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Why Focus is Your Competitive Advantage at Work (plus 19 ways to actually do it)

Make a single-tasking plan

  • Keep a to-do list with focused, actionable items.
  • Visualize your to-do’s one at a time.
  • Schedule your daily to-do’s. Each task gets a specific time slot when you’ll only work on that one item on your list.
  • Create unrealistically short deadlines to  force you to stay focused.
  • Keep a timer on your tasks.Tracking how you spend your time at work forces you to commit to one task at a time.
  • Theme your days. By doing this, you give your mind clues as to what to place precedence on each day.

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Why Focus is Your Competitive Advantage at Work (plus 19 ways to actually do it)

Why Focus is Your Competitive Advantage at Work (plus 19 ways to actually do it)

https://doist.com/blog/how-to-focus-better-at-work/

doist.com

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Key Ideas

Statistics about multi-tasking

  • Trying to focus on more than one thing at a time reduces your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s the cognitive equivalent of pulling an all-nighter.
  • The average desk job employee loses 2.1 hours a day to distractions and interruptions. That adds up to over a full day of work every week.
  • On average, employees who do the majority of their work on computers are distracted every 10.5 minutes.
  • Being distracted by incoming calls or emails can lower employees’ IQ by as much 10 points.
  •  44% of those work distractions are self-inflicted and another 23% come from emails.

When you single-task...

  • you tend to work on the right things. Effective single-tasking requires planning. Starting your day without a plan is just asking for distraction and inefficiency.
  • you accomplish more in less time with less stress: Intentionally focusing on one task at a time has been proven the most efficient way to move through your to-do list.

4 essential components of effective single-tasking:

  1. Cutting out distractions.
  2. Make a single-tasking plan you’ll actually stick to.
  3. Dealing with unavoidable distractions.
  4. Getting back on track when you’ve fallen off the single-tasking band wagon.

Cutting out distractions

  • Use apps that block online distractions.
  • Turn off notifications and see the difference in your productivity.
  • Use two computers: one for the things that are distracting and one for the focused work.
  • Only keep one tab open at time.
  • Use separate desktop spaces.
  •  Work offline whenever possible.
  • Schedule your email time.

Making a single-tasking plan

  • Keep a to-do list with focused, actionable items.
  • Visualize your to-do’s one at a time, by writing them on sticky notes.
  • Schedule your daily to-do’s.
  • Create unrealistically short deadlines: it forces you to stay focused.
  • Keep a timer on your tasks.
  • Theme your days.

Dealing with interruptions

  • Procrastinate on purpose: you can limit distractions' impact on your productivity by simply adding them to your to-do list to come back to later.
  • Keep a “read later” list for the helpful articles you come across.
  • Keep a “bright ideas” repository: keep a running list of thoughts you want to come back to later (using an app or paper).
  • Set aside exploratory time. Unfocused, agenda-free thinking time is essential for creativity and professional development.

Getting back on track

  • Take regular breaks throughout the day. Our brains simply did not evolve to focus on one thing for extended periods of time - the longer we work without the breaks, the more prone to distraction we become.
  • Forgive yourself when your day doesn’t go as planned. Ruminating on the past one of the least productive things you can do.

Multitasking is killing your productivity

 44% of work distractions are self-inflicted and another 23% come from emails.

That means you have complete control to cut out (or at least drastically reduce) 67% of the productivity-killing distractions that derail your entire workday.

The number one skill that will set you apart from 99% of the world’s highly distractible knowledge workers is the ability to ruthlessly single-task. 

Single-task benefits

  1. When you work on one thing at a time, you tend to work on the right things, because you have to plan your tasks.
  2. When you single-task you accomplish more in less time with less stress. Intentionally focusing on one task at a time has been proven the most efficient way to move through your to-do list.

Cut out distractions

  • Turn off notifications or at least turn on priority notifications.The time and mental focus lost in attention-switching even for a second adds up throughout the day.
  • Use two computers - one for doing work and productive things, the other to do unproductive work.
  • Only keep one tab open at time

    It’s a concrete way to make sure that you’re only working on what you intentionally decided to be working on.

  • Use several separate desktop spaces as an alternative to one tab. One for communication, the other for different projects planned for the day.

  • Work offline whenever possible.

  • Schedule your email time

    Handle any emails that will take 2-minutes or less. Add everything else to your to-do list to focus on later.

Make a single-tasking plan

  • Keep a to-do list with focused, actionable items.
  • Visualize your to-do’s one at a time.
  • Schedule your daily to-do’s. Each task gets a specific time slot when you’ll only work on that one item on your list.
  • Create unrealistically short deadlines to  force you to stay focused.
  • Keep a timer on your tasks.Tracking how you spend your time at work forces you to commit to one task at a time.
  • Theme your days. By doing this, you give your mind clues as to what to place precedence on each day.

Dealing with interruptions

  • Add interruptions to your to-do list to come back to later.
  • Keep a “read later” list. whenever you come across a tempting article.
  • Keep a “bright ideas” repository. Instead of following up on your ideas immediately, keep a running list of thoughts you want to come back to later.
  • Set aside exploratory time for your “read later” and “bright ideas” lists.

Getting back on track

There is always a temptation to multi-task that will interfere with your focus.

  • Take regular breaks throughout the day. Studies have shown that the longer we work without the breaks, the more prone to distraction we become.
  • Forgive yourself when your day doesn’t go as planned. Redouble your resolve to put the single-tasking strategies into practice.

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The best one for you depends entirely on your working style and personal preferences.

