Do you want to learn more about how you could stay more focused at work? You’re interested in focus time with improved productivity levels and “being in the zone”? You came to the right place.
In this article, I wanted to share some of my experiences from working in enterprise environments as well as working from home. Did you know that even small interruptions of your activity can cause us a delay of about 23 minutes (average) until we have fully regained our focus?
In many work environments, this would mean that the refocusing time span is longer than the average time until a new distraction hits us. That could lead to a full work day of being unfocused and basically being a lot less productivity due to the adverse effects of switch tasking.
Can we prevent that? I don’t know, but we can certainly try some business life hacks and tips to improve how we work. Here’s what we came up with for you.
1. Ban all distractions
We fight a never-ending war with all kinds of notifications that alarm us to jump on a particular workstream. Usually, those have a high potential to derail you from your focus time. Before you know it, you’re already doing something else and might end up forgetting about what you wanted to do in the first place altogether.
To prevent this from happening you could:
- Disable sounds and notifications from your smartphone and browser
- Turn off the little popup for new incoming emails (resist the urge)
- If you’re in your focus time, set your instant messaging client to “do not disturb” mode
2. Time management
I know it’s the same old thing that keeps our productivity in shape or kills it along with all our focus. You possibly have a good way of managing your time already, but if you don’t have a go at these ideas for a better time management:
- Avoid focus killers by introducing a “consultation hour”
- Book your focus time in your calendar just like an appointment (recurring: daily)
- Don’t handle email like a real-time communication tool, establish email hour(s)
If you’re interested in experimental time management practices, you should also check out our article “The Spook of Time: Abandoning the Clock for a Happier and Healthier You.”
3. Don’t let tech control you
Technology is meant to support our productivity. If your devices are not helping you to be more productive, make sure you either configure them differently or switch them off while your focus time lasts.
- Close the browser, no rogue-surfing allowed
- Design your digital work environment for productivity
- Mute or turn off your (smart)phone if nothing else helps
4. Stay there but phase out
Only a few people have the luxury of working in a personal office. The reality of the enterprise world looks more like an open office with many people around you. A lot of these are having conversations, doing phone calls, walking around or distract you in another way.
- Use think-tank rooms for your focus time
- Build visual barriers to keep out things that distract you
- Wear a noise-cancelling headset and listen to music
It’s not for everybody, but many people are very focused and productive if they are able to listen to the music they like. If you can’t blast your speakers, just use some headsets. Perhaps you can even use the headset from your phone or PC for that.
If you don’t know what to listen to, have a go at some lengthy YouTube focus-enhancing “mix tapes.” Just make sure you don’t need to drop out of your focus time to change the song or playlist. There are also some focus-enhancing live feeds with music on YouTube nowadays. Some of these come with added alpha wave support to give you a mental boost as well. This also helps to minimize the effort around picking the right music.
For all those who don’t feel these vibes, you can also just use noise-blocking headsets (a.k.a. safety ear muffs) that don’t play audio. It’s unusual at first but people will quickly grow accustomed to those and won’t bother you, while you’re “in the zone.” Professionals usually respect that.
5. Stay organized
You can avoid all the diligence clutter in your brain by writing down everything that buzzes through your mind. If you like you can make use of productivity tools for that as well. I don’t want to name a particular brand but you’ll find a solution you’ll like with a quick Google search. If you know what you’ll be doing at what time, it saves a lot of trouble wondering about what you should begin with.
- Keep a journal
- Manage your to-do list
- Don’t get overwhelmed, prioritize items!
- Working in a team? Use the whiteboard or go digital!
Many people benefit from writing their thoughts down, also in a therapeutic way. Writing, scribbling and doodling greatly relaxes us and helps to get ideas and solve problems. Get a cool pen and a notebook you like so this can become a fun activity.
Perhaps it will also help you to compose a “to don’t list.” Check out Dave Crenshaw’s video clip on this subject from the series “For Busy Entrepreneurs.”
6. Rituals and rest
Doing things every day and maybe even at the same time is a little curious but everybody needs their little rituals. Maybe it’s the breakfast with your family that gives you the power, or it’s your afternoon tea time. Whatever ritual you might have, leverage whatever keeps your spirits, motivation and focus up. You need little breaks sometimes to get focused.
- Hit the water cooler, not all conversations should be work related!
- Distinguish between your alone-time and your time with others
- Nurture a culture of rituals and quick breaks
You should have both fixed and flexible breaks. They don’t have to be very long, but you should honor them. You will soon realize that they will help you a great deal, to get through your work day. This might not be a direct tip around being focused, but I firmly believe it will help your ability to get “into your zone.”
I call BS
You think you’ll never be able to establish such focus-enhancing practices in your work environment? Check with your line manager on what currently bothers you and how to overcome these challenges. I don’t recall any manager ever saying something like “I don’t care if you’re focused at work,” because even if they might not care about much, they usually care about your productivity.
Think, breath, work "in the zone". #Focus #Productivity pic.twitter.com/NjIRiu5URD
— Christopher Isak (@ChristopherIsak) May 24, 2017
If none of these tips work out for your company. Ask your bosses how they would go about protecting their focus. Maybe together you can come up with an ever greater plan and others could also benefit from that. Don’t forget: Direction is more important than speed. Every step forward is a good step. 🙂
Don’t get frustrated if you can’t achieve a full 8-hour focus work day. It ‘s absolutely fine if you can manage to win even 1 or 2 hours of quality focus time to work in a productive way. Let’s stay realistic with our expectations, and goal settings. You should not strive for something that is unrealistic or impossible to achieve in your work environment.
Not all people work the same. We are all humans, and that’s why we are all unique and different from each other. One of these tips might work for you and not for your colleague or the other way around. That’s okay as well. We all have different personal productivity styles that we need to master.
Perhaps you can’t use all of these tips, but I hope you can make use of one or two of the tips at least. I know different workplace environments come with different challenges. If you have ideas or already made some experiences in this space, share them with us below in the comment section. Thanks for reading!
Photo credit: Hamza Butt / Ginny Beck / Travis Isaacs / Rym DeCoster / Jose Camões Silva / Romana Klee / Antoine Cleraux
Source: Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith, Ulrich Klocke (research paper) / Dave Crenshaw (own blog) / Nina W (Medium)