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5 Ways To Focus Your Mind And Super Boost Your Productivity

5 Ways To Focus Your Mind And Super Boost Your Productivity

Every day, you are presented with a set of tasks to accomplish and, often, an even longer litany of distractions, time wasters and other pieces of to-do list white noise that can derail you from accomplishing your goals. How does one navigate the productivity minefield that is modern life, with its Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, emails and the like. Here are 5 ways that you can keep your focus and kick your productivity into overdrive.

1. Set Reasonable Expectations For Yourself

Often when people first try to increase their productivity, they start by jam-packing their to-do list with every possible project they could ever hope to accomplish, many of which are big, long-term endeavors. You are smarter than that. You know that an overloaded docket of activity can be counter-productive as it begins to appear daunting and insurmountable. Unreasonable expectations are a recipe for failure.

Instead, set attainable goals for yourself and recognize that you will, from time to time, fail in carrying those goals out. Break big projects down into manageable chunks and tackle them one at a time. Keep your to-do list nice and short, and don’t put anything on it that you won’t be able to check off in less than a week from now, anything longer term than that should be broken down into smaller sub-tasks.

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Build failure into your plans. Do not schedule activities for every waking moment of the day, be sure to include some much needed downtime and leave yourself a little breathing room between tasks.

2. Define Your Expectations of Others

No man is an island, we all rely on others to varying degrees in our work and personal lives. When it comes to our focus and productivity, those around us can easily span the range from absolutely instrumental to catastrophically detrimental.

Adopt a policy of tactful honesty. Let those that you interact with know exactly what you expect of them, bearing in mind that these expectation must be reasonable given your relationship, there are things that you can say to an employee that you would be wise not to utter to your spouse and vise versa. If you are working on a project with one or more people, do not be afraid to clearly outline what everyone’s responsibilities will be,right from the outset. You can save yourself a lot of distractions and time taken fixing mistakes by outlining exactly what you expect of those that you work with. Remember, you teach people how you want to be treated. Let others know that you are a man on a mission.

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3. Stop Trying To Multitask

You’re not good at it… period. Don’t feel bad, it’s not just you, it turns out that no one is good at it. Compelling research on the topic has shown somewhat conclusively that humans are poor at multitasking, in fact, as it turns out, attempting to do multiple things simultaneously often results in a lot of wasted time when you factor in errors due to insufficient attention and unnecessary context switching.

Instead, focus on one thing at a time and devote to it your full and undivided attention.

4. Create a Distraction Free Zone

Are you old enough to remember a time when the mail came once a day and you couldn’t listen to an answering machine message until you got home from work? How did any of us survive back then? How it is possible to function in a world where we aren’t constantly being updated on the comings and goings of our friends? All sarcasm aside, the constant updates and push notifications that we receive on a minute by minute basis are hurting our productivity. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, checking our email and somehow getting sucked into an hour long time vortex without even realizing it.

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Create a distraction free zone. Turn off push notifications. Close Facebook and Twitter. 99.9% of the time, your messages can wait and be responded to after you are done working. If there is an emergency, odds are, you will get a phone call.

If you lack the self-control to keep out of your inbox or social network feeds, consider using a distraction blocking tool like FocalFilter to manually block certain websites while you are working.

5. Keep Yourself on a Timer

Being productive requires the judicious use of your time. You need to know how long to work on each task in front of you and when to pivot and move on to something else. Using timers are a good way to keep a single task from using up a disproportionate amount of your time and eating into other things.

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Try assigning yourself a set amount of time for each portion of a project, setting a timer and sticking to it. When the alarm goes off, move on. In this vein, many people have had success with the Pomodoro technique, which employs set periods of work and rest.

 

With some planning and a little effort, it is easy to improve your focus and productivity in nearly any endeavor.

Featured photo credit: Bethan via flickr.com

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Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

Why is multitasking a myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your brain on multi-tasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why multitasking is failing you

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to stop multitasking and work productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The key to productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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