You can use a physical notebook around everywhere you go, but it's easier to use a to-do list app or tool that syncs across all your devices. That way, you can access your to-do items whenever and wherever you need to, whether you're at your desk, in a meeting, or on a business trip.

Prepare in advance

Write out your to-do list the day before:

  • You'll free your time to dive right into your to-do list in the morning - one of the most productive times of day.
  • It can help you spot obstacles ahead of time and prepare accordingly.
  • Knowing what you have going on well in advance could help you relax and sleep better the night before.

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When you focus on developing systems and work every day, your work compounds over time, developing exponential growth. 

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Task switching and focus

Taking on additional tasks simultaneously can destroy up to 80% of your productive time:

  • Focusing on one task at a time = 100% of your productive time available.
  • Juggling two tasks at a time = 40% of your productive time for each and 20% lost to context switching.
  • Juggling three tasks at a time = 20% of your productive time for each and 40% lost to context switching.
A schedule for sustained attention
It includes:
  • Large chunks of focused “flow” time for more demanding projects.
  • “Themed” days to reduce the need to recalibrate between different tasks.
  • Advanced planning so you can prioritize meaningful work.
  • Realistic time set aside for admin, communication, and meetings.
  • Clear expectations for your teammates so they know when not to interrupt you.

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Brian Tracy

Time management is not a peripheral activity or skill. It is the core skill upon which everything else in life de..."

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Work Around Your Energy Levels

Productivity is directly related to your energy level.

Find your most productive hours — the time of your peak energy — and schedule Deep Work for those periods. Do low-value and low-energy tasks (also known as shallow work), such as responding to emails or unimportant meetings, in between those hours.

Plan Your Day the Night Before

Before going to bed, spend 5 minutes writing your to-do list for the next day. These tasks should help you move towards your professional and personal goals.

You’ll be better prepared mentally for the challenges ahead before waking up and there won’t be any room for procrastination in the morning. As a result, you’ll work faster and smoother than ever before.

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Flow is the state of mind

... where we are so immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity that we lose sense of space and time.

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Why it’s hard to achieve flow in your workplace
  • The processes, policies, and busy work gets in the way.
  • Most jobs don’t have a clear goal.
  • Feedback can be inadequate.
  • The pace of work has increased, and it’s hard for people to spend time thinking deeply.
  • Your skills aren’t well matched to the challenges you are allowed to pursue.
  • There’s a lack of control over interruptions or when and how you work.
  • The job doesn’t push you out of your comfort zone.
Take more risks

... to push your mind beyond its comfort zone. Flow happens when we get a bit out of our comfort zone. Too much, and you get anxious; Too little and you get bored.

You need to know your physical or emotional limitations and consciously push past them.

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Use Technology

Examples of some tools that can help you focus better at work:

  • Blocking apps can remove temptations by blocking distracting sites such as Facebook or Netflix.
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Keep from external distractions
  • Keep your status Busy or Don’t disturb or Out of Office on office chats.
  • Using earplugs can block out distractions.
  • Convey politely yet firmly your work policies to your colleagues.
  • Allow yourself some chit-chat time so that you don’t miss out on socializing and stick to it religiously.
Structured and Proactive Work Schedule

Factor in these while planning your work day:

  • Your weaknesses - do you procrastinate when there is a tough task at hand?
  • Your limitations - do you have to be home early to take care of your kids?
  • Your strengths - are you more productive when under pressure?
  • Your habits - are you a morning person?

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Getting Things Done: the basics
  • Capture. Write down everything you need to do.
  • Clarify. Break down each task into an actionable next step. 
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The 2-minute rule
If a task takes less than 2 minutes, then do it now.

If the effort to keep remembering a task is more than just getting it out of the way now, then do it.

Fixing small tasks
  • Fixing things is empowering. Our confidence increases or decreases based on our ability to make progress. 
  • Any progress builds momentum (and your mood): No matter how small the task is, crossing it off your to-do list gives you a boost of momentum and enhances your mood.
  • Small steps turn into habits: When a task is easy to do and quickly completed, it’s much easier to turn it into a habit.

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Fear of success

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What fear of success looks like
  • Fear of success usually doesn’t mean a literal fear of success. People fear the results and consequences of making lots of money, for example, not the money itself.
  • Fear of success is often learned at a young age.
  • Fear of success is maintained (and made worse) by avoidance.
  • Fear of success is painful. It brings a lot of anxiety.
  • Most people who are afraid of success are embarrassed by their fear.
Work through your fear of success
  • Validate your fear of success by understanding its origins.
  • Track your avoidance strategies related to fear of success.
  • Face your fears of success (the smart way).
  • Get professional help from a cognitive behavioral therapist.
Personal Productivity Curves

A lot of the internal things that affect our productivity are out of our control. Our energy, focus, and motivation follow their own path or “productivity curve” throughout the day. 

Energy curves

We’re naturally more energetic and motivated at specific times of the day. Researchers call this our Circadian Rhythm. Every person’s rhythm is slightly different, but the majority follow a similar pattern.

  • Waking up. Our energy levels start to naturally rise.
  • Around 10 am. We’ve hit our peak concentration levels that start to decline and dip between 1-3 pm.
  • Afternoon.  Our energy levels rise again until falling off again sometime between 9–11 pm.
90 Minute Cycles

We work best in natural cycles of 90-120 minute sessions before needing a break. When we need a break, our bodies send us signals, such as becoming hungry, sleepy, fidgeting, or losing focus.

If you ignore these signs and think you can just work through them, your body uses your reserve stores of energy to keep up. It means releasing stress hormones to give an extra kick of energy.

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