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Published on April 8, 2021

How To Give An Undivided Attention To Be More Productive

How To Give An Undivided Attention To Be More Productive

When was the last time you found yourself experiencing one of these eight characteristics while working on a project?

  • Complete concentration on a task
  • Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
  • Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)
  • Intrinsically rewarding experience
  • Effortless and ease
  • Balanced between challenge and skills
  • Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
  • A feeling of control over the task

Let’s be honest: have you ever felt this way? Most people haven’t, probably because they’ve never been in a peak state of “flow” that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes in his research on attention and peak productivity.[1]

Your undivided attention doesn’t occur through wishful thinking. It must be earned, created, and consciously accomplished by structuring your environment to facilitate the sustained brainpower needed for proper focus and concentration.

Through his research in understanding the “flow state” of mind, Csikszentmihalyi realized that to accomplish a peak state of focus and concentration, one must be fully committed to the pursuit and positioned within a specific set of key parameters to create this heightened state of euphoria and bliss.

Sadly, very few of us learned about these simple techniques and learning objectives in school, primarily because schools don’t teach you how to learn. They merely teach you the content you need to know.

Like most things in life, learning isn’t uniformly accomplished across the human species in the same way. Some may learn better through audio while others prefer video. Some may choose to read where others may prioritize being hands-on. There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to learn information, but there may be “better” ways to facilitate learning by increasing our attention span and mental endurance.

To truly maximize your brain’s ability to focus on a task and provide undivided attention to a project, we need to create an optimal environment and schedule our day with the proper intentions for success.

1. Eliminate Distractions Once and for All

If this one were easy, then everyone would be doing it. Distractions are one of the easiest and more efficient ways to distract our focus and waste precious brainpower on tasks that yield little to no long-term benefits.

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Simple activities like scrolling through social media, endlessly checking emails throughout the day, and scanning over at your phone to see your latest text messages can be a surefire way to prolong a project, especially since it takes around 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brain to return to the peak state of focus after an interruption.[2]

So, why do we do this to ourselves? Because we love the thrill of dopamine.

Every time you get a new text, see a new email, or find out that you received a new like on your LinkedIn post, dopamine floods your brain and lights up an area of your brain called the Nucleus Accumbens.[3]

The Nucleus Accumbens is an integral part of our reward system (along with the ventral tegmental area). It lights up like a Christmas tree whenever something exciting happens in our lives, regardless of whether we perceive or experience it. It’s also the circuitry responsible for the high felt while taking recreational drugs, with scientists noting that there very few differences in the reward pathways between all of these tasks.[4]

So, if getting an email in your inbox could amount to the equivalent hit of dopamine as doing a line of cocaine, why should you stop doing it? Because it’s killing your productivity (and potentially brain cells).

Distractions are a surefire way to make your day more complicated, and it doesn’t just stop there. They also use up coveted brainpower and energy resources, causing the brain to switch from task to task, which is an inefficient use of neural activity. Switching from a task requires the brain to refocus, which also entails new circuits to be used, different pathways to fire, and more energy exerted to start up the new task at hand.[5]

When Mihaly Csikszentmihaly was doing his research, he realized that the power of sustained focus and undivided attention was accomplished by repetition, frequency, and intensity. As the saying goes, the more you use it, the easier it gets.

Eliminating distractions must be the first step in the process because the brain thrives off simplicity and can function at a higher level when it doesn’t continuously change focus.

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2. Set It and Forget It – Schedule Your Day

Take a moment and think about that one thing you will never get back. And no, it’s not money, fame, or your ex.

It’s time.

Time is the most precious resource we have because regardless of your physical, social, or financial status, it’s the only constant we have that we cannot trade for. Time is of the essence, and sadly, most of us waste it on activities that provide short-term gains at the expense of long-term rewards.

To master our ability to focus and practice honing our skills for undivided attention, we must become masters of time management. And the best way to manage your time is to plan it out.

