Let’s Focus a Little Better

First things first. Then on to the second.

CO_WebSite_BlogHeaders v2-09Oh how I miss the days I would work on a task — writing a short story, drawing a portrait, for example — completely uninterrupted. I even seemed to (gasp!) listen to music in a similar fashion, sitting there, or dancing around, or, wait for it, stopping and starting it on my cassette player to jot down the lyrics.

Then came growing up and right along with it, a wave of technology that has forever changed how people communicate and how they spend their time. I am assured that if my mind isn’t preoccupied with adulting — the stuff of paying bills, celebrating health insurance coverage and so forth — it’s darting between any number of digital disruptors: social media, email, music streaming apps, game apps, news apps, podcasts, text messages, bings, buzzes and everything in between.

As a millennial, I’ve been conditioned to multitask, and as glorious as that’s been to list on cover letters in the past, it is in fact, not the business for me or anyone really.

An Inc. article about focus and our lack of it reminded me of this recently — how before a person has completed one thing, say reading a really important passage in a book, for instance, their mind has moved on to something else. Before they know it, they’ve reached the end of a chapter and have no idea how they got there.

This lost focus, which researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found nearly 50 percent of people suffer from, isn’t healthy. Unlike a lot of articles out there that try to reframe flaws as surprising predictors of success or genius, there is no recasting this. Lost focus hurts productivity and is costly when we consider the work that doesn’t get done in our personal lives and the work that doesn’t get done on the job.

But what to do? If anything, the world will only get noisier with more distractions, and University of California at Irvine digital distraction expert Gloria Mark told The Wall Street Journal that distractions take about 23 minutes to regroup from in order to get back on task.

So I’ve put together a few ideas found from around the web that might be interesting to see or aspire to see in the workplace for the benefit of your business and employees:

Get creative first. David Rock, co-founder of the Neuroleadership Institute told Entrepreneur that saving the more challenging work for last is an energy sap — “Every decision we make tires the brain.” So instead of workers breezing through tasks that can be done almost mindlessly, they may be doing themselves a favor by working on projects that demand more creativity and concentration first.

Leave it at the job. Easier said than done, no? But Cal Newport, a computer science professor and author of “Deep Work” told Business Insider that completely separating from work once people leave the office is also good for the mind. Aside from getting a breather, some research says that distancing oneself from a challenging problem at work can actually help with solving it later.

Work with time. Inc.’s Chris Winfield suggests employing the Pomodoro Technique to focus in the moment. It’s supposed to maximize focus. As part of the process, for every project a person works on in a given day, they allot a chunk of time — 25 minutes, or a pomodoro — and then take a five-minute break. Once they’ve reached 100 minutes, it’s time for a 15-minute break.

Dump it. Do a brain dump that is. Just get it all out. Whether on a notetaking app or with a pen and piece of paper, listing all the things floating around upstairs could help you start thinking better and with staying focused.

Minimizing multitasking, meditating and making to-do lists are also some great places to start and behaviors to encourage among employees.

Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below or email editor@clomedia.com.