Our attention spans are very short, 10 minutes on average. Throughout the day, we are bombarded with all kinds of distractions like phone calls, emails, chatter across open office layouts, and the internet (mother of all). Even the late morning/afternoon slump are conditions that will hamper our focus and productivity at work.
There are many ways to stay productive during work. Here are 10.
- Delay Reading Emails
- To Do List
- Stop Multitasking
- Stop Distractions
- Turn Off The Digital World
- Keep Work Separate
- Sleep Enough
- Start Early
- Eat Right
- Keep Your Desk Clear
Don’t check emails the first thing in the morning. It is possible regardless if you are in sales or a CEO. Try it. You will soon understand what your email addiction is keeping you from. Let the first thing you do in the morning be meaningful work. You will gradually improve your relationship with your work and prevent your workday from slipping away.
Divide your tasks into these 4 quadrants
Important and urgent
Example: get this article submitted by the 5pm deadline
Important but not urgent
Example: draft the next 5 interesting topics to write about
Not important but urgent
Example: help a friend spellcheck his essay by today
Not important and not urgent
Example: upgrade internet from 1mbps to 6mbps
Urgent tasks are those that you have to do now. You are in reactive mode. Your work will be hurried and you put everything else aside to complete it first. Important tasks are ones that affect your long term values and goals. Most of the time, what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. However, if you continue to ignore tasks that are not urgent, it will eventually become urgent.
Energy flows where attention goes. It’s is very difficult to maintain focus at work when you are doing more than 1 important thing at once. For example, texting while driving. Both tasks require such a huge amount of cognitive resources that they detract from each other, causing us to do one or the other poorly or more likely, both. So imagine how ineffective it is to work on a report, reply your work emails and read on your next project at the same time. Learn to concentrate on one thing at a time, because attention is meant to be undivided.
The only way to get in to ‘the zone’ is to stay distraction free. ‘The zone’ is best described as a super productive state that you enter only after a period of time. You see, work is very much like sleep. You move slowly from Stage 1 to Stage 4, which is deep sleep. The same goes to working and ‘the zone’. Some people are more sensitive to distraction than others, but you should always aim to minimize the kinds of distraction that pulls your mind out of what you’re currently doing.
For example, stay out of your digital social life by putting your phone away. Sure, most of us need to stay in touch in order to get our jobs done, but who says you have to answer every message as soon as it comes in? There’s very little that you have to attend to instantly. Rather than allow yourself to be distracted and interrupted, which is exactly what you’re doing when you stay constantly connected, set aside blocks of time when you answer your messages all at once. You can do it twice a day, during lunch and before you leave work. That way, you can focus on getting your social interactions taken care of all at once, without letting them defocus you throughout the day. Let others know that you will be offline and give yourself time to get work done. However, do stay away from social networking sites until your workday is done because there’s always a strong tendency that you’ll stay much longer than planned. You risk getting your mind unnecessarily perturbed with things like a friend’s heartbreak or someone from your workplace getting a raise.
Avoid social interactions during a workday. Sure, you may get labeled unfriendly or distant but you can’t listen to the critics if you are consistently productive. In any case, there’s always a time and place for chit chat. You have lunchtime, breaks, the twilight time before and after work, team building exercises, and happy hour after work for it. Be clear to yourself that a workday is for working and the rest of the time is for socializing. The more you can keep your professional and social life from bleeding into each other, the better off you will be.
Sleep enough. Sleep early. If you have a demanding job or are trying to get ahead on your responsibilities, you might be caught in a vicious cycle of skimping on or skipping sleep altogether to work longer. You’re just not as productive when you lack sleep. Your mind will start drifting, messing up your concentration. It also affects your creativity and reaction time. This is a result of your body prioritizing its need to make up for loss time. So sleep better by keeping a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment and try listening to sleep music. The cons outweigh the pros and if your caffeine dependence is out of hand (more than 5 cups a day), seriously consider stopping coffee altogether.
Nobody gets in your way. Less traffic and less bodies in public transports. You also get a head start in work, getting more done in soothing silence and putting yourself in a good mood by the time everyone shows up. Moreover, an early start usually translates to an early finish, allowing you to skip rush hour for the second time in the day. You also give yourself more time to do things with your life like catching a movie, spending more time at the gym, or probably just take a nap. Your choices are endless.
Never skip meals, especially breakfast. The very important first meal of the day is proven to improve cognitive functions and that relates to a quality workday. Have enough protein in your meals as it is slower to digest than carbohydrates and fats, helping you to stave off hunger so that you can stay focused for longer hours. Don’t eat too much carbohydrates like bread, pasta or rice as it will cause blood sugar to rise. As a result your pancreas releases large amounts of insulin, which drives one of the protein building blocks called tryptophan from your bloodstream into your brain, where it is converted to melatonin and that makes you feel sleepy.
If you use post it notes, a physical calendar, discard them. Go paperless. Use Evernote or Google Calendar to organize your schedules and reminders. Even family photo frames can become a distraction. Use your computer’s wallpaper instead. Clear off the workspace and have out only what’s needed (for me it’s a laptop and a water bottle) to help stay in the zone. This also includes your computer’s desktop. It should only contain shortcuts to routinely used programs.