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How to Focus Your Attention and Improve Productivity with 7 Simple Tips

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How to Focus Your Attention and Improve Productivity with 7 Simple Tips

Three Types of Attention

1. Focused Attention

2. Sustained Attention

3. Divided Attention

1. Focused attention is short-term by nature. Think about the last time you were thinking about an idea and someone unexpectedly knocked on your office door. You experienced focused attention just in that instant as your attention was drawn away from what you were working on, and you were forced to focus your attention on the knock at the door. Other examples are having your phone ring or sitting at a table and having a waiter drop a plate just behind you – these startling events are usually short-lived and can last as few as eight seconds.

2. Sustained attention is the attention of productivity, concentration, awareness, and meaningful focus.  Sustained attention allows you to focus your full attention on one task without interruption or distraction.  It requires complete concentration over sustained periods of time. Sustained attention is required to learn, to think, to create, to invent, to plan. Sustained attention not only requires focus but it requires the even more difficult ability to keep other distractions from pulling your thoughts away. As a writer, I will find myself in the middle of a project and look up and hours will have passed. This type of attention is often referred to “being in the zone” and it is in these divine moments of sustained attention you will find yourself wrapped up doing tasks that you love to do, utilizing the very best of your skills, challenging you to your limits. It is inside these moments of sustained attention that we experience fulfillment and joy and hope and we believe our life has meaning. When you are able to concentrate your full attention, your focus and your full energy – this is when you will dramatically improve your daily productivity.

3. The third type of attention is divided attention, often referred to as multi-tasking. Divided attention is so prevalent in America today that we eat in our cars as we drive to work, we answer emails on our computers as we listen in to staff conference calls, and we text as we sit at the dinner table. Divided attention is not really attention – it is actually “task-switching.”  You are typing a report that is due in an hour and an email alert pops up on your computer.  In the instant you saw the email pop on your screen, your mind shifted tasks from focusing your attention on the report to the email alert, and as you switch back to the task of writing the report, your mind has to reread the sentence or thought you were working on. Back and forth, switching from task to task, having to back up just a little bit during each switch – what did that email say? – where was I in the report?  And, the end result is lower productivity and the release of stress hormones and adrenaline.

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Attention is your brain’s ability to consciously choose what you will see at any given time.

Just for a moment stop what you are doing and become aware of what is happening in this moment. Your brain is a spectacular decision maker – all on its own. When you stop even for a moment and pay attention you can tell what you are wearing, what you are sitting on, the temperature of the air around you, can you hear the hum of the air conditioner or the heater, the sound of the train in the distance, you can even feel the watch on your wrist.

Just for a moment think about the importance of your brain’s ability to filter out all of the unimportant data. Attention is the ability to remove the distraction, interruption, and chaos from your life and choose to improve your ability to lengthen your brain’s ability to hold sustained attention.

The 7 steps to improve your daily productivity

Productivity is a powerful experience. Think of those amazing days where you start and actually finish projects.

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Today’s business world has taken the word productivity and replaced it with a sense of urgent busy-ness: taking a random to-do list and attempting to get as many check marks as possible.

1. Slow down.

Productivity comes from the word “produce,” often seen as an agricultural term meaning to bring forth a crop, to create something totally new,  to plant seed and grow a crop over a specific season. Being truly productive takes time.  To be productive used to mean to be attentive to something – as in “tending your crops.”

2. Think.

Improving your productivity will require you to increase your ability to focus your full attention on one thing at a time.  Building up your sustained attention span simply requires practice. Begin by setting aside as little as seven minutes at a time to think about what you need to accomplish. Taking the time to think and create a daily written plan of action can make a life-changing impact on your ability to be truly productive.

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3. Be specific – narrow your goals.

The fewer choices you have to make each day, the greater your productivity will be.  If one person has 10 goals to accomplish and another person has only one goal, the second person who has taken the time to clarify exactly what they want to accomplish is much more likely to accomplish their goal.

My friend Jason Womack says, “Allyson, if everything seems important, then nothing is really important.”  Jason is right. By narrowing your focus you will increase your productivity.

4. Sequence the necessary action steps to complete each project or task.

This may very well be the best-kept secret regarding attention and the improvement of daily productivity. You cannot just place a time on your calendar or in your smart phone to work on a project.

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Assume you have a budget review due on Friday and you have scheduled two hours on Thursday morning to complete that project. You wake up and look at your smart phone and you see a “label” naming an event on your calendar “10 am to 12 pm work on budget review.”

At 10 am you sit down at your desk and all you know is that you have a budget review due tomorrow.  You can’t just sit down and “do a project.”  You can only do one single activity at a time and those activities need to be sequenced in an order that allows you to end that block of time with a finished project.

5. Schedule an appropriate amount of time on your calendar to accomplish each task.

You might think this could be left out, but there is a lot of “mental accounting” when we begin to allocate the hours in our day.  You think a project will only take thirty minutes to finish, but it takes you thirty minutes to get your teammate off their conference call and into your office so you can finish the original thirty minute project.

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6. Remove the distractions, interruptions, chaos, and clutter.

Distractions, interruptions, chaos, and clutter simply increase the number of choices you have each day for what you can do with your time.  When you are ready to improve your productivity – you have to prove it.  Put your cell phone in a different room. Turn off the TV. Deal with the problems. And, clean up your office.

7. Go be productive.

The final step now is to “do what you said you would do.” Go produce new ideas. Invent new inventions. Finish the goals you start. Be attentive. Tend to your tasks.

 Focus your full attention, talent, time, and energy and you will improve your productivity.

More by this author

Allyson Lewis

Allyson is a nationally acclaimed author, motivator, speaker, time management, productivity strategist, and executive coach.

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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