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How to Improve Concentration

How to Improve Concentration

“I have an important project to work on.  Hang on, there’s a new text message on my phone.  Oh great, here’s an email from Steve.  He’s got tickets for Friday night.  Better check for directions on how to get there.  Now back to that article… I’m hungry. Let’s make a little snack.  Cereal or toast?  It’s sunny outside. I’ll go and put the dirty clothes in the washing machine–it’s a good day to dry them.  Oh, my phone is ringing, who could that be?”

A recent survey by the University of California estimated that the average person’s mind receives 35GB of information each day.  Thirty years ago we only received 15GB of information a day, half of what it is today.  We receive continual interruptions and have to process double the information that we used to, so it is not a surprise that our concentration spans are shrinking.  The Internet has made our ways of thinking very fragmented, jumping from website to website and having to process information but never to remember it.

The Downside of Multitasking

“What I have tried to do is actually eliminate multitasking, because when I try to do more than one thing at once, I end up reaching the end of the day and usually having none of them done,” says Tim Ferris, the author of the book The Four Hour Workweek.

When concentration is spread thinly, it is very counterproductive, causing both the amount and the quality of work to suffer.  Psychologist Dr. Glenn Wilson discovered that workers who were regularly distracted by phone calls experienced a ten percent drop in their IQ.  Perhaps even more interesting, psychologist Richard Nisbett discovered that Chinese-American students with an IQ of 100 achieve the same academically as white American students with an IQ of 120.  Nisbett said, “this is a result of their more focused attitude when it comes to school work.”

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It is possible to train the brain to become more consistently focused, which will lead to consistent results over a period of time.  “Motivation is essential but not enough. You also need consistency in your motivation,” said Arsene Wenger, Manager of the Arsenal football club.

The benefits that a person can get from consistent focus are unimaginably great, including achievements, wealth, relationships, confidence and career.  If a person can cultivate a great focus then that person will begin to take control of their life and not live a life of reaction.  When you are clear in where you want to go, a whole new world of opportunities will open up to you.

Here are some simple habits that can help you improve your ability to concentrate on one thing at a time.

Meditation –

I thought I’d attempt scare away the weak of you with this first point!  If you aren’t willing to try meditation, I can assure you that aren’t reaching your potential in both your career and happiness.  Meditation is not a religious thing; it is just a tool to improve concentration.  Just ten minutes a day can reduce stress, increase happiness and improve concentration.

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Eat a whole foods diet –

If your body’s nutritional needs haven’t been met, then your body won’t allow your mind to concentrate.  Instead, the body is going to send messages to your brain telling you to go and seek out food.  Avoid stimulating foods and ingredients that you don’t recognize.  Instead focus on lots of fruit and vegetables plus clean carbohydrates like brown rice, potatoes, quinoa, oats and bananas.

Hardest, most important task first –

Pick this task to do first and get it out of the way.  Typically after midday people’s concentration starts to wane as they get tired.  Getting your most important and difficult task out of the way first will allow you to do the other, easier tasks after lunch, such as responding to emails and doing design work.

Turn off all distractions –

Make sure your phone is on silent and Outlook is closed.  Give your important work your undivided attention.  You will be amazed at how much you can get done.

Take breaks –

Sustained attention is the level of attention that produces consistent results over time.  The typical adult can’t sustain focus for any longer than forty minutes, although they can choose to re-focus on the same task.  The more you train yourself to focus the easier it will become to focus for longer and longer periods of time.  Initially take a quick toilet or water break ever forty minutes and then re-focus on the task.  A few days later take a break every fifty minutes and a few days later take a break every hour and then re-focus.  Keep expanding your focus comfort zone by gradually increasing it.  Set a countdown timer on your computer to beep after reaching a certain time so you know when to take a break.  If you don’t do this, then forty minutes will pass and you might start to check emails and websites without realizing it, and before you know, it your mind is lost in the information vortex of the Internet.

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Concentration music –

The best music to help stay focused when working on a task is music with a slow, regular rhythm that has no singing.  Type ‘concentration music’ into YouTube and you will find some great one hour long tracks to listen to when working on a task.  In concentration music, the chords typically change every eight seconds.  This slow chord change trains the brain to develop a longer period of focus.

Regular exercise –

A healthy body creates a healthy mind.  Daily exercise will get the heart pumping and the blood flowing around the body to the brain.  Exercise also produces endorphins which make a person “feel good.” When a person is feeling good they will find it easier to concentrate.  When the body is not happy, it will send signals to the brain which will reduce concentration.

Create habits –

A person only has a certain amount of “will power” available to them each day to spend on tasks.  Turning a task into a daily habit will stop the task requiring will power to do it.  Instead, the brain will accept the new behavior as a subconscious task.  Habits don’t require will power because they become automatic behaviors that the person does every day.  It typically takes thirty days to turn a new action into a habit.  Setup the beginning of your day to look something like this:

  • Wake up at x time
  • Breakfast
  • Meditate for 10 minutes
  • Go for a run
  • Shower
  • Start concentration music and timer, then begin work on hardest most important task
  • 40 minute toilet and drink break
  • Re-focus on hardest, most important task
  • 40 minute toilet and drink break
  • Re-focus to finish the hardest most important task for that day
  • Check email
  • Break for Lunch

You will get more done by lunch time than most people can do in a whole day.  The “after lunch” part of the day can be spent on easier tasks, like emails, design, organization and maintenance tasks where less concentration is required.

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A daily to-do list –

Before going to bed each night, list the tasks you want to do the following day.  Make sure you list the hardest, most important task first and then other subsequent tasks.  Having a clear focus of your goals for that day will make it a lot easier for you to concentrate.

Stay Hydrated –

Scientists from the University of Connecticut have found that even mild dehydration alters a person’s mood, energy levels and mental function.  Dehydrated young men experienced difficulty with mental tasks, memory and increased anxiety and tension.  During each forty minute break remember to pour yourself another big glass of water to help maintain concentration.

Best,

Robert King

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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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