We should be scheduling out time for physical exercise, social media, checking email daily. The list could go on forever and usually does, especially when this schedule isn’t utilized. Keeping yourself honest will always be the best policy, so don’t forget to prioritize booking out time for hanging out with loved ones. This policy can be a very effective way to manage your most precious assets while recharging the batteries after a long day at work.

Even with scheduling, time management can become erratic and get away from us, which is why setting aside specific times for projects can be the ultimate time management hack to take your game to the next level.

The Pomodoro Technique, created by Francesco Cirillo, utilizes a simple formula for managing time by setting 25 minutes of designated space for performing one specific task at a time. This technique is simple yet highly effective and aligns with our current understanding of neuropsychology and how the brain processes information.

The old-school strategies of multitasking are outdated and unfounded in neuroscience as research continues to show that switching tasks is very time and energy-intense. It also depletes the brain’s energy reserves and slows down central processing within the prefrontal cortex—the brain region responsible for executive function, decision-making, and motivation.[6]

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As you continue to switch back and forth between tasks, the brain becomes fatigued and error-prone, which can further delay progress and increase your chances of having to redo your work. Some research even estimates that task switching via multitasking can increase our error rates by nearly 50%, causing our tasks to take twice as long to finish.[7]

So, the next time your coworker starts to brag about their ability to multitask at their desk, enjoy the comforting feeling that you’re more likely to get the next promotion than they are.

3. Prime Your Brain for Success

The saying is true: “If you don’t use it, you truly do lose it.” It’s is a classic philosophy in neuroscience, specifically speaking about forming habits, optimizing physical and mental performance, and understanding how the central nervous system works in tandem with the body to execute activities.

Eliminating distractions and setting a daily schedule are essential steps for having undivided attention—and success. Still, these tactics can’t be utilized to their highest capacity if you approach your work feeling foggy, tired, in pain, or unable to motivate yourself to get ready to work.

The brain isn’t binary and far more complex than it may appear, but some tried and true principles will always remain foundational for success.

For starters, the brain thrives off of physical movement and exercise.[8] The best way to energize the brain is through physical activity because exercise can vastly improve blood flow, oxygenation, and neural activity in the brain’s executive processing regions. Exercise can also significantly impact our mental and emotional health, providing significant advantages for our overall well-being and a sense of purpose.[9]

Good brains also require good fuel to survive, which is why diet, nutrition, and giving your body a chance to heal can be advantageous for those who choose to utilize it. You wouldn’t choose to put regular unleaded gasoline into a high-performance race car, so why would you expect poor food choices to give you high-performance outcomes?

Your food choices provide fuel for your brain and body. More importantly, they also feed the gut bacteria that break your food into energy sources to produce neurotransmitters and optimize your immune function.[10][11]

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These little bugs have taken on a lot of press over the last few decades as gut bacteria and altered gut microbiome composition have been implicated in nearly every neurodegenerative condition ranging from Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and even cardiovascular disease.[12][13][14][15] You need to feed your body the proper nutrients to fuel your brain for success.

And lastly, you need to sleep like your life depends on it—because it does. There’s a reason we sleep nearly a third of our lives away. Sleep helps us recharge our internal battery and facilitates the consolidation of memories, allowing us to update our brain’s software and maximize our memory stores for enhanced learning and exploration of ideas.[16]

Sleep also accelerates our body’s healing processes, with new research uncovering vast increases in the brain’s movement of cerebrospinal fluid as a way to take out the trash accumulated in the brain throughout the day.[17]

Stressors Exist Where Systems Don’t

Knowing this information is great, but the application is where the magic happens. You need to create structured systems to elevate your standards and create your optimal work environment. Sadly, no one else can do this for you.

By owning your results and controlling what you can control, you will see your productivity skyrocket. And with undivided attention, you will see greater success levels, higher chances of advancing roles, and improved fulfillment in your work.

Being productive can be tedious, but anyone who has found success in their career will agree that most of their success resulted from the long hours of work where no one was watching. And always remember to keep your focus on things you can control.

More Tips on How to Focus

Featured photo credit: bruce mars via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Erik Reis

Peak-Performance Leadership Consultant

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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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