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Multitasking may feel like you’re achieving more but it’s actually the opposite. It can ruin your attention span because you’re juggling a number of tasks at once, and the brain works best when it can fully focus on one task at a time.
It’s not our fault that multitasking is applauded in the workplace. We’re taught that if you’re not working on several things at once then it’s tantamount to being slow and lazy. Add to this a multitude of distractions, such as emails, calls and social media, and it’s not surprising our more important tasks never get done.
So what’s the secret to greater productivity and creativity? Unfortunately it’s not an overnight fix. Like anything important, you have to train your brain to pay attention, but these 5 tips will help you get started.
1. Exercise your brain
Just like going to the gym to get fit, the same goes for your brain, you have to exercise it regularly so it remembers to stay focused. Like building muscles, you also need to build your attention span gradually. Start with 20 minutes, take a 5 minute break and go again. Do this for a couple of weeks until you can focus easily.
The Pomodoro Technique, we mentioned in this article is a great way to build up your concentration in short bursts.
2. Eliminate distractions
Want to be more focused in your working life? Then you have to cut out all the distractions. Distractions are time killers and they stop you from doing ‘deep work’ and getting ‘in the flow’.
If you work from home then you’ll need to be disciplined with social media, your phone and TV; three of the most common offenders. Sitting down to watch a show at lunchtime could see the rest of the afternoon wasted. Likewise with checking social media on your phone.
It’s a good idea to set strong boundaries around your phone. If it’s bleeping messages at you every 10 minutes it’s a big temptation to stop what you’re doing and look at them. Either disable the notifications, turn it off or put it in another room while you’re working.
Here are some more tips to help you stay productive when working from home.
3. Make it easy to get started
Often we put off tasks because it just seems too hard to get started. But by eliminating friction points you can make things easier on your future self. This is the concept of ‘clearing to neutral’.
Clearing to neutral means getting into the habit of closing out of browser windows and emails, logging out of sites, shutting down your computer and cleaning your desk when you’ve finished at the end of the day. Creating a clean and tidy working environment will reduce your tendency to procrastinate. Think of it as like good Feng Shui.
4. Work on one thing at a time
All too often we answer an email and another one pops up and we leave what we’re doing to attend to that one. Before you know it you’ve got six browser windows open, and you’re jumping between three tasks at once. It’s not a good way to function, and your productivity will suffer.
Deliberately working on one thing at a time is the best way to train your brain to focus. Turn off your email while you’re working on a task and focus on finishing it before you move onto the next. Your brain will thank you for it.
5. Adjust your email habits
Since email is such a big distraction for many people, try these tweaks to train yourself into some new email habits:
- Disable email apps on your phone and just have an account on your laptop.
- Schedule specific times of the day to process email.
- Only check email twice per day, i.e. late morning and late evening.
- Don’t check your email until 11am.
- Let people know you’re checking emails less often by using an automatic response.
If you’re a business owner with a big to-do list, then using some kind of tool to manage your workflow, and schedule in regular tasks is also a good idea. Staying focused takes practice, they say it takes three weeks to build a habit, so the sooner you start exercising your attention muscle, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy greater productivity and creativity.
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