3 Techniques for practising The Art of Focus
Sinead Mac Manus of digital wellbeing company 8fold has three simple ways to make your working hours more productive so you can swan out of the office at five on the dot.
Does this scenario sound familiar? You enthusiastically start your day with a long list of priorities. You feel awake, focussed and ready to have a productive day. You think to yourself “I’ll just check my email quickly to see if there’s anything urgent.”
Tick-tock. Suddenly it’s lunchtime and you haven’t even ticked off the first thing on your to-do list. And with the amount of email we consume rising 10-20% each year, plus all the other distractions of the modern world, from smartphones to social media sites, the problem’s just going to get worse. Our brains are struggling against an ever-growing tide of information.
If this sounds like the story of your working life, don’t worry, you’re far from alone. It used to be me too, before I started practicing mindful productivity.
How can I actually get any work done?!
Let me share with you three tried and tested techniques for practising The Art of Focus.
1. Do one thing at a time
We all think we’re brilliant at multi-tasking. It’s part of most job descriptions, and pops up on CVs all the time. But humans are not like computers. While a PC can move quickly from task to task, human beings don’t function in the same way. We think we are multitasking but actually we are SWITCHTASKING, flip-flopping from one thing to another.
Switchtasking uses up energy in the brain faster than doing one thing at a time. The more we attempt to do things in parallel, the more energy we invest in switching tasks and juggling. Research has shown that multitasking is an extremely inefficient way to work. In 2007, in a study of a group of Microsoft workers, they took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, such as writing reports or computer code, after dealing with incoming email, as they wandered off to reply to other messages or browse the web.
Action: Try this for today. Do one thing at a time and complete it before moving onto the next task.
2. Minimise distractions
I think it’s fair to say we live in the age of distraction. Research shows that 28% of our day is wasted on interruptions that are not urgent or important and the time it takes to get focused again is a scary 2.1 hours each day, on average.
When you want to get focused work done, you have to cut out your distractions. Literally TURN THEM OFF! Put your phone on silent, sign out of your instant messaging service, do not open your inbox and don’t even think of looking at Twitter or Facebook.
The urge to switch tasks will come. Something will catch your attention or you will become frustrated/bored with the task at hand. But we don’t have to be slaves to our brain impulses. The wonderful thing about human beings is that we have the capacity for choice; we can feel the tantalizing pull of the inbox or Facebook and make a conscious decision to ignore it.
Action: try going half a day with no distractions and see what a difference this makes to your productivity.
3. Manage your energy
All time is not created equal. There are times in the day when you work brilliantly and times when you would be better off having a nap under your desk. Be aware of your energy patterns and when you work best. Ring-fence this golden time for your focused work.
Action: spend a day being aware of your energy patterns. When do you work best? When are you tired and unfocussed?
Do let me know in the comments how you get on with these actions.
Sinead Mac Manus is founder of 8fold, a digital wellbeing company that helps busy people work better. Sinead has just launched Mindful Productivity - a six-week eClass full of practical, get-going insights and tactics so that you’ll have an action plan to do more Right Work and make an impact with your business. Find out more here. The Business Yogi book by Sinead and Bridget Stacey-Luff will be published in April 2012.