By Ian Kendall
With so much to do and so little time, it's important to keep your concentration sharp and your mind focused on the task at hand. But let’s be honest, most people aren’t very good at staying focused. And to make matters worse, we have a completely backward idea of what will improve focus and increase productivity.
For example, some companies, like this one, think that taking more than 6 minutes to use the restroom will completely destroy their bottom line. We tend to think a little differently and wouldn’t ya know, research seems to confirm that traditional time management practices are pretty much counterproductive.
So, how do we actually improve focus and increase productivity? By accepting a few basic truths...
1. Multitasking doesn’t actually work.
Multitasking is an oft-touted job interview buzzword to which people attach enormous pride, completely unaware that it’s is universally discounted by psychologists. Numerous studies show that while your brain can perform multiple tasks at once, a greater amount of efficiency is lost by juggling those tasks than is gained by completing one before moving on to the next.
2. The brain can only focus on one thing for so long.
The brain has a threshold for how long it can maintain focus on a singular task. The Pomodoro Technique, crafted by Francesco Cirillo, utilizes 25-minute intervals of undivided attention, interspersed with 5-minutes breaks. The idea is to squash those wandering, distracting thoughts and achieve a consistently productive workflow.
Don’t worry, only two more points to get through.
3. Taking breaks improves focus.
Now I’m not suggesting you spend the whole afternoon doing yoga or chain-smoking your way through a pack of cigarettes in the name of “a break”. But when a fatigued brain encounters a tough task, it cannot be forced to focus indefinitely, no matter how determined it is to finish up and beat rush hour traffic. More often than not, I solve my toughest problems after setting them aside, taking a break, and picking them up again.
4. Managing people is more productive than managing time.
Every individual operates differently. We all have different attention spans, different forms of motivation, different energy levels at different times of the day. To expect everyone to be continuously productive over an 8-hour workday is naive. Take the time to be aware of your own body and how you refocus. But don’t stop there, take the time to understand how your coworkers operate best. I’ll bet ya a beer everyone’s better off for it.
Focus is not formulaic. It takes a little time, a little effort, and a little awareness to truly create an environment that a team can thrive in. Give it a shot and let us know if you have other ideas for improving focus!