How to be more focused and productive
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Why you shouldn’t mix squirrels and water
Remaining focused in our fast-paced and digitally dominated world can be tough. As technology has become embedded in the heart and soul of businesses across the world a culture shift has been taking place. This shift is towards a more instantaneous and reactive way of working. One-click ordering, next day delivery, social media, text, email and the Internet are good examples of why we expect everything to be done so quickly.
The development of this reactive and instant culture is beginning to take a toll on employee wellbeing. The struggle to remain focused and productive is a major concern.
If you’ve ever watched UP by Pixar, you’ll know about the loyal, friendly, if a little aloof dog Doug. Doug is great, but he does have a problem with focus (for context if you haven’t watched UP, Doug the dog can talk). You’ll see Doug get distracted by random things. He’ll be mid-sentence or task and he’ll shout “squirrel!” and run off to chase a squirrel he just spotted.
Thanks to the digital era we’ve become a bit like Doug. We get easily distracted and struggle to stay focused. Notifications and pop-ups are draining our attention. Each time we stop working to check the distraction, we break our concentration and flow, we're no longer present and focused. This doesn't just happen once or twice a day but multiple times an hour.
It can be anything from emails, texts, social media, co-workers or even other tasks that distract us. This chopping and changing creates a dangerous pattern where we’re no longer focusing on one thing at a time and our attention is split and divided.
This results in reduced productivity and tasks being incomplete, forgotten about and not being up to standard (quantity over quality). Consequently, we become stressed and anxious which creates a perpetual cycle of bad habits as we struggle to cope.
Water-tight time zones
Focusing can be a challenge, particularly when we’ve learned bad habits. But focus is critical for productivity, efficiency and quality. When you’re focused and in a state of flow you produce your best work. You must put in the effort to retain focus and remove distractions.
One of the most effective ways to maintain focus is by introducing water-tight time zoning. Water-tight time zoning is where you dedicate a certain amount of time to a particular task. You must spend this time uninterrupted and undistracted. Nothing is allowed in or out of that time zone. That means not answering emails, looking at texts or jumping between tasks. Don’t let squirrels into your water-tight time zones.
For example, I might schedule an hour to write this blog where I spend a dedicated hour doing nothing but my creative thinking and writing. I could then schedule a five-minute snack break, where I eat my food of choice and chill-out a little. I could then schedule a ten-minute email block, an hour invoicing block and so on.
Using water-tight time zones is a skill that will take practice. But we can improve our chances of maintaining these zones by changing our environment and eliminating distractions. This could mean turning off notifications on your phone, laptop, tablet and watch, putting your phone on “do not disturb” or putting up a sign asking not to be distracted. If something is really important, people will find a way to get hold of you – the world will not collapse if you go off-grid for an hour.
You can even get productivity-boosting apps on your phone that can lock or limit the amount of time you spend on your phone or offer incentives for not using your phone. One I like to use is called Forest. Another skill Zentano have adopted in the last year is bullet journaling.
Bullet Journaling and intentional living
Bullet Journaling can be a great way to gain focus, determine what’s important and maintain your water-tight time zones. We discovered bullet journaling just over a year ago and it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s changed our lives.
Before bullet journaling, most of the things we had to do remained jumbled in our head or written on a variety of scraps of paper. It worked to a point – but it didn’t work as well as we’d like. We’d get distracted, forget things, remember things we’d forgotten and go back and forth between tasks because we had no priorities and it resulted in a lot of undue stress and anxiety.
Bullet journaling changed that. We won’t go into detail, but a bullet journal is a notebook/calendar/ journal/list all in one and can be customised to fit how you work. It allows you to prioritise and focus. You can dump your brain in a book and methodically work your way through the clutter. What comes out the other side is a list of important tasks, events and projects. These tasks can then be assigned to certain days, weeks, months or years.
Each day I reflect on what I need to do, pick a certain number of tasks I have to complete and write them in my daily journal. I will then create my water-tight time zones around these tasks. Once a task is complete, I get to cross it off my list and out of my mind. It’s all about living intentionally and maintaining focus and eliminating distractions.
Maintaining focus is tough and sometimes a new habit or two (i.e. positive lifestyle changes) can be all we need. Changing habits requires motivation and sometimes we need a little more support and guidance (coaching is ideal) to get to where we want to be.
If you’re great at focusing, what tips do you use to stay on track? Please let us know your thoughts and comments, we’re always open to great new ideas?
If you need help to focus better and want some support and guidance, please get in touch.