I’m not sure about you guys, but when it comes to being productive and focused on a task, I struggle so hard!
I recently went through a period of needing to push towards an important deadline on a marketing paper, and also signed up to complete a postgraduate diploma – plus, you know, have a day job & a personal life – so needing to maximize my time & get the best quality work out of my time, has become a big focus for me.
I started playing around with a few things like time blocking and meditation to get me started.
Here is what I found:
1. Get Other Shit Out of the Way as Much as Possible:
One of the most distracting things to me, is having too many things on my to-do list, when I need to sit down to concentrate on one intensive task. Those other meetings, appointments and routines often just make me feel more anxious.
So, one of the most helpful things to me, is clearing my schedule of less pertinent things, while I take on an intensive task. That has often meant not taking on new projects or handing over existing work to a colleague who may have more capacity.
And obviously it’s not always possible to hand over everything but asking for help is a powerful relief. And more importantly, when we turn down things, but let people know when we can pick those things up again, you’ll be surprised how willing people are to help out.
2. Don’t Take on Anything New:
Similar to Getting Other Shit Out of the Way, when I need to keep “in the zone” over an extended period of time, I try not to take on anything new, to keep me focused on the task at hand.
That means, no new appointments, no new Netflix shows, books or podcasts. No new yoga classes or new fitness routines or eating plans. It also often means turning down that coffee with a friend or an impromptu brunch or night out – at least until further notice.
3. Schedule Work Time in 1.5 to 2 Hour Increments:
When I need to sit down and actually work, research or do some reading, I try to make the most of the time by time blocking, i.e. setting my cellphone timer for 1.5 to 2 hour “sessions”.
Mentally this helps me visualise the time I have and helps me sharpen my concentration for just that period. Because I know once it’s over, I can take a break.
So the time “limit” pushes me to do as much as I can, so that once it’s over, I know I’ve covered the round I needed to and can either move onto something else, or just build on a solid foundation I set in that 1.5hr or 2hr session.
The actual time is totally up to individual preference – for me, 2hrs is pushing the limits on my concentration, and anything longer is useless because I’m exhausted.
4. The Power of Music:
To further maximize my concentration bandwidth in my work sessions, I play some background music. I know that sounds weird, and I’m not an expert on this, but…there has been research to show that “white noise” can aid concentration & increase focus as well as strengthen memory.
I’ve used soft classical music as white noise since high school to help me study. And recently, started using it to replace my usual Spotify playlist, while I work as well. And the effects have been quite profound! Lol.
It takes me less time to get stuck into a task, it keeps me “in the zone” for longer, without pulling me into surrounding distractions. And it really helps me maximize those 1.5hr to 2hr sessions. If you’re gonna try anything on this list, this one should be it! #justsaying
Plus, it’s just really lovely and soothing.
My favourite playlists at the moment is this, Instrumental Study one, but you can find so many that might suit you better.
5. Meditation for Better Focus:
This is a little something I started doing recently. Again, for most of us, meditation is not necessarily a go-to, but I’ve really experienced the benefits of it for focus & concentration.
I use the Headspace app, and love it! Granted, I haven’t tried many other meditation apps, but I love Headspace because it seems to cover so many bases.
Each meditation is guided, and you’re able to choose your timeframe, from anywhere between 3 – 20 mins. I know what you’re thinking, who has 20mins to sit with their eyes closed listening to someone talk to them about breathing?! Lol.
I suggest starting with the 3mins options and move from there. I can only really go for maximum 10mins so far, which feels good for me.
The meditation options range from Finding Focus to Sleep aids, Sleep stories (like bedtime stories for adults. Love!) and even meditations to help with exercise, gratitude, travelling, balance and so many more things.
I use the paid version which is about R200 bucks. But I use the app at least twice a day, making that R200 bucks totally worth it, for me.
I use it to help me winddown before bed and I also like to do a Focus meditation just before I’m about to sit down for a time blocked working session or 2.
I find these help me relax into the task at hand & make me more responsive to information as I work.
6. Remember, One Thing at a Time
Finally, the most important learning in trying to maximize my time & quality of work, is that multi-tasking is the biggest myth of all!
We require energy to focus and concentrate and be productive. So, attempting to do too much can sap the energy right out of us. Because everyday life has its responsibilities and its distractions – work, the kids, that big pitch that’s looming, your ill mom-in-law, that overseas trip you’re planning – that all require our energy too.
And trying to do all these things at once, will surely lead to burn out.
My personal gauge is always checking in with how quickly my mind drifts off the task at hand – if I’m sitting at my computer, trying to write for an hour, having all the above elements in place & I’m still thinking about what I’m going to eat on my brunch date with my besties tomorrow, I know it’s time to take that break!
So, being kind to ourselves and conserving our energy when we’re trying to get a big task done, is so important – drawing the line between knowing when to push through & work harder and when to take a step back and have that glass of wine. 😉