Most people would probably agree that they would like to be able to work with more focus. After all, when we’re focused, we are able to be more efficient and therefore productive, we are less likely to make mistakes, we can really immerse ourselves in the tasks we enjoy, and time even goes faster for those inevitable jobs that we’d really rather not have on our to-do list.
Yet it’s very common to spend a day flitting between different projects and emails, making gradual progress on various things but not really giving our full attention to any one task. To some, this may feel busy and productive; to others, it can feel hectic and out of control, but either way, it certainly isn’t doing our performance or our wellbeing any favours.
If you think you could benefit from bringing greater focus to your working day, consider how you could implement some of the following simple tactics:
Build breaks into your day – We all know that it’s good for us, but how many people actually take regular breaks? Aim to take at least one short break in the morning and one in the afternoon, scheduling these into your calendar so that the time doesn’t get eaten up by something else. Ideally, use these times to get up and move, have a healthy snack and a drink, and do something to take your mind off of work, such as catching up with a colleague or reading a book.
Allocate time for creative tasks – For those tasks that require creative thinking, block out chunks of time when you can get these done and really get into a state of ‘flow’. See if you can actually remove the distraction of emails during these times. If this doesn’t feel possible, take a moment to consider what you might happen if you did this. The time is being well spent working on a task that requires focus. Consider making it easier to temporarily disconnect by making use of the Out of Office function in your email/voicemail and proactively advising close colleagues that you’ll be temporarily ‘hands-on’ dealing with another task. It also can help to think about whether one particular day of the week tends to be quieter than the others; such a day would be ideal for creative tasks.
Set aside daily time for small odd jobs and admin – Along a similar line, allocate specific time to smaller jobs and admin-related tasks, to keep these under control and prevent them from impinging on the rest of your day. Dealing with non-urgent emails should come under this category too.
Make your schedule work for you – Tailor your working day so that your most cognitively-demanding tasks are at the best time for you. If you aren’t sure when this is, start keeping track of what time of day you tend to be most and least able to concentrate, and you should be able to identify a pattern to work with.
Stick to your working hours – In the age of flexible working, this may not be a traditional 9-5 day, but whatever your hours are, do your best to stick to them. There will always be exceptions when you need to do a little extra to meet a tight deadline, but keep them as just that—exceptions. If you are consistently working too much, your ability to focus will be hampered, making you more likely to make mistakes, to work slower and, ultimately, to burn out.
Some of these ideas may seem straightforward and yet, at one point or another, most of us could do with a reminder. It’s all too common to have the best intentions of concentrating on one particular thing, only to be distracted by an email or phone call, get caught up in other resulting tasks and find that suddenly, hours have gone by with no progress made on the original project.
If this rings true for you, start with just one of the above tactics and make it a priority every day. Try to avoid becoming frustrated with yourself if you do get side-tracked during a period of focus; changing the way you work takes time. Do whatever you need to do to minimise possible distractions and, with a bit of practice, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of focusing on one thing at a time: feeling calmer and more in control, greater satisfaction with your work, improved performance and productivity, and feeling prepared for whatever comes your way.
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