Do you often feel like you are working hard and producing little, while others seem to have it easy?
Busywork will prevent you from getting any work done while costing you both time and effort. What you need is a good strategy for staying focused, so that you can get more work done in less time.
To achieve bigger results for less cost of time and energy, you simply need to tweak the way you work.
The ability to stay focused and produce big results comes down to the way you manage your time, energy and resources.
Whether you are struggling with studies, creative work, administrative work or even menial jobs; here you will find some very useful tricks to staying focused.
Brain foods for health and focus
A hearty breakfast provides you with the necessary energy to start the day off on the right foot and set the tone for a productive way.
On the other hand, skipping breakfast can lead to crankiness and lack of focus.
You can gain an added benefit to your cognitive performance by eating brain food. Most renowned among the brain foods are nuts, berries and fatty fish.
Brain foods nourish your brain’s vitality, which affects your state of mind and attitude. A healthy mind needs a healthy brain, so make sure you add these brain foods to your shopping list.
Nuts, like almonds and walnuts for example, are powerful brain food. They contain omega 3 fatty acids, which are known for being very effective in fighting neurodegenerative diseases and neurological conditions.(1)
Fatty fish, such as sardine, trout and salmon are also a rich source of omega 3 acids.
Berries, such as cranberries and blueberries, are also beneficial to brain function. Most of them contain tannins, which have a rejuvenating effect to the memory base. (2)
“Follow your heart but take your brain with you.” –Alfred Adler
Organize your workspace
Having a clear work area helps you mainly by removing distractions, therefore reducing your stress levels.
Additionally, having everything well organized places you in a mindset of control and confidence which promotes productivity. Clutter, on the other hand, takes away from these benefits.
My hack for this is having a designated work desk which is free of clutter and highly organized. This way, when I’m working on a project that requires me to stay focused, I can keep my attention locked on to the work at hand.
The flow state
“The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” –Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
In his best-selling book Flow: The psychology of optimal experience, professor Mihaly proposes that the flow is a state of high focus and productivity as well as the secret to happiness.
In the professor’s research, he reveals that entering the flow state requires at least 10-15 minutes of undivided attention. Also, any distractions will throw you out of the flow state, which will make you lose your train of thought.
Aside from organizing your work area, here are a few tips for staying focused:
- Keep your phone on mute and out of sight.
- Work away from people who might distract you.
- Use a “do not disturb” sign on your door.
Flow state is easy to achieve! All you need is to focus on your work and avoid distractions.
While that does indeed sound easy, there are more ways to fail than there are to succeed getting into the flow state. That’s why you need to utilize these simple but effective advices for preventing distractions.
Whether you are working on a pressing project that needs to be finished, or grinding toward and long-term goal, your end game must be clearly defined. When you have a clear vision of your end goals, then it is easier to plot a straight line toward reaching that aim.
Aside from knowing exactly what you are aiming for, you should know your timetable and resources. With this knowledge you can make a good strategy to achieve your goals.
Goal setting will set you in a good direction but planning is what gets you to your destination.
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When dealing with challenging goals, then you need to divide the workload into manageable tasks. That way, you can laser focus on one task at a time and make measurable progress, rather than scatter your attention.
When you choose to improvise achieving your goals, you will likely get sidetracked along the way. This is why having a well charted course of action serves to save you time and energy which you would otherwise waste.
“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.” –Greg S. Reid
In order to make sure that you achieve your goals at the lowest cost of time, energy and resources; you need to use a monthly planner.
I have been using a monthly planner for years, and it has been an invaluable productivity tool to me. Now I share my proprietary planner, so that everyone who is Eager To Make It in life can benefit from it.
A well designed planner, like this one, will help you keep accountability of your progress. As you progress from month to month, it will help you review your progress and adapt to improve performance.
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Sleep 8 hours every day
The science of sleep suggests that anywhere between 7-9 hours of sleep every day is within the Goldilocks ratio. (3)
Balanced sleeping habits will improve your mood, self-control, concentration, reasoning and problem solving abilities. You will also improve your ability to thoroughly consolidate your memories and experiences.
Sleeping 8 hours is in the mid-range between lack of sleep and excess of sleep. Whether it takes you a bit more, or a bit less, to feel at your best is perfectly fine, as long as you are keeping your sleeping habits in balance.
“A sleep deprived brain slows you down. A well-rested brain allows you to work smarter, not harder.” –Camilla Kragius.
While the effect of sleep deprivation is most dangerous (4), oversleeping will also damage your ability to focus on your work.
Oversleeping is often followed by feelings of drowsiness, lack of motivation, disorientation and headaches. When this behavior is sustained for a longer period, it leads to feelings of depression.
