There some problems that hinders people from being productive. Some have the habit of procrastinating, some find it very difficult to concentrate on what they are doing after ten minutes, and some find it difficult to finish their activities because they are always distracted. Most people I am trying to help always mention these issues; these are the most common problem that hinders productivity in people.
I was also a victim some years back, I was less productive in my activities. I always get interrupted or distracted by something whenever I start a task, either someone is calling me on Skype, or I am distracted with something on my phone. After finishing a task, I head directly to Facebook to keep myself busy. You will always find empty drink containers on my desk and receipt back then. Sometimes I may end up not doing anything until after 2 PM. I never though any of these bad habits was a problem back then because I earned a lot. I discovered the truth about myself after installing a tracker on my device (RescueTime), I was pissed off. I spend most of the time on my computer, probably an average of 16 hours each day, but the truth is I only spend about half of that time doing work. You can install this tool on your device to discover the truth for yourself. Numbers don’t lie even if men and women do.
The A.D.D. Generation and Dopamine
Like it or not, our attention span is diminishing. Just observe your environment the next time you in a gathering, let’s say dinner, you will notice that people prefer playing with their mobile phones than having a conversation with each other. Even at the office, you will find employers Facebooking and working at the same time. I thought the aim of technology was to make people more productive. This has been the case for almost ten years, and I believe social media and smarter phones are to blame for this.
Well, there is a biological explanation for why we easily get distracted. There is a chemical produced in our brain called dopamine, this chemical is associated with motivation and reward. The greatest take-over about this chemical is that people are usually addicted to anticipating reward, instead of the reward itself. When a notification pops up on our device, we are interested in checking it out because we don’t know the app that triggered the notification or who the notification is from. The chemical, dopamine, drives us into seeking the information, we receive rewards for seeking; thus, it motivates us to seek more. We derive pleasure when we get involved in activities with less importance. Another good example of video games that have exploited this for a long time is video games.
I hope you can see the paintings clearly, you can now picture what I am talking about, this is a problem, but the question is what steps can we take to overcome it?
Over the years, I gathered some strategies that helped me out. And an important concept to understand before moving forward is that the ability to stay focused or concentrate only improves with time and practice. If you can only concentrate for 10 minutes, try building up to 15 minutes the next time. The goal here is progress; you are not trying to be perfect.
Caffeine can help out, use in moderation, not overdose. Using too much caffeine in order to function is you depriving your body of quality sleep. Instead of taking coffee, I prefer green tea; it is healthier, little calories, little caffeine, and the caffeine is released steadily. I take a cup with breakfast.
I also love giving myself a little push before commencing work. I listen to music, visualize my future, review my goals, read a passage or two from a book, visit YouTube to watch motivational videos, and so on.
Start your morning off right
Having a strong and consistent morning routine is very important because how you begin your day till set the tone for the rest of your day.
Here is what I do:
Get out of bed, drink a glass of water, clean up (brush, bath), have breakfast, meditate, review my objectives or task for the day, and I start work.
There is a simple rule I follow; I call it the 2 by 12 rule. My goal every morning is to complete my routines in the morning, and also finish three work hours by 12 pm. So I have to wake up as early as 7 am every morning if I want to achieve that. Before I begin work, I always meditate. I have been doing this for almost six months, and I must say I have observed my level of concentration increased significantly. Meditation is a simple way to uplift the mind, and there are scientific facts backing that up (according to reports, meditation strengthens or improve the brain).
Clear to neutral
What this term means is you having a neat work environment and desktop. The only thing you will find on my desk is a bottle of water and my work station. Your work environment reflects your state of mind. When you are through with your day’s job, develop the habit of cleaning your environment before stepping out.
You can manage your space by going paperless. Try switching your bills to electronic. Instead of printing on papers, taking a picture with your phone will do.
Block external distractions
Our mobile phones contribute to external distractions. Don’t let a notification ruin your focus; it’s less important. When you want to work, put your phone on silence or activate the vibration and keep in a different room.
Our co-workers can also distract us. You can close the door when you are about to work if you have an office. If you don’t have an office, using a headphone will do the trick. You can purchase a sound isolation headphone if your neighbor is playing music or there is an on-going construction close by, these can minimize the distractions. I make use of Bose QuietComforts.
Block Computer Distractions
- Close any irrelevant programs. Close any tab that’s not work related in your browser
- Make use of website blocker. You can use Self-Control for Mac, StayFocused for Chrome, and Leechblock for firefox. Any site you know will distract you from concentrating, such as Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and so on, make sure you block these sites.
- Either log out of your messaging program or activate invisible mode.
I must say I am fascinated about the full screen feature most Mac programs have of recent. These programs cover the whole screen and allow me stay focus on the task at hand.
