’re some options for you: Productivity Music for Focus (Recommended Playlists)

6. Noise-Cancelling Headphones

We live in a world of noise. Notifications, buzzes, phone calls, kids, cars, etc. Some of the most productive times have been when I was simply sitting in a park when no one was around or laying on a secluded beach.

Unfortunately, not all of us have that luxury. Thankfully, we can create our own quiet places with noise-cancelling headphones. It’s not exactly a nature way to improve focus, but it’s too important not to include.

Solution: Pick yourself up some AirPod Pros and keep the outside world out. Just be sure not to use them when you’re cycling or in your car.

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7. Tai Chi

Not quite a martial art, not quite meditation. Tai Chi is an ancient form of focusing the mind that includes body movement often described as “medication in motion.” This low-impact, slow-motion exercise challenges you to focus on your breathing and circular movements in which the muscles are never tensed.

Solution: If you’ve always wanted to give martial arts a try but want a lighter version, Tai Chi could be for you.

8. Work from Paper

Our society has become so glued to technology that most kids are more familiar with their iPads than books. I do love my iPhone but I also know its limitations. Working from paper is one natural way to increase focus and retention. There’s something magical about picking up a pen and writing things down.

Typing is simply hitting a bunch of keys in a seemingly random order. Writing forces us to create each letter (or character for languages such as Japanese and Thai). That movement stimulates different parts of our brains and as such improves focus.

Solution: Real pros use a pen and paper in today’s digital world.

9. Caffeine

While I’m not a huge proponent of adding caffeine to your diet, I can’t deny the fact that it can help increase focus. Most people assume that means to drink coffee, however, I suggest people try green tea, otherwise known as matcha, instead. Not only does green tea contain caffeine, but it also has phytochemicals that not only improve cognitive function but also promote relaxation.

Solution: Go Japanese and turn to green tea if you need a caffeine boost.

10. Meditation

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. We live in a world of noise. Meditation is precisely the opposite. It allows us to clear our minds. Thomas Edison once said, “When you become quiet, it just dawns on you.”

Meditation isn’t for everyone. It takes time to tap into its power and some people simply don’t have the patience for it. For those people, I suggest trying yoga instead. In many ways yoga and meditation are intertwined. They both rely heavily on breathing exercises so if you have trouble sitting still, yoga is a better option for you. Many athletes including Kobe Bryant were huge practitioners of both activities and the results speak for themselves.

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Solution: Try adding a healthy dose of yoga or meditations activities to your daily life. Here’re the 5 Best Guided Morning Meditation for Energy And Motivation

11. Improve Your Diet

I like to say, “You can only be as productive as you feel.” Our condition is linked to our mental and physical health. Much of the items on this list relate to improving our mental state, but our physical state is just as important hence why exercise was number two on this list. However, exercise is just one half of our physical condition. The other is our diet.

Too many of us fail to invest the time to create a healthy diet conducive to our focus and productivity. I was one of them, and I suffered from it. Thankfully, my wife was able to right the sinking ship and today, at age 46, I feel healthier than when I was in my 20s.

Entire books are dedicated to creating the perfect diet. I believe we don’t need nearly that much. The key to living well is simply a more well-balanced diet. The breakdown of my seven lunches and seven dinners each week is usually 40% chicken, 30% fish, and 30% meat. Except for the odd burger, every meal comes with a variety of vegetables. Lastly, and most importantly, I rarely eat till I’m full.

Solution: You don’t need to go vegan; a well-balanced diet can work wonders to improve your focus. Check out these 15 Eating Habits to Make You Stay Productive at Work.

Bottom Line

The battle for our focus is very real. We need to fight back! The 11 ways above will help you increase your focus naturally and boost productivity.

Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Adrian Shepherd

Adrian is a productivity consultant and the CEO of iSucceed

How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks What Is the Most Important Step in Prioritizing Goals? How to Stay Awake at Work Without Caffeine 11 Ways to Naturally Increase Your Focus Why Can’t I Focus? 8 Reasons and Possible Solutions

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Published on October 22, 2021

The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

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The Flowtime Technique: A Pomodoro Alternative

Today, there are countless productivity techniques that claim to help you work at peak efficiency. Among them, few are more widely known and widely used than the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a time management system that suggests that you break down your work tasks into 25-minute chunks and take breaks in between them.

The idea revolves around the notion that most people begin to lose focus after 25 minutes of continuous work and will need a reset to remain productive. But there’s a problem with that idea: no two tasks are the same. And for that matter, neither are any two people! That means a one-size-fits-all productivity system can’t possibly be the best fit for everyone.

But there’s an alternative that provides more flexibility and allows you to customize it for your specific use cases. It’s called the Flowtime Technique, and here’s everything you need to know to use it and start getting more done.

What Is the Flowtime Technique?

The Flowtime Technique, while not as well-known as the Pomodoro Technique, has been around for some time. In many ways, it’s a direct descendent of Pomodoro. It’s the brainchild of Zoe Read-Bivens, and she thought it up as a means of dealing with some of the shortcomings she experienced while using the Pomodoro technique.[1]

She found that sticking to 25-minute work segments often interrupted her flow—the feeling of being immersed in a particular task—and ended up harming her productivity rather than enhancing it. To fix the problem, she sought to create a system that retained the beneficial aspects of the Pomodoro Technique while allowing her to get into a positive flow and stay there.

The Basics of the Flowtime Technique

To start using the Flowtime Technique, the first thing you’ll need to do is create a timesheet to help you manage your daily activities. You can do this with a spreadsheet or by hand, whichever you find most convenient. At the heading of your timesheet, include the following column headings:

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  • Task Name
  • Start Time
  • End Time
  • Interruptions
  • Work Time
  • Break Time

Your timesheet will be the primary way you track your daily tasks and establish a flow that works best for you. Once you have it set up, here’s how to use it:

1. Choose a Task

To get started, choose a task you wish to get done. It should be specific, and something you can reasonably complete in the amount of time you have. In other words, don’t choose a task like “paint my house.” Choose something like “paint the front door of my house.” If you select a task that’s too broad, you’ll have difficulty sticking with the work. So, try and break down what you’re doing into the smallest manageable pieces.

2. Begin Working on Your Task

The next step is to start working on your task. Begin by listing the task you’re going to work on in the appropriate field of your timesheet. Then, list the time you’re starting work. Once you’ve gotten started on your task, the only rule you must observe is that there is no multitasking allowed. This will help you to focus on what you need to get done and minimize any self-imposed distractions.

3. Work Until You Need a Break

You may then keep working on your listed task for as long as you like. If you feel yourself getting fatigued after 15 minutes, take a break. If you get into a productive groove, lose track of the time, and end up working for an hour straight, that’s fine, too.

The idea is to get to know your own patterns and work in segments that fit you best. If you don’t focus well on certain tasks, work on them for shorter durations. If you get absorbed in other types of tasks, maximize your output by working for as long as you feel capable of staying focused.

You’ll likely find that the longest period you’ll be able to sustain is around 90 minutes or so. This corresponds to your Ultradian Rhythm, which are the alternating periods of alertness and rest that our brains experience throughout the day.[2]

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There are plenty of case studies that demonstrate how taking regular breaks improves productivity. It’s one of the reasons that mandatory breaks are a part of the Pomodoro Technique. But there’s evidence that the less-structured Flowtime approach to breaks works just as well. One technology company that recently directed its employees to take breaks every hour as they saw fit saw productivity levels rise by 23%—with no mandate required.[3]

4. Take an Appropriate-Length Break

When you decide you need to take a break, go ahead and do so. Just make sure to write down your stop time on your timesheet in the right place. You can take a break that’s as long or short as you like, but don’t abuse the privilege. Otherwise, it won’t be long until your breaks eat up the majority of your time.

As a general rule of thumb, try taking a five-minute break for each 25-minute work period, and increase your break time proportionally for longer work periods. You should use a timer to make sure you get back to your task in the right amount of time. And when your break ends, don’t forget to record the time you’ve resumed work and list the length of the break you took.

