In this age of intensified distraction, it’s hard to find time and space to concentrate on one specific thing to any significant degree. Yet if you want to be more productive, you need to focus, which requires both intention and discipline.
Productivity means different things to different people, but we all know what we need and want to accomplish. It just seems we are often stymied in our attempts due to the hyper-connected world in which we live. The solution is to deliberately manage your attention.
Take a look at just a few of the distractions in our workday:
- We look at our cellphone on average 80 times a day (Millennials 150 times each day!)
- We check email on average 88 times each day (11 times per hour)
- Two-thirds (67%) of surveyed employees say they check social media while at work
- Some 58% of surveyed employees want more privacy in the open office environment
- And 54% said the open office environment is too distracting to concentrate
Even with the best of intentions, this combination of technology and environment make it difficult to focus on any given task. It should be no surprise then that the best way to manage our attention in order to concentrate is to first turn off all alerts (text, email, news, etc.) and create a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted.
Take Charge of Technology
With regard to technology, this means mustering up the discipline and courage to deliberately turn off all those alerts on both your computer and cellphone. It also means resisting the urge to constantly check email, news sites and social media. I know FOMO (fear of missing out) is intense, but I suspect you are currently unable to accomplish all that you want. Isn’t that more important than knowing the constant status of your virtual friends and followers?
Enter the Best Environment
If you work in an open office, this can be a challenge, but there are things you can do to make the best of it, such as using noise-cancelling headphones. You can also alert your colleagues of your intention to have “focus-time,” and that you would appreciate not being interrupted. Use a simple sign on your desk or cube to signal when you want this.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to declare your intention and develop the discipline in order to deliberately manage your attention.
According to Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus: How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction, directing your attention toward the most important object of your choosing—and then sustaining that attention—is the most consequential decision you will make throughout the day. Ultimately, you are what you pay attention to.
Bailey calls this attentional space the amount of mental capacity you have available to focus on and process things in the moment. He suggests the most important way to begin is to divide your tasks into the quadrants below. The bulleted items are mine; yours may be entirely different.
With regard to intention, Bailey recommends three intention-setting rules:
- The Rule of Three: Everyday choose three things you want to accomplish by the end of the day. Keep these very visible, such as on a white board. You can also choose three things you’d like to accomplish each week.
- Most Consequential: Determine which of the three is most consequential by separating them into the four quadrants: necessary, purposeful, distracting and unnecessary. Out of the necessary and purposeful lists, which has the potential to set off a chain reaction?
- Hourly Awareness Chime: Have a chime on your watch, cellphone or computer remind you to check in to see which quadrant you are in at that moment and whether you are following your intentions. (I know this is counter to “turn off your alerts” mentioned above, but this is important and purposely distracting for the right reason.)
By following these intention-setting rules you will go a long way to accomplishing more because your intention drives your attention.
When it comes to discipline, you will need to find the motivation to keep this method of operating present in your life. Take three weeks and implement it every day so it becomes a habit. Then reflect on whether this has made you more productive or not. Perhaps enlist your supervisor to provide his or her perspective and to keep you motivated and engaged.
You will likely need to alter your current behavior and show up differently. And while your colleagues may at first mock or sneer at what they may perceive as “anti-social” behavior, they will ultimately respect you for your ability to provide the boundaries necessary in helping you bring your best self to the workplace environment.
Be intentional about where you direct your attention so you can be more productive and reach more of your goals.