Do you get frustrated by not knowing how to stay focused on your work? Do you often feel like you’re working hard and producing little, while others have it easy?
Imagine boosting your results 10 fold while putting in less effort at the same time!
You simply need to tweak your current approach to your work. It’s all about good preparation and managing your resources strategically.
It doesn’t matter if you’re struggling with your studies, creative work, your job or your life goals. These 10 juicy tips will help you maintain your focus and boost your productivity while saving time and energy.
Sleep 8 hours every day
Getting a good night’s sleep is very important! Insufficient sleep impairs the executive functions of your brain and makes it difficult for you to stay focused.
Lack of sleep ruins your ability to stay focused:
- Sleep deprivation significantly reduces your concentration, reasoning and problem solving abilities, therefore making you disoriented and forgetful.
With this sense of fatigue you will not experience peak study and work performance, no matter how hard you try.
- If you don’t sleep for a full 7-9 hour cycle, you disrupt your ability to thoroughly consolidate your memories and experiences.
By failing to consolidate memories and experiences, you reduce the progress made with your studies or creative work. Additionally, you reduce the chances of having that precious “Aha!” moment on the next day.
“A sleep deprived brain slows you down. A well-rested brain allows you to work smarter, not harder.” – Camilla Kragius
Hopefully by now it’s obvious how lack of sleep is not a solution to producing better results. However, excessive sleep won’t do you much good either.
Sleeping too much is bad for your health and motivation
Frequent oversleeping is often followed by a feeling of drowsiness, lack of motivation and headaches.
A study released by the Journal of American Heart Association looked into sleep duration and quality relation to cardiovascular disease and mortality.
The study linked insufficient sleep to a 50% increase of chance for a stroke and cardiovascular diseases.
About a year ago, I was tracking my own sleeping habits on a weekly basis. I found that sleeping for 8 hours on average made it easy to handle my daily work and creative efforts. I felt energized and focused throughout the day.
On the other hand, sleeping less than 7 hours was simply not manageable for longer than a day or two. With each passing day I felt more tired and demoralized.
Consequently, with this lack of energy I could not perform at my peak and I would quickly get fatigued. Getting any work done became a struggle as I was more prone to making mistakes and bad choices.
With all this taken into consideration, just take the simple advice and get your daily 8 hours of sleep.
Brain foods for health and focus
A hearty breakfast is a surefire way to help you stay focused. It provides you with the necessary energy to start the day off on the right foot and set the tone for a productive day.
Alternatively, skipping breakfast can lead to crankiness, lack of focus and feeling of exhaustion.
You can gain an added benefit to your cognitive performance by eating brain food. Most renowned brain foods are nuts, berries and fatty fish.
An article by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience confirms that nuts like almonds and walnuts are powerful brain food. They contain omega 3 fatty acids which are known for being very effective in fighting neurodegenerative diseases and neurological conditions.
Aside from substantial long term benefits, they are a great booster for cognitive performance on a daily basis.
Fatty fish, such as sardine, trout and salmon are also a rich source of omega 3 acids.
Journal of Biological Chemistry released an article showing how berries are beneficial to brain functions. This is because most of them contain tannic acid, which is a “natural inhibitor that prevents cognitive impairment”. Tannic acid has a rejuvenating effect for the memory base, which is important for preventing dementia and Alzheimer in the long term.
I have made a daily habit to eat breakfast cereals with various nuts to kickstart my brain power for the day.
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.
To be fair, I am no saint when it comes to orderliness. Often I excuse my mess by calling it a creative chaos, saying I know where everything is (yeah, right!).
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.
Remove distractions and enter the flow state
Distractions are poison for your attention span. They will absolutely cripple your ability to stay focused. By getting thrown off focus during your work, you end up missing out on utilizing your time properly.
Aside from making your work area organized and clutter free, I have 3 more important tips to help you stay focused:
- Keep your phone muted and out of sight.
- Get away from other people and use a “do not disturb” sign on your door.
- Avoid multitasking and using additional tools and gadgets.
Utilizing these tips will help you enter a flow state, which is the holy grail of productivity.
Flow state, also known as being in the zone, is a state of feeling completely immersed into an activity. This state of hyperfocus allows your mind to tackle complex ideas and processes with ease.
Flow state is easy to achieve! All you need is to focus on your work and avoid distractions. While that sounds easy, there are more ways to fail than there are to achieve it. That’s why you need to utilize these simple but effective advices for preventing distractions.