5. Record Distractions as They Happen

While you’re working, there are always going to be times when you’ll get distracted. It may come in the form of a phone call, an urgent email, or even the urge to use the bathroom. When these things happen, record the occurrence in the interruption column on your timesheet. Do your best to keep distractions short, but don’t try and block them out.

The reason is that you’re unlikely to succeed and sometimes, the things that distract you will be a higher priority than what you’re working on. So, it’s important to deal with distractions as you see fit instead of trying to simply work through them.

6. Repeat Until Your Work Is Complete

All you have to do next is to repeat the steps above until the tasks you’re working on are complete. As you complete each task, be sure to record your final stop time. If you wish, you can calculate your total work time (and fill it in) when you finish a task, or you can do all of the math at once at the end of the day.

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All that matters is that you don’t leave any gaps in your time tracking. Your timesheets, once complete, will become an asset that improves your ability to create a work schedule that maximizes your daily output.

What to Do With Your Timesheets

Although the act of recording your work periods and break times will help you remain on-task each day, there’s another important reason you’re doing it. It’s that your timesheets will gradually begin to reveal to you how to craft an ideal daily schedule for yourself.

So, at the end of each week, take some time to compare your timesheets. You may see that certain patterns begin to emerge. For example, you might notice that your longest work periods typically occur before lunch or that there are specific parts of your day that tend to be filled with distractions. You can use this information to plan subsequent days more effectively.

In general, you’ll want to cluster your most important tasks at your most productive times. So, if you are reviewing detailed property records, for example, you can set aside time to do it when you know you’ll be able to focus without interruption.

Conversely, you should schedule less critical work at the times when you’re most likely to be interrupted while working. So if you need time to respond to emails or return phone calls, you’ll know just when to do it. This will not only make you more productive but will also eliminate mistakes in your work.

Key Similarities Between Flowtime and Pomodoro

If you’re familiar with how the Pomodoro Technique works, you may have noticed some similarities with the Flowtime Technique. As we’ve discussed earlier, this is intentional. The Flowtime Technique is specifically designed to retain three critical features of the Pomodoro Technique, which are:

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1. Precise Time Tracking

One of the reasons that the Pomodoro Technique is so effective for many people is that it creates a rigid system to facilitate time tracking. By having to split your work tasks into 25-minute segments, you become acutely aware of the tasks you have in front of you and how you’re using your time. That alone helps you to avoid wasting precious work time because you have to account for every minute. The Flowtime Technique provides this benefit, too.

2. Eliminating Multitasking

With the Pomodoro Technique, you have to choose a task to work on and use a 25-minute timer to measure each work period. This does an excellent job of keeping you on-task because you know from the moment you set the timer what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’re therefore not likely to stray onto another task.

Even though you don’t need to use a timer with the Flowtime Technique, the very act of writing down your task accomplishes the same task. Because you know you’ll be tracking your time spent working on a particular thing, you’ll tend to stick with your task until it’s complete or time for a break.

3. Facilitating Breaks

One of the biggest killers of productivity is exhaustion, and there’s plenty of data to prove that taking breaks is essential to maintaining peak work performance. That’s the real secret to the Pomodoro Technique’s successful reputation—it makes breaks mandatory and unavoidable.

The Flowtime Technique, by comparison, also insists you take breaks. It just doesn’t force them upon you until you’re ready to take one. In that way, some additional self-discipline is required to succeed using the Flowtime Technique. But if you can obey a timer, there’s no reason you can’t learn to obey the signals your body sends you when it needs a time out.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, you may find success using the Pomodoro Technique. There’s a reason it’s so popular, after all. But if you’ve been using it for some time and find yourself straining against its rigid structures, you’re not alone. So, consider giving the Flowtime Technique a try for at least a week or two. You may find it’s a much better fit for your work style and that you get even more done than you ever have before.

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Featured photo credit: Fakurian Design via unsplash.com

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