Improve your focus

Small tricks that help you do more and work less

Oh yes… yet another productivity blogpost. Great.

Still you clicked. I will try not to disappoint. Let me give you a bit of context of why you’re here. You’re reading this among your 50 chrome tabs, with an email draft unfinished, and three documents halfway. Feeling of remorse kicks in, right? But don’t go back to your email yet.

There are many articles written on this topic by billionaires, serial entrepreneurs, even navy admirals. I write this because normal people can also achieve these improvements in their lives, without having changed the world, or fought on the WWII. Still, take these advices with a pinch of salt, they worked for me, but your mileage may vary.

Save time

Yes, you heard it well. Those from your phone, and your laptop. These can be extremely detrimental to your focus. You’re in the middle of a deep read of something important, and your mobile buzzes. Focus lost. On average, getting back to your task takes 23 minutes, according to this study.

Notifications translate the ownership of your attention to someone else than you. Other people decide on when you can be focused. It’s not their fault if you’re distracted, but yours for allowing so.

Email is stressful. It can be extremely stressful to open your email and see a thousand unread emails. Most of it is just plain trash. Subscriptions, newsletters, Google Calendar reminders. Being free of all this noise means in a glance you can go to what matters. I recommend you to:

  • Unsubscribe from anything that is not relevant
  • Disable email notifications from events

One of the greatest time saver for me has been to keep all forms of social media distractions away from your workspace. This means keeping you away from Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, etc.

Both on Android and iOS have digital “wellbeing” apps that allow you to limit time on your apps. Another approach (on Android) is to block internet access to apps (Instagram is no fun without internet isn’t it?). Netguard is a cool firewall app that can help you with this.

You’ll be able to sidestep any of those controls, but it will require you to purposefully disable them. This will require you to enter an app, click on disable, go back, and then go to the app. Most of the time your urge to open Facebook won’t be worth these three taps.

Advertising companies crave your attention. It’s inherent in their business model. Shifting your focus from an article to ads will make you waste time.

Still, advertising is the backbone of the free internet. You can still whitelist websites that you want to support with your ad impressions.

Face it, you opened it a month ago, you’re not going to read that article. You’re not alone. It even seems that having a many tabs opened has to do with our brain’s reward’s pathways. Having all that infomation available will overwhelm you and increase the chances that you drift off-focus. Close those tabs or bookmark them for another time.

Have a list of things you need to do, either in a note-taking app. Instead of keeping it on a tab, pass it to the list.

Do more

Take your list of things, and select the one or two that are the most important ones. Put your efforts only on those.

Schedule time without meetings at some parts of the day where you can entirely focus on work to be done, and only accept meetings for urgent matters.

Once you’ve cleared up the noise and distractions, you can follow a Round Robin scheduling of your time. This means you start from your top priority task, the one that require top focus, spend a certain amount of time in there, then move to email, or Slack. Spend some time there and then, move to your second item in top importance, and repeat.

In this way, you can take care of the first important thing, for periods of 15–30 minutes without distractions, have a rest, spend time on communication, and jump back to your important tasks.

You can modify this to your needs. If there’s little at something, you can skip to the next right away. If you see a message bubble on the Slack tab (not a notification) and you’re waiting a reply from something important, go for it.

Do these tricks work for you? I’d love to hear about it!

VP of Data Science at Badi. Compulsive learner.

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