Define your goals
Clearly defined goals are extremely important when trying to stay focused.
Whether you’re engaged with a project or working toward a longer term goal, your end game must be clearly defined. The clearer your vision of the end result, the easier it is to plot a straight line toward reaching that result you are aiming for.
This is especially true for challenging projects or goals that have multiple steps you need to surpass along the way.
Aside from knowing exactly what you’re aiming for, you need to know your timetable and resources. With this knowledge you can begin making a manageable strategy to achieve your goals in a streamlined fashion. This leads me to the next point.
Divide your work into manageable tasks
Making a roadmap of manageable tasks will make it easier to stay focused on accomplishing your overarching goal. This way you can laser focus on segments of the project rather than scattering your attention.
The ideal goal of any productive effort is to achieve desired results at lowest cost of energy and resources.
When you improvise with your plan of action toward achieving your goal, you risk getting sidetracked. 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
Understand your 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 to the rescue
Circadian rhythm is your energy distribution within a daily cycle. It is relative to your sleeping habits, but also affected by the day and night in relation to your sleeping habits.
In the chart you can see the most common energy distribution pattern. You will likely experience this if you go to sleep at night time and wake up in the early morning.
In order to fully utilize the energy distribution of your circadian rhythm, you need a consistent sleeping habit. You need to go to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day. This will, in turn, stabilize your circadian rhythm and make it more predictable and effective.
Moreover, you can even make your own personalized circadian rhythm chart once you have established a consistent sleeping habit. Write down how you feel on a scale from 1 to 5 at various points in the day.
Compare these notes over a period of a week and you will have a consistent reference of your energy levels.
“When you dance to your own rhythm, life taps its toes to your beat.” – Terri Guillemets
A recent study published by The Lancet Psychiatry, the largest study of its type ever done, has revealed some interesting results
It shows that circadian disruption causes lower well-being, higher neuroticism, less happiness, more mood swings and a slower reaction time.
In conclusion, there are many studies with mixed results about the benefits of being a night owl vs. an early bird. While I am happy being a night owl, I lean toward the opinion that early birds get most of the benefits.
To each his own I suppose.
Short breaks between intensive work sessions
Circadian rhythm chart shows us how the energy level goes through peaks and valleys during the day. As a result, this affects your ability to stay focused on your work.
When the energy levels retreat, doing any serious work becomes a struggle. For this reason, it’s 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.
- 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.”
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.
According to your project requirements and personal preferences, you need to come up with your own ideal rhythm. It may take a bit of experimenting to develop it, but I assure you that the results will be most rewarding.
Morning exercise & meditation
Morning exercise and meditation are also often overlooked when it comes to sustained cognitive performance.
There are many studies which confirm that stretching exercises and mindfulness meditation help improve energy levels and cognitive test performance.
Stretching exercises result in increased blood flow to the brain and release of endorphins. Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, reduces ruminative thoughts and effectively declutters the brain.
I do a 5-10 minute stretching exercise every morning before breakfast, which opens up my appetite and makes me feel energized.
During the work day I try to squeeze in a short break at least once every 2 hours. A few breaths of fresh air with a view will most often clear my thoughts and sharpen my ability to stay focused.
These are both very simple and gratifying habits that I definitely suggest that you practice as well.
Power munching for energy and focus
I saved the best for last! Of all the tips and tricks, power snacks are my all-time favorite. There’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee or a chocolate bar to give your energy levels a kickstart.
I drink coffee religiously and often munch on my power snacks while I do creative work. My favorite snacks are definitely chocolate, berries, raisins and nuts. All of those can are very helpful aids when it comes to working on projects that demand focus and creativity.
When I’m struggling to push through a long day at work, energy bars are my secret trick. These can be bought at most supermarkets and they have high energy and nutritional value.
Making this article was a lot of fun and brought back some awesome memories. Learning to apply these lessons in my own life played a huge role in making me the person that I am today.
I want to leave you with a heartfelt bonus tip:
The point of greater productivity is to have more time to spend with your loved ones and more possibilities to enrich your life.
Don’t let life pass you by on your way to success, make the time to enjoy the little things! Having the support of your friends and family is better for sustainable motivation than any hack I could ever offer you.
Which of these tips are new to you? How will you apply them to boost your own focus and productivity? Let me know in the comments or contact me directly. I would love to hear what you have to say!