By Andy Bailey
It’s a Thursday morning and you’ve just sat down to review your company’s quarterly financials. Suddenly a co-worker pops in to ask to move a meeting. You are keenly aware of the non-stop buzzing of your phone on your desk, while you glance over to see an email chain come through about a deadline looming at noon. On top of that, you realize that you never had breakfast, and your stomach is growling at you making it impossible to focus.
This is all too familiar for many professionals and it has a severe impact on your ability to find (and keep!) your focus throughout the day.
Focus is a skill that everyone desires but is nearly impossible to achieve for a prolonged time span. Research from Victor M. González and Gloria Mark has shown that interruptions occur every twelve minutes in the workplace, and fighting these mental shifts involves two separate brain functions: “enhancement” (our ability to focus on the task at hand) and “suppression” (our ability to ignore less important ones). In the over-stimulated world we live in today, it has become even harder to distinguish and discipline our minds to separate enhancement from suppression – as the calls, requests, texts, emails and to-do lists all beg for our attention at every minute of the day.
As a result, we must identify strategies to help us fight through personal limitations and achieve the goals that are most important to us. Here three lifestyle changes to make so you can improve your focus every day and actually get stuff done:
1. Tell Multitasking Goodbye
Multitasking is actually not possible. It’s a fantasy. People may think they’re good multitaskers, but it only means they’re going from one task to another at a rapid pace. While it only takes seconds to switch tasks, it’s taking a serious toll on your brain ability, and as noted in Psychology Today, it involves the parts of your brain that control attention, decision-making, errors and motor skills. That’s why constantly switching between tasks can make it difficult to focus, remember things or make important decisions. Do you feel like there’s just too many things on your plate? Try scheduling tasks on specific times during the week, like interviews only on Wednesday afternoons or reviewing expense reports on Friday mornings, which will allow your brain to focus completely on one topic for the allotted time.
2. Break and Breathe
You awake to the blaring sound of your alarm at 6AM and promptly begin to scroll through the endless stream of emails that have come in throughout the night. Automatically, you feel behind, anxious and overwhelmed, already dreading the day ahead before the work day has even started. Ever been there? What about getting home from a full day at work only to crawl into bed and crack open your laptop again after midnight to review documents. Sound like you? It’s imperative that you have a time in your day where your brain is responsible for doing “nothing.” Not reading, writing, talking, thinking, focusing or anything else that requires mental thought. Instead, go for a walk, listen to music, meditate or just sit and relax. Carving out space, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes a day, will give your brain a break, allowing you to return fully present and ready to tackle anything that comes your way.
3. When in Doubt, Write it Out
You’ve got coffee in hand, a blank document in front of you and an empty office, but you still can’t get productive work done. You may have too much inside of your head! Every day, start by ranking your tasks for the day from most pressing to least, based on factors like how long it might take, when it’s due and what the potential impact will be on your life. The priorities at the top of your list are the ones that will most likely require the most focus, so make those your priorities for the day, and hold yourself accountable for getting them done. It’s much easier to keep your attention steady when you have a clear and manageable workload. Save the less critical tasks for another day.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a hyper-focused leader. Implementing these lifestyle shifts will make a big impact on your personal and professional success. Whether you’re an individual trying to get a single task done or a full company with a big goal to hit, you’ll need to focus in to get it done. Now, what is the first step you are going to take to add more focus into your life?
Andy Bailey is the author of No Try Only Do: Building a Business on Purpose, Alignment, and Accountability. He is CEO and head coach with business coaching firm Petra Coach and serves in an advisory role on the Gazelles Council, the leaders of the Scale Up movement. Visit his blog at http://www.petracoach.com for more business and leadership insight.