How To Improve Your Focus For Better Productivity: Part 2
Multitasking is overrated...
If you’re like most people you spend most of your days multitasking. You’re probably so used to multitasking that you don’t even realize when you’re doing it. After all, it’s a skill many employers look for in their employees. Many people believe multitasking saves them time. Yet, studies show it actually increases the amount of time needed to complete tasks, and that focusing on one task at a time is can improve productivity by 40%. Why? Because focusing lets you concentrate on one task or thought at a time, helping you create a better result for each task. Rather than taxing your brain by making it start and stop and then refocus between multiple tasks.
The challenge is that many people have begun to like to multitask because they become bored working on one task at a time.
Why is multitasking bad?
Largely, for the reason just stated. Multitasking forces the brain to switch between activities. As it switches, it must stop one activity and then start another. When you switch back, it has to stop the current activity and then restart the other. Think of your computer web browser. When you first launch things are nimble and move quickly. But, as you open more and more pages, tabs, or windows, you see a loss in speed and a drain on your computer's overall power, memory and storage. As you switch between these pages, tabs and windows, you often find that the page has to reload or go into a cache to remember where you've left off or refresh to bring you back to where you were. Even worse, each page you've left open has to write memory of where you were and what you were doing and remember that information for when you come back. As your computer gets slower, you get frustrated. You clear the browser history or upgrade your system. Unfortunately, your brain does not work the same way.
Multitasking leads to attention and memory loss
According to a study, by Stanford Professor Clifford Nass, in findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, people who use online social media and other forms of electronic communications have trouble focusing their attention and have lower scores on memory tests.
Cognitive performance is diminished
A study by Zheng Wang, a professor at Ohio State University, showed that multitasking caused students to feel more productive, but showed they were actually reducing their cognitive skills abilities such as studying.
It turns people off when you are interacting with them
People who multitask often find themselves coming in contact with others. If you only half pay attention to them, answering texts and phone calls while talking to them, you will lose their respect.
Multitaskers lose productivity
Switching between tasks is counter-productive. You lose time and concentration every time you switch to a different task.
Multitaskers are less likely to finish one quality project
They may finish all their tasks for the day, but they will most likely be sub-par than if they had focused solely on one to completion.
Now, that you know some of the major reasons (and supporting research) on why you shouldn't multitask, remember that multitasking over time makes it harder and more difficult to focus and be productive. Start to pay attention to the small and pernicious ways that multitasking creeps up into your life even as you try to single task. It may be seem small, but if you find that as you are trying to focus on one project you are also thinking about emails you have to respond, or when writing a report your mind wanders to the phone calls you need to return even while you are thinking about the next task on your to-do list, you may need extra help to retrain your brain. In my book, Reclaiming My Time! I provide excellent resources to help you address the sources of your distraction and to create strategies to get and stay focused. Naturally, this type of working environment---where your brain is constantly shifting while fighting to stay zoned in on one thing---doesn’t do anything but cause you stress. I address the added stress and try to guide you to create a practical strategy and steps to develop new practices in a realistic time frame. One suggestion, instead of multitasking among several tasks, you should prioritize your tasks and break them up into workable time chunks. If you need help doing that, join my mini class on Productivity. In it I share my method, and how I've been able to be successful. I also share insights I've learned from studying many of the world's top business leaders. The class includes my planner system and goal and priority setting agenda. It will really help you get on track, focus on what needs to get done, and keep your head on straight.
Tips to improve focus
But perhaps you want to focus and you've already tried to focus on a single task, but still find yourself easily distracted. It's difficult for you to focus on what you are doing because you find your mind wandering, you’re worrying about everything, you start to feel sleepy, or maybe you just have way too many things you need to do to make a choice on which one task to start with. My immediate suggestions would be:
Try to allocate at least 30 minutes each day to meditate. If you can’t dedicate that much time you can still do a short breathing exercise. Focus on your breathing, really focusing on the air, how it touches your nostrils and enters your lips. How does it feel as it escapes? Your mind may wander, filling with endless amount of thoughts. When this happens bring your thoughts back to focusing on your breathing. Continue this process for several minutes.
Regulating your breathing relaxes your circulatory system and brings you a sense of peace.
Listen to music to help improve your focus. Really concentrate on the music. Try to focus on a single instrument. Business Insider published an article about the best kinds of music to listen to based on science for optimal productivity.
Cut Goals into Small Targets
Having an end goal in mind while working on the tasks to achieve it can frustrate you because your target goal might be too big or difficult. Your results won’t be quick, and it may seem like you aren’t getting any closer to the end. Instead of working toward the ultimate end goal, break it down into smaller, more achievable goals you can reach within a few days. Then cross each smaller goal off your list as you achieve it.
Recommendations: Lauren's Goal Setting Planner System
We all have an internal clock and that clock sets our "rhythm." The best way to be productive is to work within your body’s most comfortable time period. Perhaps you've found you work best early in the morning before sunrise. Or maybe your peak hours are late at night. The important thing is to work on your most brain intensive tasks when you are most productive. For example, many authors get up early to do their writing, while artists often do their best work late at night. If you're interested in learning about apps that will help you boost your productivity at work (they can be quite helpful in your personal life, too), check out my blog post Productivity for Leaders: The Best Apps to Manage Your Day.
One thing many people do not consider is how their diet effects their brain. Have you ever eaten a big meal during lunch only to feel lethargic and weighed down the rest of the afternoon? Well, eating a heavy meal slows you down and makes you sleepy. If you need or want to, you can incorporate regular small fasts and detoxes into your diet. Learn more about the benefits of detoxes and juice fasts here. on a regular basis. It will keep you alert and help keep your body in good physical condition.
Exercise your mind and body every day. Do crossword puzzles. Engage in lively discussions. Build something that’s creative. A simple 30 minute walk every day is all you need to keep your body healthy. Just do something!
You may need to push yourself some when you’re feeling lazy. If you are hitting a mental roadblock, though, take some time away from the task. Do something else until you can regain your focus on the original task.
If you find that you are still struggling the help of a coach can be very beneficial.