A cheap and available resource to increase your productivity

I am hardly ever satisfied with the amount of things that I have out crossed from my to-do list. First because I probably add too many and second, because I waste a lot of time.

The too many issue has to do with my tendency to add new things to my list once I have finished those which were there from the very beginning.

My work (probably like yours) is like a never ending story, there are always a hundred things to do. I will never finish my day feeling satisfied if I keep on doing this. To be satisfied, and have a feeling of fulfilment do a simple thing: I consciously take a look at all the things that I do have finished that day and congratulate myself for it. I deserve it

The time waste is another thing. I have been working hard on this. I will tell you how I manage.

 Attention matters

One of the most important resources that we have at our disposal at work is attention.

How we manage our attention has a direct effect on our productivity levels.

One of the main difficulties for keeping our focus is not to be interrupted. And by interruption I mean not only external interruptions, like somebody popping into your office to ask for something, but also our own sabotage, like checking the mail on the phone, looking for something unrelated on the Internet …

Once we have been interrupted it takes us an average of 25 minutes to get back to our initial task and 15 more minutes to get to the same level of deep focus we were at when we were interrupted. You can check the study here. Now you have a measured reason not to allow interruptions when you are working hard on something, the cost in time is too big.

 The Myth of Multitasking

Do you have the capacity to do two things at the same time? Probably you do, I do. But none of us will do any of them at the peak of our performance.

Psychology has been studying attention for quite a few years, and a multitude of studies show that split attention undermines performance.

We can have the illusion that we can multitask but we will be less productive and if we pay deep attention we might even notice that we are losing the joy of doing something by only trying to achieve as much done (no matter the quality) as possible.

Our capacity for attention is limited, we can only process a certain amount of information every second. If we overload the system with information we might get overwhelmed by it.

However we need to be aware also that although we might be less productive, it is very easy to get addicted to multitasking. Multitasking gives us the impression that we are achieving much more than we actually are. Have a look at this study by Zheng Wang

 Attention matters

So right down to work: how do we keep the focus?

Here are some ideas, I would love to hear about yours in the comments.

1- Decide whether you can allow yourself to be interrupted. This little 5-minutes interruptions can be costly to you. Remember that you need more than half an hour to achieve the level of concentration you had before. If you cannot avoid interruptions, is there a way you can work out of the reach of people?

2- Do one thing at a time. David Allen in his book “Getting things done” suggests grouping tasks in categories. Reserve some space to look at your mail, answer calls …

3- Give a limited time to every task you undertake. Say for example that you are going to dedicate 1 hour to a certain task. Having a short deadline will make you hurry up, and your attention can not be so sluggish, it knows it has a limited time to complete a task.

When I have to “attack” a certain kind of job, I set my phone alarm to ring 15 or 30 minutes afterwards. If I really hate what I have to do I make very short intervals. This helps me concentrate on my task for a short period of time. If it is not finished I give it another short period …. and I keep on doing that until the task if finished or one hour has gone by.

4- If you are getting distracted too frequently do a meditative drop-in. By a drop-in I mean concentrating on just one breath, just paying your full attention to feeling the air coming in and feeling the air going out. Notice that I used the word feeling and not thinking, feel the air in your body. Choose the part of your body where you feel more clearly your breath and “drop-in”. It makes wonders with attention recovery.

5- Count on some mind-wandering. Don’t be hard on yourself when it happens. Give yourself the treat of a little “Drop-in”

The quality of our attention is really important to our productivity. For sure we cannot keep focus and attentive all the time. Attention is a limited resource but you can decide where to place your attention and make the most of it.

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