Mental wellness and good work habits often go hand in hand. In the modern workplace, everyone needs to be "on" all the time. Either focusing on a task, a goal, or planning for the tasks and goals that help them be productive. However, this constant need to stay busy often leads to task-switching or context-switching. Ironically, this practice has been shown to hamper productivity instead of enhancing it.
According to research conducted by Microsoft, switching between multiple tasks at the same time lowers productivity by up to 40% in professionals across industries. It also leads to a drop in cognitive capability and overall loss of productive time due to the brain having to re-contextualize tasks multiple times.
On average, professionals who work desk jobs lose up to 2.1 hours each day due to distractions and external interference. This culminates in a loss of productivity for the equivalent of a full work day each week!
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Building focus and cutting out distractions
Studies have found that it takes people an astonishing 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to what they were initially working on whenever they face interruptions. The primary step to focusing on a single task at a time is to remove the highest possible number of interruptions you face daily when at work. Here are a few ways to take charge of your external environment to maximize focus.
Fight digital distraction with online tools - The multitude of apps and websites that we use on a day to day basis are among the top distracting factors that keep us from staying focused. "Simply avoiding" these factors is no longer a viable option, as our work is now dependent on the internet, and sometimes, on social media. However, we can discipline ourselves to use other tools at our disposal which will block digital distractions for us. A number of tools such as "Freedom" and "Anti-Social", both available as browser extensions, help block such websites for predefined chunks of time.
Reduce the number of notifications - This is an age-old and simple piece of advice, simply due to its sheer effectiveness. Try reducing the number of desktop notifications for a short time, and you will see a major difference in your daily productivity.
If turning your phone notifications off doesn't seem feasible, it may be a good idea to experiment with "priority notifications". Android and iOS both have a built-in feature to allocate priority status to the specified apps on the phone. In some cases, it is also possible to automatically switch priority mode on or off at preset times of the day. This is a very simple way of cutting out unnecessary interruptions while making sure that all important notifications reach you as required.
Prioritize your work by using a single tab - Leo Widuch, the co-founder of Buffer, sticks to a single tab system to maintain focus and efficiency during the workday. Using a single tab increases the mental barrier before switching tasks, as you will need to shut off what you are currently working on so as to begin working on another task. It is a fool-proof, consistent way to ensure that you are only working on what you intended to be working on, without unnecessary task switching.
Use different desktop workspaces - While using single tabs is a fantastic idea for some people, it is very difficult to get used to the system due to our tendency to seek ease of use. In such cases, using multiple desktop workspaces on the laptop can help keep your tasks separated. This is a more realistic way of maintaining a productive workspace, while maintaining usability as well.
Here is an example: Maintain different desktop workspaces for different projects. One for communication apps such as email, team communication, to-do list, calendar, and the other workspaces for all the apps associated with separate projects that you plan to work on that particular day. This helps focus on the given tasks at any particular time. This practice has been found to reduce the likelihood of switching tasks midway.
Offline work is a boon for focus - Most of the time in the modern workplace, working on the computer means working online. However, whenever there is a task that doesn’t need you to access the internet, it is better to stay offline. This can even help speed up your working speed and efficiency due to the lack of distractions. Getting done with your work faster can be extremely beneficial for your mental wellness as well.
Scheduled blocks of focused work - Schedule predefined blocks of time into the workday to handle emails and other daily tasks which take small amounts of time. During this scheduled block of time, follow the 2-minute rule made popular by David Allen: Handle all the tasks that will only take 2 minutes or lower. Everything else that needs more time, should be added to the task list to be focused on later.
Scheduled breaks throughout the day - Focus doesn't always mean that you have to stay hyper-attentive and productive at all times during the day. In fact, trying to go for long periods of sustained focus without breaks has a detrimental effect on productivity, concentration and general mental wellness. Taking breaks is an essential part of maintaining a healthy balance between work and downtime. Scheduling predefined blocks of break time after intense work can help alleviate the stress and prevent burnout in the long term. An important aspect of mental wellness and productivity is knowing when to stop!
Techniques and methods to improve focus
While all the tips mentioned above are external changes you can make to your working environment, focus also comes from within. Here are a few techniques that may help in building focus in the long term as follows.
Meditation and mindfulness - Many of the greatest productivity gurus and successful business leaders of the world swear by meditation and mindfulness as a core part of their day. This ancient practice has been shown to increase focus, reduce anxiety, improve overall mental wellness and boost your productivity at all your tasks as well. This practice is truly a one-stop solution for beginning your journey into a more productive and healthier work life. Simply 5 to 20 minutes of daily meditation can lead to a significant increase in your ability to focus.
Regular exercise - It is no secret that a healthy body and a healthy mind go hand in hand. This extends to your ability to focus and work efficiently as well. Exercising provides a short boost of mental clarity, and also helps you feel energized and confident throughout the day. A daily exercise routine of 30 minutes can boost your immune system as well.
As we have elucidated in this post, practising focused work is an excellent way to improve your efficiency at work, and also helps maintain mental wellness in your daily life. The tips, strategies and techniques we have listed here are a good starting point in creating a distraction-free, efficient work day, which will help you maximize your productivity at work and lead to a healthier work-life balance in the future.