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

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.

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.

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Allyson Lewis

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

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Published on October 16, 2020

13 Productive Things to Do on a Sunday

13 Productive Things to Do on a Sunday

Sunday’s are amazing days. For most of us, Sunday’s are a day of rest — a chance to relax, spend time with our family and friends and step away from work. Yet, for many people, Sunday’s can be a day of gloom. The thought of having to go back to work the next day and rejoin the hustle and bustle of everyday working life creates a dark cloud over a day that should be a joy.

With the right approach, though, Sunday’s can be days of rejuvenation—a chance to recharge our batteries—and to set ourselves up for a fantastic week. It is just a matter of the way you look at Sundays.

Sunday’s give me a chance to take stock of how my week has gone and decide what I want to achieve the following week. Each Sunday allows me to step back from the everyday grind and to measure my progress against the plan I had for the week and to reset that plan to make the next week even better.

Here are 13 ways you can turn Sunday’s into amazingly productive days:

1. Wake up at Your Normal Time

I grew up thinking Sunday’s were a great day to ‘catch-up on my sleep’. The problem here is by over-sleeping on a Sunday, you often find it difficult to get to sleep Sunday night and that begins the cycle of sleep debt you want to avoid.[1]

Waking up at your normal time maintains regular sleep patterns and this helps to make sure your sleep schedule is consistent throughout the week. When you are in a perpetual sleep debt all week, your productivity will sink. Ensuring you have a good night sleep every night, keeps you in a highly productive state.

2. Start the Day With “Me-Time”

“Me-time” is time you give to yourself.[2] It’s time you can spend doing all the things you love doing without the fear of being interrupted. That could be exercise, reading, going for a long walk or meditation.

Before Google and smartphones, people in the U.K. used to wake up on a Sunday morning, take a short walk to the local newsagent to buy the Sunday papers. The Sunday papers had all sort of supplements on books, lifestyle, gardening and fashion.

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You would get home, settle into your favourite armchair and spend an hour or two reading through all these supplements. For me, I would put on some relaxing music and just relax with a nice cup of tea. It was a wonderful way to spend Sunday morning. No stress, no pressure, just me and the Sunday papers.

Decide what you want to do with your Sunday morning, make sure it is focused on you and start this week. You will thank yourself for it.

3. Do Some Exercise

Now, this does not mean you go out and do a 10-mile run or spend one or two hours in the gym. What this means is to get outside and move.

Our lifestyles today have taken away a lot of natural movement. This has become particularly prominent this year with many of us having to work from home. Those walks to the bus stop, train station and the office have gone. Now we get up, move from one room to another, sit down and start work.

Sunday’s give you a chance to move. Take that opportunity. Get yourself outside for an hour or two. Enjoy nature. Go with your family or friends and just have a relaxing hour or two in nature. This is possibly one of the best ways to reduce stress, get some healthy exercise and set yourself up for a wonderful week.

4. Plan the Day

Not having a plan for the day will leave you at the mercy of outside events. Instead, decide on Saturday evening what you will do the next day. Make sure you wake up at your normal time, indulge in your favourite morning drink and start your day.

Having no plan for the day, will likely result in you waking up late, making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep the next evening and you will waste the opportunity to make the day count.

Your plan does not have to be too detailed. Something similar to:

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  • Wake up and make coffee
  • Put on some great music
  • Sit down and enjoy coffee
  • Take a 2-hour walk
  • Read for an hour or two
  • Spend some time with the kids

Just make sure you have a rough plan for the day, but keep things as flexible as possible.

5. Watch a Sports Game

This is a great way to get yourself away from thinking about work and your troubles. I’m a big rugby and motorsport fan and even in these difficult pandemic times, there are plenty of sports events I can watch on YouTube.

Whatever sport you enjoy, take some time on Sunday to watch a game. Just getting into the game, enjoying the skills on show and marvelling at the professionalism removes you from your everyday world for a while. It’s a great way to give your brain some much-needed relaxation and provides a wonderful distraction from your everyday normal life.

