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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 July 12, 2021

Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

Conventional wisdom centers around giving more of yourself to others in your life than you would to what you want to accomplish. You’re taught to make sacrifices and put your needs secondary because that’s how you’ll become a better person. However, not making yourself a priority is keeping you from accomplishing your goals and getting more done.

Let me know if this sounds familiar. You work hard all day to accomplish your goals. During your moments of focus, there are requests from others and demands from outside distractions on your time. You start each day with a to-do list of items that you want to accomplish. By the time you come to the end of your day, you haven’t completed what you wanted. If you were to analyze your time, you would see that the reason is you’re constantly being distracted.

There’s a significant difference between being selfish and being self-centered. I won’t give you the analogy that you hear every time you get on an airplane, but if you’re going to accomplish your goals, you have to stop drowning—in a figurative sense.

The reality is that you’re giving more of yourself to others than you are giving to your goals and vision of the future. By not making yourself a priority, your goals have become secondary.

Here are six important reasons why everyone should understand the importance of self-prioritization. The key to getting more done starts with taking care of yourself first and foremost.

1. You Create the Bandwidth You’ll Need to Focus on Your Goals When You Make Yourself a Priority

It takes a lot of yourself to consistently put in the work that helps you get more done and accomplish your goals. You need energy, bandwidth, and mental clarity to wake up every day and work hard.

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By making yourself a priority, it allows you to see the path to accomplishment. Too many people aren’t accomplishing their goals because their goals get lost in the busyness of taking care of others. It becomes a negative habit and a complacent way to live life.

Life rarely works out as expected, and as you’re working on your goals, you’re going to experience unexpected setbacks. You need bandwidth and mental strength to withstand those frustrating moments and still maintain the motivation to accomplish your goals.

The vital part of accomplishment is that you are working on your goals.

When you are working on what you want to accomplish to make yourself better, you can stay focused on what it will take to get there. You learn to say no to anything that will derail your path, and this creates more space and time to work on what you need to. Create the proper bandwidth through self-prioritizing.

2. Focused Energy Leads to More Production

Disorganization affects productivity. When it feels like you’re being pulled in many different directions, you can’t focus and create the energy needed for consistent production. A scattered mind leads to half-accomplished goals.

We know that in goal-setting, we need a plan. This plan has to be centered around what you want to accomplish. Self-prioritization allows you to create a plan that’s focused on the specific actions and steps it will take to achieve your goals.

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As you take action in an organized way, this leads to more production because your focus and energy are around the goals you know will help you be better and accomplish more. You simply get more done when you have the energy to do so.

3. Prioritizing Yourself Builds Clarity on What Boundaries You Should Set and Keep

Deep inside, you know when you should be saying no instead of saying yes. When you agree to anything that could derail your focus, it eats away at you inside. Prioritizing yourself and your goals helps you set boundaries and keep them because of the intense focus.

There will always be attempts and requests for your time and attention. As you start to build up yourself and accomplish more, others will notice. This will bring demand for your energy and your focus. If you give in to these requests, you won’t have the necessary bandwidth needed to work on your goals consistently.

Setting boundaries is an integral part of goal setting and living a healthy life. You have to be firm about what you allow and what you will not tolerate in your life. Human nature tends to lean towards people-pleasing—when you focus on pleasing others, you don’t please yourself.

Prioritize your goals and the things that you want to accomplish in your life. That’s the operative thing to understand—this is your life, and the focus has to be on what you want to achieve in that life. Use self-prioritization to clarify what boundaries need to be set and make sure you hold these boundaries firmly.

4. Sustainable Productivity happens With excitement for What You’re Working On

There are many reasons why people don’t accomplish their goals, but one that is not often thought about is a lack of excitement. When you spend the whole time working on things that drain you, your productivity diminishes with every second.

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Letting outside circumstances dictate your goals leads to a lack of excitement. By not focusing on making yourself a priority, you’re not creating an environment in which you are thrilled to be working on your goals. It will take a lot of hard work over a sustained period of time to accomplish your significant goals and be productive. It’s going to require energy and bandwidth to overcome the setbacks and stay focused.

Prioritizing yourself allows you to set challenging goals, but the outcome is exciting. If you look at what you’re working on and it’s not exciting, you won’t have sustainability. A lack of motivation will drain your productivity.

You’re a human being, not a machine. There will be things in your life that are not an exciting part of this process, but there has to be a balance between work and play. Work-life balance happens when the life part has an equal priority. Prioritizing what you want creates that balance and amplifies productivity.

5. It’s Mentally and Emotionally Freeing to Let Go of Outside Expectations

We are programmed to take on the baggage of outside circumstances. We’re taught that to be a good human being, we should take on what others are going through. By prioritizing yourself, you’ll come to understand that you are responsible for your life, and that involves your mental well-being.

Prioritizing yourself helps you see that you have to let go of the expectations of others. This is your life, and you have to live in the best way that you see fit. It’s important for you to spend the precious moments you have on this earth working on your goals and the things that help you live a better life.

When you let go of outside expectations of what you should be doing and how you should be doing it, it frees up bandwidth and creates mental clarity to be productive. No longer are you walking around with the burden of what others expect from you, it’s time to spend your time the way you’d like to.

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Other people’s expectations of your life don’t have to be part of your plan. It’s your responsibility to set the goals that help you live a free life and spend your time exactly how you’d like to spend it. Make yourself a priority by letting go and focusing on yourself first and foremost.

6. Optimizing Yourself Builds Every Area of Your Life

You’re probably working on your goals because you want to become the best version of yourself and create a life that brings more time freedom. The path to higher income, better relationships, more travel, and all the other things you want to accomplish happen through self-optimization and productive life.

When you can optimize yourself, it helps you be better in every other area of your life. The key to optimizing yourself starts by prioritizing yourself in more than just words. When you take action from a place of “you-first,” you’ll have the energy and capacity needed to push harder for longer.

Make yourself a priority by focusing on optimizing yourself and all the things you want to accomplish. Everything inside you might be screaming to help others first, but you can’t give what you don’t have. The best place to share is from a place of abundance, and that comes from optimizing yourself.

Final Thoughts

It’s time to take better care of yourself. It’s time to treat yourself as the most significant goal because that should always be the case. What you’d like to accomplish and your path to get there have to be a priority before you think about others.

The demands and energy of others can derail you if you let it. Self-prioritization means that you decide where your boundaries will be set and not allow others to violate them. You’ve probably spent a lot of your time up to this point focused on other people and outside circumstances. It’s time to take a dedicated period of time to put yourself first. You deserve a productive life.

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Debunk the programming that there’s something wrong with putting yourself first and making your goals the primary priority. You can always help others and be there for those who need you while making yourself a priority. It’s not an either-or situation—it’s a situation in which you can help strategically.

More Tips on How to Make Yourself a Priority

Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

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