I love listening to something when working. However, be certain you won’t be distracted by the lyrics. You can check out for simple background sounds on SimplyNoise, I also have my own playlist I listen to. I will recommend using the same song all the time so it will serve as a mental trigger. I know it’s work time once I hit the play button.
I write out my objectives all the time before I begin work. Make sure each objective is specific and begins with an action verb.
Write out four adds for [campaign name] and translate adds into French at [translation site]
Your brain loves simple instructions. Broad objectives may cause analysis paralysis and procrastination.
Working in timed intervals
You need to take breaks in between work sessions. You can take a 5-minute break after working for 25 minutes or 10 minutes break after working for 50 minutes.
It was difficult when I began using timer. I was anxious to check my phone after 10 minutes of working. It’s these years of accumulation of bad habits that you need to change. You can think of it as if you are training a muscle, the more you train, the more you become stronger. If you can concentrate for 15 minutes before taking a break, then try concentrating for 20 minutes the next time you try.
Before now, I can’t stay focused for 10 minutes without being distracted, but now, I can work for one hour straight.
I use Pomodoro Desktop on my Mac. It sits on my menu bar making access easy and integrates info my calendar so I can track my work sessions.
Taking breaks during work sessions is healthy, must ensure these breaks are productive. Using your break time to check out Facebook or other social platforms may take much longer than expected, 5 minutes on Facebook may turn into one hour. What I do during my break is planning out my activities for the next session. I also use this period to visit the rest room, drink water, eat something healthy (a snack), or stretch out. For longer breaks, I’d take a stroll outside.
Blanking your mind
I am still practicing this technique. Our minds have a lot of internal conversation going on and most of them cannot influence your goals positively. When doing something useful, your mind is telling you to rest a little. When you want to do your homework, your mind will whisper that you can leave the work for another time.
So it is important you learn how to blank your mind to shun these conversations that are trying to distract you from achieving your goals. When it happens, I try to shut the voices in my head, close my eyes for some time and take deep breaths. I just start my activities without thinking.
Action creates motivation
I feel motivation is overrated, misused or overlooked my most people. Most people don’t like working or don’t want to work because they don’t feel like working. They just sit around without doing anything, waiting on motivation to come.
I yearn for achievement. My entire body is so addictive to the positive feelings and dopamine I get after finishing a task. So I start working even though I don’t feel like working. The hardest part is to start. Just jump into it without hesitation if you want to swim in a cold pool, no need for tip toeing.
Rewards and Punishment
Well, I am my own boss, so there is no one to punish or reward me if I don’t finish my task for the day. Back then, I knew many intelligent students in high school, but they fell apart when they went to college because they skipped classes. The same thing happens to people when they become their own boss. Many people get lost in this freedom.
So, I came up with a reward and punishment system for myself. If I want to treat myself nice, I attach it to finishing a task. And if I fail to complete a task, I punish myself by staying indoor throughout the weekend to make up for the task. You can improve your motivation by rewarding yourself.
Are you totally distracted?
Sometimes focusing is impossible, likewise the feeling to work. We all have our off days.
Some strategies to help out in moments like that:
Change your environment. Sometimes working from home every day is challenging, and you may become bored. What I do is take my computer and head to a café for some hours. Ensure you go along with a headphone that can prevent external distractions.
Recharge yourself physically. To refresh myself, I develop a habit of observing a power nap for 20 minutes every single day. Sometimes I decide to exercise if I am distracted. Lots of stuff may be going through your mind that may make you lose focus, you can take a break for 5 minutes and meditate to clear your mind.
Another way to go about it is divide your task into smaller components. You can say to yourself, “I will do this task for only five minutes.” You will find what you want to continue doing after five minutes.
My checklist before I begin work
- Did I meditate?
- How clean is my work area?
- Did I clearly define my goals for the day?
- Is my phone in a different room on vibrate?
- Is my present “invisible” on my instant messenger?
- Did I use a website blocker on my laptop?
The reason you are doing all of this is to be effective. Why use 8 hours in working when you can use half the time in accomplishing the same task? Use that extra time in focusing on things that matters most to you. Work on your passion, read, exercise, ensure you have an active social life, and so on. Developing yourself to stay focused completely and finish your task will give you a competitive advantage.
We always have an internal battle in our minds all the time; the part that wants you to work and accomplish your ambitions and goals VS the lazy part that’s impulsive and seeks instant gratification.
Every decision you make strengthens one part over the other. Make sure you ask yourself this question all the time, “What is the right action to take?”
There is a question I ask myself that motivates me. Where would I be if I had no zeal and procrastinated over the years? If I think of the answers, and how miserable and unsatisfied I would be, I become more motivated to do something useful with my life. Remember, your decisions and actions today will influence your future. Make sure you work hard and put good use to the advantages life has to offer.