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Four tips for more focus

Mental Health

This unique time has a major impact on how we can perform our work. Our ability to focus is therefore crucial, despite the lack of a normal work routine. In this article we inspire you to move your brain mentally and physically. You will learn techniques to create more focus and thus be more successful in your work.

1. Hunt elephants first, do not chase the rabbits

You have to learn to set priorities. Creating to-do lists are a key tool for this. We tend to start to-do lists with a series of small tasks so that we can tick them off quickly. As a result, our ability to focus is depleted by the time we reach the big tasks. We call these small tasks "the rabbits", who play around our legs all the time. They keep us away from "the elephants" on the horizon. Those elephants then face strategic, longer-term issues. The imagery comes from the Texan oil magnate Thomas Boone Pickens. His life motto was: "When you are hunting elephants, don't get distracted chasing rabbits." – a powerful approach for our daily lives.

Anything that comes up - an email, a phone call, a question from a colleague, your kids wanting a candy - getting things done quickly at the expense of long-term schedules seems helpful at first glance, but ultimately depletes you. Making time for the elephants is really crucial. Communicate well with the people in your household so they know when they can disturb you and when you need to be left alone to hunt the elephants.

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2. Stop multitasking

There is nothing good about multitasking. This is confirmed by how you may feel while multitasking, but more importantly it appears in the research. Multitaskers are forty percent less productive, while they think they do much more. You may have the impression that you are on the phone and driving at the same time, but in reality you only do one of the two. Your brain does nothing but switch back and forth all the time. When you are busy with a task and interrupt it to read an email, it takes an average of 25 minutes before you can fully focus on the first task again.

Apart from that production loss, multitasking makes it impossible to consciously process new information and makes us feel that we are losing our self-control. For some, it can make them unhappy and overwhelmed.

Why do we keep doing it? It is an addiction, fuelled by the feeling that we are doing well because we are ‘doing more’. We think we are putting every second to good use. And multitasking is also positively endorsed socially and professionally. That's good for our status, we think. But not good for our true productivity.

We have become so used to it that it takes a lot of self-control to singletask. But with training and learning it’s possible to be more conscious with what you are doing. Turning off your mailbox notifications when you want to focus on something can be a start. Don’t be too hard on yourself and accept that you will often relapse. Start easy, with an hour of no inbox notifications.

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3. Mind Walking

Trying to maintain constant focus all day is the quickest way to a brain crisis. However, that is what we do. Researchers have measured it: 47 percent of our time we are not present with our consciousness, but our thoughts wander. Apparently, we need that 47 percent. So, we should not try to bring that 47 percent down, but do more with the time in which we are consciously working.

Try to be focused for a maximum of 30-45 minutes, and then make time for boredom. Real boredom. It is not about watching a YouTube video or reading an email, but about real mind wandering, daydreaming, letting your mind walk. By accepting the reality of our focusing ability, we can be kinder to our minds.

4. Be unreachable

During this period working time increasingly turns into relaxation time, if only because of your family members or a friend who asks how you are doing. But it does not only apply to professional activities. So try to also build in private moments, where you give full attention to your family members, and you leave your work or digital distraction aside. It’s important to be conscious and present for your family and friends at this time. 

This article was created in collaboration with our colleagues at Better Minds at Work.

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