Data reveals that the average adult is only able to focus for 6 minutes before doing a ‘just check’ of email, IM, social media and news. In today’s chaos, I predict that most of us are ‘just checking’ even more frequently.
This level of distraction promotes feelings of stress and overwhelm, making it impossible to work productively. How can we accomplish meaningful work in intervals less than 6 minutes?
Whilst it might feel counter intuitive, optimising your focus and doing the work that most needs doing is a helpful way to reduce panic and stress. Yes, it takes even more discipline in uncertain times, but the rewards that come from focussing and getting important things done are multifold for you and those around you.
Here are seven practical hacks and strategies to try.
1. Only check for messages and news at designated times.
It is understandable to want to check the current news more frequently, but it’s important to be mindful of your digital diet. It is highly distracting and tiring to be constantly ‘just checking’. Most of us will keep adequately up to date by reading the current news reports just twice a day. Likewise, most of us can be appropriately professional by responding to email just two or three times a day. Read iMastery’s tips to Master Your Email Inbox.
If you do find yourself inadvertently lured back to reading the recent news update or just checking social media, ask yourself “Is what I’m doing aiding or harming my focus, productivity and ability to get things done?” When you notice your focus has wandered, close the source of distraction and bring your attention back to single tasking on your work.
2. Use different devices for different activities.
Could you discipline yourself to only read news and social media on a personal iPad or phone and keep your laptop/desktop for all work-related tasks? Going so far as to remove all nonwork-related links and apps from your laptop/desktop can help create effective boundaries and allow for more productive and creative thinking.
3. Timebox focus in 90-minute intervals.
Research suggests that much like a sleep cycle, we also have an ultradian performance rhythm that cycles every 90–120 minutes. We naturally experience a burst of energy for approximately 90 minutes, followed by a short period of fatigue.
Start Timeboxing by scheduling two 90-minute intervals in your calendar each day. For example, 8:45am–10:15am and 11:00am– 12:30pm tends to work well for many people. If your schedule allows for it, build up to four intervals a day.
Communicate your strategy with your colleagues and then turn off your mail and instant messaging alerts.
4. Try the Pomodoro Technique.
Finding 90 minutes too long? Try 25-minute intervals. The Pomodoro Technique is a popular productivity hack that prescribes working with a single focus in 25-minute intervals, followed by a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoros (100 minutes of work time) reward yourself with a 15–25 minute break. In case you’re wondering, the technique is named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer, with pomodoro Italian for tomato.
5. What’s the One Thing?
Before starting a focus interval, be very clear on what you are going to accomplish. Planning and prioritising need to take place before you embark on your 90 or 25-minute interval. Keller’s focussing question is very helpful to clarifying your priorities:
“What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
6. Move and support your physiology.
Working from home often results in less incidental movement (e.g. there’s no need to walk to public transport and no steps to the printer). Now more than ever it is important to support both your capacity for focus and your immune system with regular exercise, natural light, plenty of water and nutritious wholefoods.
If you have remote meetings that can be facilitated over the phone, could you walk and talk? For optimal energising impact, schedule them at lunchtime between your intervals of deep focus.
Read here for more information on the benefits of walking meetings.
7. Acknowledge your progress.
The most motivating condition experienced at work is making progress towards something that is personally meaningful. As you close your workday and plan for the next day, ponder:
- In terms of my ability to focus and single task, what went well today? What could be further enhanced?
- What progress do I notice (no matter how small)?
- What have I learnt and/or been reminded of?
- What am I grateful for?
Read here for more on the importance of a daily shutdown ritual.
Thank you for reading and sharing this post. I hope it helps you to focus and have a greater sense of control over your immediate environment, and in turn plays a part in reducing stress and anxiety. If each of us individually can feel more moments of calm that will help those around us as well.
iMastery’s flagship masterclass: Strategies for Mastering Distraction & Getting Things Done, explores the importance of intentionally optimising our focus and explicitly teaches how to do so. It can be facilitated remotely to large and small audiences. Individual and small group remote coaching and support is also available.