The inner us may want to drop everything and focus on an important task we do not want to be distracted from.
But despite our hope that we give our work our undivided attention, we manage to get distracted and often end up wasting hours on end, if not days.
What we’re going to discuss today is how to silence that outside noise, find your focus, and improve your productivity. If you follow these tips, they will drastically improve your focus and productivity.
by Greg Mckeown
⏱ 15 minutes reading time
🎧 Audio version available
One of the most important things you can do is hide your phone. This suggestion sounds a little too basic, but unless you are working on your phone itself, it is highly recommended that you simply put it away. A 2017 study revealed that the mere presence of your phone, even if it’s turned off, and you are completely ignoring it — “reduces available cognitive capacity” as you are dedicating a part of your cognitive ability to resist it. This phenomenon is called brain drain by the authors.
Just putting your phone in silent or airplane mode will not cut it. What you have to do is put your phone far enough away that it is out of your immediate reach. I like to put mine in a drawer. This may seem difficult initially, but once you get used to it, your focus will be much, much better.
Listening to something can be a great way to focus. Now, people often think that if they put on some background music, it will end up distracting them. I am not saying that you should force yourself to listen to something while working. However, a study from the University of Illinois says that normal ambient noise can actually help cognitive performance. It also says that it is important to customize the noise so that it suits you.
The study found a moderate level of noise can actually increase creativity and drastically improve the work environment, leading to much more productive work. It also says that when the threshold for the right amount of noise is crossed, that music can become a distraction.
Of course, it is different for everyone, but it is estimated that an average worker spends about 11.7 hours a week on his email. For you, the figure might be very different, but spending an entire working day a week on your email is concerning, to say the least. It might be a good idea to temporarily shut off your email to help you focus on your work. Delaying your response on a couple of emails won’t change the way the world works for you. And while it would be amazing to reply to them as quickly as possible, a delay of a few hours probably won’t harm anyone. So, make sure you’re not distracted by your email when you have some important work to do. Emails can be replied to later!
Another thing you can do about your emails is to turn off the notifications. Then there are those WhatsApp group chats that may technically be about work, but they’re often filled with useless stuff. Make sure to put that chat on mute as well, so random forwarded messages don’t break your concentration.
Have you noticed how, after a meeting, our productivity drops? The reason may lie in exhaustion or confusion about what you should do after the meeting is done. What you need to do is have a 1-minute meeting with yourself before heading into the actual meeting. You need to pre-decide what you are going to do after you return from the meeting so that once you are back in the office, you don’t have to waste time trying to get back on track.
If you’ve already had a talk with yourself regarding your plans after the meeting, the post-meeting time will go much more smoothly. Even if there is a change of plans in the meeting, you will still have a good idea what to do next because you already knew what your plan was beforehand.
Another huge time waster is random websites we find addictive. If your office has them blocked, that may lead to more frustration because you are not in control. But if your work hasn’t banned things like Facebook, Instagram, or whatever it is that consumes your time, try doing it on your own. There are plenty of website blockers around that can help you remove access to the websites that waste your time. One of these programs is called Stay Focused. Feel free to give it a shot.
Another important suggestion, especially for introverts, is to get some space. Nowadays, working in the office may mean participating in group conversations. While that can be great for productivity, an introvert can find it draining. Introverts require alone time after heavy social engagement to get their focus back. If your office does not have quiet spaces, try asking your boss if you can work in the library or somewhere quiet for a while.
This advice is especially relevant to introverts who feel they’ve had enough social interaction for a week after a particular session. But this suggestion is important, even for extroverts. Everyone feels a little exhausted and frayed at times, and taking a little break is just what we need.
You also need to be aware of social loafing. Social loafing is when the entire group doesn’t do its part in an individual capacity because they know someone else will take care of it. This happens because the workers slack off or are too lazy to do their tasks. You need to ensure that you’re not the one doing everyone else’s tasks because eventually, it will cut time from your own routine and set a bad example for the future.
The people whose work is being completed by you will get used to the fact that their slack will be made up for by their co-workers and they will never have to face the consequences. If that sounds like you, you need to stop doing other people’s work so that maximum focus and attention can be given to your own. More time to do your own work, and less work overall, will also improve the quality of what you get done.
Well, these were some of the ways you can help yourself cut out the noise, find some focus, and improve your productivity. Have you tried any of these methods?
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