Tune in to your circadian rhythm
Don’t you hate it when you carefully schedule the time to tackle your workload but your brain doesn’t get the memo. It refuses to cooperate and you have to struggle hard to stay focused on the task at hand.
Circadian rhythm is your energy distribution within a daily cycle, which relates to your ability to stay focused. It is relative to, and affected by, your sleeping habits.
In the following chart you can see the most common energy distribution pattern. You will likely experience this if you go to sleep by 12AM and wake up by 8AM in the early morning.
While the circadian rhythm can be used as a great productivity skill, it also affects your quality of life.
The largest study on circadian rhythm has revealed that circadian disruption causes lower well-being, higher neuroticism, less happiness, more mood swings and a slower reaction time. (5)
In order to make the most of your circadian rhythm, you need a consistent sleeping habit. When you go to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day, then you circadian rhythm stabilizes. This makes it more predictable and effective.
“When you dance to your own rhythm, life taps its toes to your beat.” – Terri Guillemets
Short breaks for productivity
Circadian rhythm chart shows us how our ability to focus goes through peaks and valleys during the day. As a result, this affects your ability to stay focused on your work.
When the focus levels retreat, doing any serious work becomes a struggle. For this reason, it is best to use these pull-back periods to take breaks between intense work sessions.
By resting during the period of low energy, you position yourself to take full advantage of the upcoming recoil. The absolute best way to go about this is by taking a power nap during the “midday slump”.
Aside from dividing and conquering the day with a power nap, taking short breaks between intense work sessions will boost your ability to stay focused.
Techniques for bursts of productivity:
- The Pomodoro technique was developed in the late 1980’s, but still praised and practiced to this day. It suggests intensive work sessions lasting for 25 minutes, separated by 5 minute breaks in between. (6)
- The 20 minute break, developed by a clinical psychologist and renowned author Ernest Rossi advocates 20 minute breaks between 90 minute work sessions. He explains that 90 minutes of intensive work is enough to produce a buildup of stress hormones (e.g. cortisol, adrenaline). Hence, taking a break for 20 minutes is needed to reset our cognitive energy levels and avoid symptoms of a stress response.
- A recent study by Desktime, one of the leading employee productivity tracking software, analyzed the top 10% most productive employees. They found that “The most productive people work for 52 minutes, then break for 17 minutes.” (7)
All three examples are based on extensive research and while they all differ in their prescribed timetables, one thing is for certain; productivity is best achieved by having bursts of intensive work mixed with relatively frequent breaks.
As a result, taking short breaks between high intensity work sessions will ensure a sustained quality of performance throughout the work day.
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When you are motivated, your mind is sharp and focused.
Our moods tend to change slightly day-over-day. The outside world affects us to a large degree. However, if you let the outside affect determine your level of motivation, then you will inevitably end up with burnout, depression or both.
It is a hard truth, but one that anyone can confirm from experience. For this reason, you need to cultivate small daily habits that keep you energized and focused.
There are some exercises which help anyone get into a productive state of mind. Choose the ones that fit you best and adapt them to your daily routine:
- mindfulness meditation
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” –Socrates
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Of all the tips and tricks for staying focused, power snacks are my go-to solution when I need a push. There is nothing like a hot cup of coffee or a chocolate bar to give your energy a jumpstart.
I drink coffee religiously and often munch on my power snacks during creative work. While chocolate is always a good choice, I try not to indulge too much. Therefore I always try to keep a small stock of various berries, raisins and nuts.
All of these can be very helpful aids when it comes to working on projects that demand focus and creativity. If you do physical work, then energy bars should be your chief power snack. You can buy the basic ones at your local supermarket. Energy bars have high energy and nutritional value.
Here is the rundown of the top 10 tips for staying focused:
- Brain foods maintain robust cognitive function.
- Well organized workspace will improve your focus.
- Use the flow state by getting rid of distractions.
- Goal setting points you in the right direction.
- Using a planner is the best way to achieve your goals.
- 8 hours of sleep puts you in a high performance state.
- Circadian rhythm can help you use your day more productively.
- The best way to work is with short breaks between productivity bursts.
- Adopt small habits that will improve your mindset.
- A power snack a day keeps bad days away.
High performance focus is not some fantasy superpower. You can do this, but only if you commit to building small habits that will boost your focus on a daily basis.
There are no tricks to staying focused and producing results. Most of us are easily beat in a variety of physical capabilities. If you think you will work harder than anyone, then you will break your back with nothing to show for it.
But if you put your mind to it and follow the tips from this article, then you will be ahead of the vast majority that still relies of hard work, rather than smart work.
Did you enjoy this article? Leave a comment and let me know!
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain.
- Tannins affect to the memory base.
- The Goldilocks principle.
- Dangers of sleep deprivation.
- Circadian disruption.
- The Pomodoro technique.
- Desktime study.