6. Make Sure You Do Something Different

Doing the same things day after day will eventually turn every day into a grind. You want to be looking forward to your Sunday’s. Plan to go out for a drive in the countryside, or a walk in an unfamiliar park, or go to the cinema or an outside concert.

Do anything that breaks up your routine. Like watching a sports game, it takes you away from the normal everyday life you lead and gives you something refreshingly different to enjoy and experience.

7. Clean Up

I know, most people hate doing house chores but having a clean, ordered home does wonders for your overall mental wellbeing. I love ending Sunday with a beautifully clean home, knowing everything is in its place, the floors are clean and all my laundry is put away and ready for the following week.

It can be hard to find the time to stay on top of all the cleaning during the week, so setting aside some time each Sunday to do a cleanup leaves you feeling refreshed, energized and ready for whatever the following week will throw at you.

8. Prepare You Clothes for the Following Week

This may seem a bit excessive, but it saves so much time and cognitive overload. All it takes is one bad night’s sleep and you wake up and find yourself rushing around trying to get yourself ready for your first appointment.

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In that state, trying to decide what clothes to wear in another decision you just don’t need. It’s far better to make a rough plan on a Sunday what you will wear for work and have all these clothes ready, washed and ironed.

It also prevents discovering the shirt you want to wear for the early morning meeting is still in the laundry basket when you need it. Plan ahead. It saves so much time and stress.

9. Do a Weekly Planning Session

I’ve experimented doing a weekly planning session on different days but by far, the best day to plan is Sunday. I find that Sunday evenings are the best times to open up my calendar and to-do list, and to plan for the week ahead. It sets me up for the week ahead.

It also helps me to sleep better on Sunday evening, knowing exactly what I need to accomplish the following week. I can start Monday morning without wasting time trying to figure out where things were left the previous Friday.

What I am looking for are where all my meetings are, which days I can focus on my deep and project work and to make sure I have everything processed from the week before.

10. Clear Out Your Email

What? Doing email on a Sunday? Yes. Why? Because the worst thing you can do is start the new week with an inbox full of last week’s unreplied-to emails.

For most of us, Monday morning is likely to be the one day in the week we do not have a lot of email in our inboxes, so we can begin the day on our most important project work. If you spend an hour or two cleaning up your email from last week, you miss a tremendous opportunity to start with a clean slate.

We don’t get a lot of email in on a Sunday, so you can process your inbox and actionable folders to make sure when the new week begins, you not only have a set of outcomes you want to achieve that week, but also begin the new week with no hangovers from the week before.

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11. Do Some Work on Your Side Project

Now, this does not mean work. This means your own personal projects. It could be a DIY project, doing something in your garden, restoring an old car or writing your book.

Sunday’s give you incredible opportunities to do all those things you dream of doing but never seem to find time to do them. Just getting on and doing these side projects removes you from your everyday work, and allows you a few hours to do the things you love doing.

12. Read a Book

During the week, it can be hard to read a good book. We get up, rush out the door to get to work (or move to our home work station and start the computer). When we finish the day, we are exhausted and just want to vegetate in front of the TV.

Don’t waste Sunday’s. They give you a great opportunity to spend time with the books you want to read.

13. Prepare You Meals for the Following Week

This is a great one for those of you who are following a healthy diet and exercise plan. Preparing meals for the following week not only saves a lot of time, it also encourages you to eat healthy on those exhausting days when all you want to do is eating pizza and flopping down on the sofa.

Having a set of pre-prepared meals reduces the temptation during the week when your willpower is at its lowest. It’s quick, healthy and easy to do. It makes sure you are sticking to your diet plan.

Bottom Line

I am not suggesting you try and fit all these things into Sunday. Just pick a few that resonate with you. Do those that will give you the biggest benefit and most joy.

Sunday’s need to be restful, relaxing and give you a chance to do those things you do not normally have time to do. It’s an incredible day, so don’t waste it laying in bed watching endless episodes of your favourite TV series.

More of What You Can Do During Weekend

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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