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25th February 2020

Harness your Focus in 5 Easy Steps

We live in a world full of distraction where everything is competing for our attention. It makes it really hard for us to focus on one task and see it through to completion before starting something else. However, if we were able to give every piece of work our undivided attention, research shows that efficiency and quality of work would both significantly increase [1]. Therefore, we must learn how to do this in order to achieve our full potential. How might you do this you may ask? Read on to find out…

What is focus?

The definition of focus is “the main or central point of something, especially of attention or interest”[2]. To be focused means you have a clear vision of your future goals and objectives and you are solely focused on one activity to achieve these goals. You commit your time and resources to progress towards these goals in any given moment and you successfully shut out all other distractions. You have the ability to focus your mind on one thing and sustain it there.

When you are not in a state of focus you are distracted; you will often jump about from one task to another and will often avoid doing the most important tasks. In the current world we live in, it is so much easier to be distracted as we are continuously bombarded with notifications, emails, telephone calls, texts etc in the workplace.

How focused are we as a workforce?

Research shows that employees are only productive for an average of 2.53 hours of an 8-hour working day which demonstrates just how unfocused we are [1]. Therefore, we need to understand the factors associated with interruptions and subsequent switch of work tasks.

‘Work fragmentation’ is the formal definition for the concept of breaks in continuous work activity, i.e. spending short amounts of time in tasks and switching frequently. Switching between tasks can sometimes be beneficial as it can be refreshing and help one develop new ideas, however, typically workers tend to switch too often which is detrimental and lead to low level accomplishment.

In 2005, Mark, Gonzalez and Harris researched focus and the concept of ‘work fragmentation’. They conducted detailed observations of information workers to fully understand the effects of work fragmentation. The key findings of their research are shown below:

  • On average, people work on a task for 11 minutes and 4 seconds before switching to another task or being interrupted
  • Once someone switches a task, it takes them an average of two other intervening activities and 25 minutes before they return to the original task
  • Of the tasks that were disrupted, only 77% of the work was resumed on the same day

In addition, Spria and Feintuch (2005) also investigated the cost of lack of focus on employee productivity [3]. Their key findings are shown below:

  • Each year $588 billion dollars are lost in America due to lack of focus
  • 28% of each day is lost by American employees due to interruptions. This equates to 28 billion hours each year

Therefore, it is clear that there is a huge cost associated with distracted employees so it is really important to think of ways in which we can reduce interruptions and increase time spent focused on work.

What can we do to increase focus?

1. Plan your day. Humans can only focus on average for 90 minutes at a time so make sure you plan your day with this in mind. Schedule your time so that you do 90 mins of challenging tasks and then have a ‘break’ by doing less demanding tasks and repeat this throughout the day. This will allow your mind to recharge whilst you do more mundane activities and increase your focus when you do the harder tasks.

2. Do the most important thing first. Do not waste the first few precious hours of your day checking your emails. As soon as you arrive into work “eat a frog” and get the most difficult task done whilst your mind is at its sharpest. Then once your concentration begins to fade this is when you should do less demanding tasks, for example, checking your emails.

3. Turn off notifications. Make sure you don’t have email or any other notifications popping up on your screen. Instead read your emails and catch up on notifications in the time you have allocated to do this. This will result in higher productivity and quality of work as it will not be as fragmented.

4. Set up rules. Create office rules as a team which helps to reduce disruption from others. This can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • Agree as a team that you will try to reduce the number of distractions you will cause others. For example, you could agree to try your best to resolve a query before asking a colleague for help.
  • For the first 2 hours of the day this can be ‘focus time’ and everyone agrees to work independently, after this period people can ask other people any questions they might have.
  • Create signs to put on your desk which lets everyone else know that you are in a ‘focus’ period.
  • Have an exclusive area of the office designed for focused work so others know to keep distractions to a minimum.

5. Reflection. Spend some time at the end of the day thinking about the work you produced and how productive you were. Reflect on how you may be able to improve this for the next day.

How can Impact help you achieve focus?

  • Workshops

We design and deliver bespoke workshops, tailored to our clients’ needs. We focus on understanding your requirements and co-designing the content with you. In this way we ensure that we deliver the most efficient and cost-effective solution, one that will help you tackle any issues and achieve maximum results. For more information click here.

  • Coaching

We offer coaching sessions individually tailored to your needs in order to enhance individual, team and organisational performance. We collaborate with you to provide insight and discovery into your professional life, and to understand how you can use your personality strengths to harness your mind and drive success. For more information click here.

References

  1. Mark, G., Gonzalez, V. M., & Harris, J. (2005). No task left behind? Examining the nature of fragmented work. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, 321-330
  2. Cambridge dictionary https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/focus
  3. Spira, J. B., & Feintuch, J. B. (2005). The cost of not paying attention: How interruptions impact knowledge worker productivity. Report from Basex.

Inspired by the talk ‘Unleash the Superpower of Focus’ by 4and20million, at a ProManchester Event on 16.01.2020.