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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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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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