Lack of Focus: 6 Handy Tips for Attention Management
Did the title of the article bring you here?
- If yes, carry on reading.
- If no, well — that’s impossible. (And you’re probably in denial.)
Productivity is a pretty subjective topic and everyone has their own internal metric of what they define productivity to be. As for me, I do have a formula I would like to use as a base for this article when it comes to productivity:
Productivity = Motivation x Focus
Productivity is the result of:
- Motivation: The level of determination and/or enthusiasm you have for completing a specific task.
- Focus: The ability to keep your attention on the task for the duration of the work being done.
If there’s little motivation, this is the perfect scenario for procrastination to happen. If there’s little focus, your 30 minute task is going to turn into a 1 hour task instead.
In this attention-grabbing world, focus is something that’s hard to come by in the workplace. You probably face issues like the ones below:
- You have 1,087,636,782 tasks to finish within the next hour.
- You get constant interruptions to your thought-process from colleagues who need immediate answers.
- Your calendar looks overbooked.
- Your priorities that you’ve made for yourself keep changing within the day.
As the title of the article suggests, I’m here to focus on (pun intended) minimising the amount of disruptions in your day-to-day and to suggest ways on how to keep your attention on the work that requires it.
1. Put your focus on tasks where it counts the most.
You probably have a To-Do list but everything is important or urgent. But are they really?
There’s a rule I would like to introduce and it’s called the 80–20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle). While this was mainly applied to economics, this rule is also applicable to anything else including time management as well.
What this rule is: This rule suggests that 20% of your activities will account for 80% of your results.
What this rule could also mean in time management:
- Across your job — 20% of your tasks will account for 80% of the value that your work will create.
- On a specific task — 20% of the effort that goes into a singular task will account for 80% of the quality of work you want to achieve.
What this translates to: It’s important to prioritise your work effectively and you only have that many hours in a day. Put your focus on tasks where it counts the most.
How to do I go about prioritising my work effectively and focusing on the right things?
- Assess the impact of each of the tasks on your current To-Do list and see if it’s worth your limited amount of time.
- Assess how much time is required for the task and if it urgently needs to be done.
- Fit it into the matrix above based on your assessment and act accordingly for each of the quadrants. Simple!
2. Get rid of distractions around you.
Humans in the modern era have short and extremely limited attention spans, with no thanks to technology. It’s the same reason why advertisements are now shorter and bite-size information is more widely available.
You need to get rid of the distractions around you at home or in the office. This is increasingly important as the majority of us now work from home due to the COVID-19 situation.
- Turn off all the notifications from social media across your devices (only if it’s not a part of your job).
- Consider checking your email periodically (maybe 2–3 times a day) — This is just to make sure you don’t miss any important information and have more chunkier blocks of time dedicated to completing your To-Do list.
- Take some time to declutter and organise your workstation — Prioritise what you need on your desk. While everyone has a different threshold of what tidiness means for a workstation, it’s more important to 1) be comfortable, 2) be able to stay focused and 3) have the tools you need to work within reach at your desk.
- A website blocker app might be worth considering — You can “blacklist” websites, apps and even games for a period of time to help you focus on the work.
3. Enter “Dark Mode”.
It’s quite probable that you could get a notification from someone different every 5 minutes to get an approval or additional information on a less important and minor issue. Task switching causes you to lose your train of thought and it takes a while for your brain to adapt between tasks especially if they are of a different nature.
How to get into Dark Mode:
- Tell your colleagues that you need an uninterrupted period of time to focus on your work so that you can get stuff done without breaking your concentration.
- However, your colleagues also NEED TO KNOW when you are doing so in order for this to work. It always goes both ways.
At Mighty Bear Games, we have a status on Slack (our preferred channel of communication) that says Dark Mode. Whenever someone puts the status on, we do not disturb them unless it’s a super urgent and major issue. At the same time, we can expect that people with that status on will not reply until they are finished with their task.
4. Block out time in your schedule.
If going Dark Mode is not an option in your environment, the alternative is to carve out time in your calendar to tackle those tasks for a period of time. Often, people are afraid to block out time for themselves to work on an important task.
You shouldn’t be.
If you need to get an urgent task done without interruptions, blocking out your calendar is a great way to tell people that you are unavailable and you’re dedicating a chunk of your time for an important task that requires your undivided attention.
This is effectively the Time-Boxing method. Nir Eyal, the author of “Hooked”, wrote a new book called “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.” He promotes this methodology of time-boxing your schedule quite extensively across his book and website. You can read more about it here.
Oh, and for this to work, you have to turn off all notifications across all your devices.
YES, ALL OF THEM.
5. Find the right time to focus.
Everyone is wired differently. Depending on whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, you should schedule when you deal with tasks, take your breaks and check your emails accordingly. Your routine should be based on when your focus is at its best.
Personally, I’m a night owl and I simply have trouble getting up in the mornings. My mornings are full of the routine, small tasks that can be easily accomplished without too much effort and my afternoons are for when I do the heavy-lifting.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule (not all listed):
- There are days where it’s inverse. In those instances, I work on the tasks that I dread on the most and get them out of the way before I work on the fun stuff later. (This is in relation to the “Motivation” factor mentioned above but it’s for another article on another day.)
- When my whole afternoon is booked with meetings and I’m forced to work on my tasks in the mornings or outside of working hours. This happened a lot in my previous companies and is also a different problem for a separate conversation.
Even things like the usual “post-lunch slump” — where your brain is deprived of blood because your body is prioritising digestion — should be taken into consideration.
During this time:
- Don’t hold meetings that require a lot of thought or have the potential to make all of the attendees fall asleep.
- Instead, work on the short tasks that can be done quickly. You could even check and clear out your emails. (It will boost that sense of accomplishment and push you harder too!)
6. Use the Pomodoro Technique to help improve your focus.
There’s many articles out there on various productivity techniques and my personal favourite is the Pomodoro Technique.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
There’s several steps to the Pomodoro Technique (Full credits to the original website and thanks for the leech!).
1. Choose a task you’d like to get done.
Something big, something small, something you’ve been putting off for a million years: it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s something that deserves your full, undivided attention.
2. Set the timer for 25 minutes.
Make a small oath to yourself: I will spend 25 minutes on this task and I will not interrupt myself. You can do it! After all, it’s just 25 minutes.
3. Work on the task until the timer rings.
Immerse yourself in the task for the next 25 minutes. If you suddenly realize you have something else you need to do, write the task down on a sheet of paper.
4. When the Pomodoro rings, put a checkmark on a paper.
Congratulations! You’ve spent an entire, interruption-less Pomodoro on a task.
5. Take a short break.
Breathe, meditate, grab a cup of coffee, go for a short walk or do something else relaxing (i.e., not work-related). Your brain will thank you later.
6. After every 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break.
Once you’ve completed four Pomodoros, you can take a longer break. 20 minutes is good. Or 30. Your brain will use this time to assimilate new information and rest before the next round of Pomodoros.
You can use the website over here as your timer — it has a pretty sleek interface too!
As mentioned, productivity is a pretty subjective topic. There are reasons why you feel unproductive. The lack of productivity is usually driven by a series of underlying causes — and there are countless of ways to manage those causes. It’s extremely important to note that you do not have to follow everything that is listed here and that you should choose what works best for you.
Feel free to leave a comment on what productivity hacks you have or the various ways that help you stay focused down below and I’ll see you in the next article!
Lack of Focus: 6 Handy Tips for Attention Management was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.