1. Manage your attention well and you’ll have a competitive edge in this distracted world.
This means you’re setting priorities and thinking deeply about problems. Concentrating for an extended period of time can certainly be difficult — but most things worth doing are difficult.
2. Focus on the most important things.
Constantly ask: “Is what I’m doing moving the needle or is it just keeping me busy?” When you look back a year later, or even a month later, will this work you’re doing have made an impact? If not, is there something more important to accomplish that will provide long-term leverage for your business/life?
3. Schedule your days tightly.
When any task requires deep work, add it to your calendar and do it during the planned time: Analyze consumer research — 9 a.m. to 10:30 am; Focus on customer XYZ- 9:30-12:30; Design meeting agenda; 1:30-2:00 and so on. Think of your schedule as keeping you in line with what your position requires in order for you to perform at a productive level.
4. Manage your “distractions.”
We’ve all been there: you sit down at your desk, turn on your computer, and just when you’re about to pull up the document you need to work on you receive a text, email, or a message from your collaborative software. It distracts you on the way to getting your real work done. Our brains are drawn to distractions and instant gratification, like the little heart on Instagram when someone likes your photo. You can reduce your distractions by turning your phone over, keeping the notifications to a required minimum and you can set aside time on your calendar that says you are in meetings the first hour or whatever time is necessary everyday unless your group/team/boss decides to schedule something at that time. Have this discussion with your boss and ask what they do to get their work done. I’m sure they are having the same situation going on for them.
If you don’t learn to prioritize important things from not “as” important, you’ll just keep spinning and your productivity will be reduced.
5. Name your device and put it away for a while.
As soon as I started thinking of my phone as my “chief distractor,” it made it easier — necessary even — to put it away. Labeling whatever distracts you will help change how you feel when you use it.
Research shows that a phone nearby is enough to hurt your ability to concentrate (even if the phone is off!). So, leave your phone in the other room or backpack or in the drawer if you need to. Shut down your personal email when you’re at work. Open it when you’re done with your workday. Out of sight, out of mind. No one needs to or is expected be available 24X7. I know it’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. To be our best selves we all need personal balance.
6. Clear the clutter — both in your mind and in your physical space.
For me, clearing my mind is best done through settling into my body; taking a few deep meditative breaths and walking if possible. Try to focus inwardly every morning, even just for five or 10 minutes to get clarity about your day. Our brains like clarity. They like order. Our executive brain or Pre-Frontal Cortex likes planning.
Having a tidy physical space is another big one. When my work area is clear, so are my thoughts. Stack things up but keeping it orderly is perfect. Just like using our folders/files on our electronics.
7. Just start.
It’s about paying attention to your needs as much as the needs of the team in order to get your work done. That’s what matters most. Most of the time, once I’m a few minutes into working on a tough project, I wonder, “Why did I struggle to get going?” Once you begin, it’s much easier to get into your flow and it becomes effortless.
8. Remind yourself how good it feels to be in flow. And how great you’ll feel afterward!
I think about how much better I’ll feel at the end of the day when I get a nice chunk of work done. Once you’re in the flow, embrace that productive feeling — the positive reinforcement will motivate you to go there more often. Completion increases our positive hormones in our body. We feel this physically and all want more of it every-day.
9. Officially end the work day and shut down. Our minds need to have an official time to end the workday even if seems like the requests are never ending.
When you know it’s time to quit, don’t fight it. For me, my end-of-the-day thought is usually, “I will be more productive if I get out and take a walk or exercise.” I’m not always successful and often succumb to, “Oh, there’s still this thing I should do.” But I’ve learned the value of shutting down and am trying to get better at it because I’m convinced it makes for a better next day. That means not looking at emails/texts/forums and collaboration tools. I also know I work better in the early morning than at the end of the day. So, I structure my “thinking” work in the mornings, client meetings during the day with time for breaks in between circling back to people on email.
Circle back and tell me what you think at email@example.com
Image Credit: Tindaro sculpture by Igor Mitoraj in La Defense, Paris
Photo by Samantha L Strauss