On some days you don’t get anything done. Everyone’s demanding your attention and time. Your colleague has a little questions, that turns out to be a much bigger problem. Or you’re in the middle of a huge project, when you get a note, that this one thing has to be done right away, which should have been finished till yesterday. By the time you’re free to work on your project again, you’ve lost your focus or don’t have any energy left. Probably both.
In a hectic (work)environment only one thing really helps: focus. And that also means saying “no” to things demanding too much attention from us.
Multitasking – the big lie
Today’s job advertisements demand handling multiple tasks at once. And as a candidate for the job, you naturally point out that you can handle several projects at once and are willing to do so. I have counted myself to this group, but now I’m thinking differently.
From my own experience I can attest that multitasking only leads to two things: frustration and stress. Frustration, because you feel like you haven’t accomplished a thing during the day. And stress, because it’s really exhausting to concentrate on two things at the same time. By now there are several scientific studies on the topic of multitasking, that come to the same conclusion. Multitasking is damaging in several ways. People, who work on multiple things at the same time on a regular basis, lose the ability to concentrate, have a shorter attention span and the capability of remembering is also reduced. The amount of mistakes increase as well due to multitasking. And that can cost the company not only time but also money.
Interruption of work is a time-waster
Apart from multitasking interruption of work affects your productivity in a negative way as well. It can be an email, the telephone ringing or the colleague coming to your desk to ask something. Scientific researchers found out that the average employee is interrupted every ten minutes. After the interruption it takes the brain 23 minutes on average to get focused on the task at hand again. But you’re probably going to be interrupted again before you reach that state of concentration. On a normal workday you can accumulate 3 to 5 hours of lost time due to interruptions of your work.
But not only external factors can break your focus. We like to interrupt ourselves, too. For example by looking at our mobile because we got a message. Or we remember something, we wanted to look up on the internet. And afterwards you’re stunned, that it’s so late already. It happens to me every now and again, too. But there are ways to get your focus back.
3 tips for more focus in your day
1. Turn off push notification on your mobile phone and your mail client
There are ways to turn off notifications of the apps on your mobile, for example Facebook, Twitter and the like, in the settings menu. You won’t get instant notification of retweets and likes that way. Because let’s face it, you don’t need to react on it right away. It’s much nicer to communicate on social media on your own terms and schedule a certain time for it to give it your full attention. You’re going to be more engaged with the posts, instead of just liking on the fly without realising what you’ve just seen.
It’s similar to your daily email communication. Half of it is newsletters, you’ve subscribed to, another part mails from inside the company, you’re employed at, that are not meant for you specifically and only a small amount of mails demand your attention. And of those mails probably only 1% need to be answered right away. That’s why you can turn off you email notification without feeling guilty. The next step is reading and answering emails only at specific times of the day. I’ve been doing it for a while now and really like it, because I’m more focused on my email communication in general. You can do it once a day or several times a day depending on the volume of emails, you’re receiving in a day.
If you’re giving up those two forms of notification, you’ll be much more focused on your projects, because you’re choosing when to communicate.
2. Prioritizing your tasks
This tip should be common sense by now, but sometimes common sense flies out of the window. Especially in stressful situations.
Make a list of 3 to 5 tasks, you want to get done today, as soon as you’re sitting at the desk. Better yet, do it the day before at the end of your work day. That way you won’t be losing sleep over not forgetting anything important. After you’re done with the list, start with the most difficult one, so that it won’t be putting pressure on you for the rest of the day. The list shouldn’t be longer than 5 items, otherwise you might feel overwhelmed. Are you done with your list and the workday hasn’t ended yet, you can write down the list for the next day already. Great, isn’t it?
3. Look for a place where you can work without being disturbed
Is there a place where you can work undisturbed? It can be be an empty conference room at the office, a café or the home office. Close the door, turn your phone to airplane mode and just work. But talk to your colleagues at the office or, if you’re working from home, with your partner/the children/your roommate, that you don’t want to be disturbed for a certain amount of time. And during this time you’re only available if it’s really, really urgent, like life and death – urgent.
There are a lot of little helpers in the form of online apps by now, that block certain websites for a while or even cut off the internet altogether. The most popular are RescueTime, StayFocusd, SelfControl (Mac only) and ProductivityOwl. If you’re finding yourself going down the rabbit hole on the internet, these apps can be quite helpful to get your focus back.
My favourite tool for focused work is the pomodoro technique, which I wrote about in depth in a previous article. Here’s the short version of how it works: 25 minutes of uninterrupted work followed by a five minute break. Do this four times and you’ve done a full pomodoro unit. After that you are allowed to take a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes.
I hope you enjoyed the tips and you’re inspired to try them out. I’m sure you’ll get a lot done by just applying one of them. Or do you have a method, that you use and I need to try right away? Leave me a comment and I will.