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7 Strategies To Stay Super Focused

7 Strategies To Stay Super Focused

Staying focused on your task, priorities and mission is vital to your success. But it doesn’t come easily when you’re overwhelmed with daily distractions, a long to-do list, and multiple projects that demand your attention.

Here are seven strategies to stay super focused:

Say “no, thank you.”

Get clear on what you really want to achieve. Choose deliberately. Prune your to-do list. Declutter your schedule. Shed meaningless tasks. Forget about goals that no longer serve you. Switch gears or change the channel. Drop, delegate or barter assignments that don’t cater to your core strengths and true purpose.

Having too much on your plate weighs you down and creates leftover mess. Tackle three essential tasks to complete on a given day or three major goals to accomplish in a week. When something isn’t right for you, say “no, thank you.” This will give you more time and space to commit to things that matter.

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Mentally rehearse the task.

Visualize the ideal process, instead of obsessing over desired results. Picture yourself performing the task brilliantly and with ease. See yourself overcoming obstacles and maneuvering around hurdles. How will you feel when the deal is done? Elated? Excited? Evolved? Use these positive vibes to inspire you, pull you in, and take focused action.

Keep your energy up during breaks.

When you’re in a state of flow, it’s invigorating to stay on task. But forcing yourself to soldier on, when you’re drained, impairs your creativity and productivity. Regular breaks, for as little as 5 to 15 minutes, can do wonders. Take a walk, chat with a friend, grab a healthy snack, or get some fresh air.

Without consistent renewal and rejuvenation, it’s hard to stay alert and maintain focus. Set a regular bedtime routine and get a good night’s rest to avoid zoning out. Step away from the task when your interest in it begins to plummet. Go back to it when you refuel your energy.

Stop multitasking.

Doing multiple things at once or switching rapidly between tasks is the opposite of focus. So pick one important task and fully engage with it. Before you move on to the next thing, pause intentionally, take a deep breath, and bask in gratitude for the thing you just did.

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If you tend to get bored doing one task, you could set a timer to perform it in short bursts of 15 to 25 minutes. Or you could batch together similar tasks that require the same resources. For example, run your errands, file paperwork, reply to emails, and return telephone calls in designated time blocks.

Boost your willpower.

Focus requires self-control and the ability to resist short-term temptations for long-term gains. Breath-work, yoga and meditation are among the most effective ways to boost your willpower. These mindful practices help you take deliberate action, regardless of your shifting thoughts and volatile emotions.

You don’t have to follow through on each thought or act on every emotion that arises. You can simply sit with it without getting carried away by it. Come back to your breath. Do a body scan. Return to the present moment. Honing your willpower helps you stay focused rather than get distracted by mental chatter and unwanted feelings.

Make it automatic.

Develop regular habits and simple routines to make a task more automatic. Lay out the tools you will need to complete it. Pick a specific time to perform it. Set up reminders to work on it and reward yourself when you do.

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When an action step is part of your routine, you are bound to resist it less. This helps you preserve your energy and attention span for more difficult tasks that aren’t easily automated.

Create a supportive environment.

Constant interruptions and unnecessary distractions dilute your focus. Arrange your work space to discourage unscheduled visits. Plug in your earphones and listen to soothing music or white noise. Move to a quieter place if you can’t block out office banter. Schedule time blocks to focus on the task at hand.

If you want to complete a challenging project, turn off your phone, mobile devices and email and IM notifications. Disconnect from the Internet. Optimize your environment to keep your focus, find flow in your work, and experience real progress.

* * *

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Use one, all or a combination of these strategies to overcome internal busyness and reduce external distractions. Review what works for you. Make use of your preferred techniques to stay super focused and get meaningful things done.

Featured photo credit: Dani Ihtatho via flic.kr

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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