You are in the middle of writing up a report for a case file when your mobile message ring goes off. There’s no harm in taking a quick break to check it, right? Wrong!
Every time you get distracted, it takes roughly 23 minutes for your brain to re-focus, which means spending two seconds to read your notifications is actually a major drain on your productivity.
If only knowing the danger of distractions were the same as avoiding them. To achieve on-point focus, try these five strategies.
1) Remember the “Why”
Let’s be honest here, work will always involve a lot of necessary but boring tasks. When a task doesn’t excite or interest you, it’s easy to let your mind drift. Bring it back by reminding yourself why you’re doing that task in the first place.
Suppose you’re drafting a letter Parish and Town Council clerks. Your primary motivation is to inform them about an upcoming Council meeting; but if you look at the bigger picture, raising their awareness of the meeting gives them and you an opportunity to learn more about the challenges they face in their community areas. Taking this a step further, gaining that insight helps services or a project to be tailored to their needs, delivering a meaningful service to the Council’s customers. Once you associate “writing to parish and town councils” to “improving quality of life for council residents” the task becomes more engaging and rewarding.
Next time your motivation dwindles, pump it up by thinking of what you’re really accomplishing with your current task.
2) Identify Your Productivity-Killers
Are there any tasks that consistently throw your focus off? For example, maybe researching community activities on twitter always turns into looking at your timeline; which always leads you to checking your lists and tag feeds.
Identify your productivity-killers by working as you normally do. Every time you end up down a rabbit hole, write down what distracted you and what you were originally working on. After two or three days, review your list for the tasks that show up again and again.
Once you’ve found a few offenders, organise your workload so that you’re not doing that task for an extended period of time. For instance, if researching communities regularly leads to distraction, do it in three short chunks over the course of the day, rather than one long session. It’s far easier to resist distractions when you know you’ll be switching to a new task soon.
3) Take Focus-Boosting Breaks
Over the past two years I have been learning more about mindfulness techniques. When you have spent longer than 20-30 minutes on one task your brain gets bored and wonders on to other things. A recommended technique to keep your brain on track is a form of mindfulness (and I don’t necessarily mean meditation). Taking a SLLS (Stop, Look, Listen and Smell) break every hour or two hours is beneficial.
Simply pause what you are doing, look around, take in the sounds, and observe what you smell. You can do this going to get a drink too as movement is also a great tool to keep your brain alert.
Jeffry Harrison who was a sniper in the U.S Army uses this technique and explains it further in his post “Take (back) Control of your workday with this one simple sniper trick”. To make sure you don’t forget to take your SLLS break, set the timer on your computer or phone.
4) Use a “Work” Browser
With internet browsers like Chrome and FireFox or Mozilla reliably installs in offices these days, a nifty way of keeping focus online is to set up two separate browsers – one for work and one for home.
Set up the work browser with your work email address, logins, extensions, bookmarks/favourites, and tools you use for your job. Add your personal email address, social media accounts, and fun/non-professional extensions and bookmarks to the other browser.
When you’re working, use the work browser; when you’re not working, use the home browser. This split will subconsciously help you concentrate, since you’ll immediately go into “work mode” when you open the window. You also won’t have any tempting browser links to personal interests, preventing you from getting distracted.
Take things one step further by permanently banning access to your most distracting sites on your work browser. Here are instructions to blacklist specific sites for Chrome, Safari, and Mozilla users.
5) Look at Your Future Self
University studies into effective business have revealed that workers are more likely to save money, make ethical decisions and lose weight when they look at pictures of themselves as old people.
Apparently, when you have the future on your mind you are more willing to delay gratification.
To use this tool download an app such as In20Years or Face your Old Age (both are free) to “ageify” a photo of yourself. Next time you are struggling to stay focused on a task, pull up the image. You will get an instant boost of willpower.
These five techniques should make a huge difference on your powers of concentration. But if you’re still losing focus, try identifying your specific distractions and coming up with a game plan to beat them.
How do you avoid distraction? Let us know in the comments!