How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction

Hey There, Hope you are doing well and staying safe!

We live in one of the most turbulent times and dealing with some of the most unprecedented chains of events. As the spread of coronavirus lessens and restrictions shifts along all across the world, we observe many offices reopening and urging employees to come back to the office. I ponder whether it is right to call it #returnbacktowork since we were always working only the place of work changed! So, if we greet our employees, like “Hey, you joined to work after 6 months or 8 months or XX days/years” seriously that needs to be introspected! We can’t use traditional ways of working in these new dynamics! Like me, I am sure working from home meant being always available for work and yes, the lines between professional and personal life have muddled to an extent that our children have become our co-workers and many colleagues have become family.  Now, when we again change our ways of working, we require the mindset to adjust with #Hybrid ways of working and need the knowledge to keep us focused in this highly distracted world.

Review of Hyperfocus

Just reflect back to the last time when you had an extremely productive day at work. You know, when you had that A-game and getting things implemented on the ground with ease. I know days like that might not come too frequently, yet when they do come, they are worth analyzing! You might think about why, and what good can come out of exploring them. Well, it’s crucial because that can help us decipher the capability to focus on the given responsibility at hand. I strongly believe work shouldn’t be equated to a chore rather work should be the purpose, perhaps a reason that makes it so compelling to give your best every day! When you are in that zone, when your mind is engaged, incisive, and undistracted you don’t look at the clock to know it’s almost 5:00 PM or 5:30 PM to log off. This zone is a state of hyper-focused!

I recently read the book Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey and was amazed to find some practical ways to avoid distractions and enhance the power of concentration. Essentially, the book talks about practical ways to train oneself to focus on the task at hand instead of noise all around! I am sure, you must have experienced hyper-focus now and then, but how do we harness it such that it becomes a regular habit? How can we transform this one-moon wonder into a reliable as well as a frequent activity? In order to find answers to these questions let’s delve deeper into the book and understand what do we actually do while we are in the state of hyper-focus. Certainly, you tend to single-task instead of multitask. Jumping from one job to another is not an option and definitely working frantically doesn’t make you any productivity! Instead, we focus all our attention on one thing and keep that momentum until it’s done. Moreover, it can be too tempting to respond by pouring emails or browsing for 10 minutes. However, when you hyper-focus you identify these time-wasting behavior before they surface. Instead of succumbing to all these temptations, your hyper-focus mind may develop a habit to return back to the task at hand.

Four Stages of Entering & Maintaining the state of Hyper-Focus

In simple terms, there are four key stages of developing and maintaining the state of hyperfocus

  1. Select single meaningful object of attention/ priority task
  2. Eliminate all possible distractions
  3. Concentrate all your energy on task at hand
  4. Redirect your mind every-time it wanders

It might seem like a tall order, but don’t worry you got me! Further in this post, we will discuss important frameworks to improve concentration and practical techniques to attain hyper-focus.

Mental Training

Majority of things that we do in life require a certain form of attention. Especially, if you want to be at you’re A-Game then you need to pay very close attention to any task that you have in mind. However, there is one problem your attention span is severely limited. As per the research performed by Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, estimates that the human brain picks up about 11 million bits of information every second. However, the number you can consciously process at one time? It’s just 40. Along with this limitation, there’s an even lower ceiling on what you can retain in your short-term memory. At a push, it’s about seven items, including names, dates, or tasks that you need to complete. After understanding these natural limits, how can you work at your best? – Essentially, at this point, the book talks about the state of meta-awareness, and intentional focus is key in managing our attention. Well, let’s just say it is safe to think about attention as a small circumscribed area that can easily be filled, a kind of attentional space. Hence, the given real estate of our zone, it is essential to fully control what occupies it! Let’s just say when you are drafting emails for your employees all your attention should go into it and not on the task you are going to do after or receiving another call. Major problem is that one can get too absorbed in one’s thoughts that one rarely stops and evaluate them. We unconsciously yield our attentional space to every wandering thought that piques our interest. This is where meta-awareness comes into play! 

Review of Hyperfocus

Meta-awareness refers to the ability to step outside your thoughts and become aware of what you’re thinking. In this case, you might catch yourself talking to someone on call or dreaming about some other task you wanted to perform and consciously redirect your attention to the email that you need to send to the entire employee base. As this example suggests, every time you need to focus, you should have an explicit intention that you can stick to. Whether it’s listening to your colleague, finishing a report, or just reading a novel, you should know exactly where you want your attention to be at any given time. That’s the reason why meta-awareness and intentions go hand in hand. Meta-awareness plays as an empire to check whether you bowled out of the boundary of attentional space. Intentions are like mirrors that help you see where to redirect your attention when you need to. There needs to be an internal alarm that goes off every hour, and when you hear it, ask yourself, “What was in my attentional space just now?” Was it in line with my intentions? Before long, you’ll find this kind of thinking has become a habit, bringing you one step closer to frequent hyper-focus.

Saving yourself from Distractions

As rightly said, “Starve your Distractions, Feed your Focus”. Picture this. You’re at your desk, you’re working, your attentional space is zeroed in on your task and you’re on the brink of hyperfocus. Then suddenly, your phone beeps. If you’re like most of us, you’ll reach over instinctively and check the notification. But even if you don’t, your flow has been interrupted. Your phone has intruded on your attentional space and brought a whole host of irrelevant thoughts along with it. Interruptions and distractions like these are some of the key obstacles to achieving hyperfocus. Now you obviously can’t safeguard against every potential diversion, but that doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands and succumb to every distraction that comes your way. 

The key message in the book explains the fact that one of the important steps to achieve hyperfocus is by getting rid of your environment of distractions. Instead of trying to resist distractions in advance, save yourself the trouble and remove the risk ahead of time. I am sure you must be thinking, how can we identify these risks? Assess your environment and identify anything that’s more stimulating and appealing than the work you need to do. The word environment here doesn’t just refer to your physical surroundings. If your browser homepage suggests social media sites, consider blocking them, or just changing your homepage. Again, the point is to put yourself beyond the reach of annoying buzzes and beeps that might interrupt your hyperfocus. And if you find that you’re being derailed by irrelevant thoughts, pause for a minute and write down everything that’s on your mind. You might produce nothing more than a to-do list, or maybe you’ll jot down an interesting idea. Either way, the act of putting distracting thoughts on paper helps to get them out of your head, freeing your attentional space for the task at hand.

Out of the many significant messages this book has to offer the most important is how to improve our concentration and largen our attention span so that we can hit the Bulls-Eye. We can keep our attention on an important task by adopting hyper-focus. When your hyper-focus, you assess your environment and get rid of the distractions. It helps us to become aware of what’s occupying our minds. What’s more, every time your attention strays, redirect it! If liked hyperfocus then I would also suggest reading “The Flow” by author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Have a productive week ahead!

Cheers

Bibliophile Parul

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