HOW TO STAY FOCUSED ON A TASK: 5 brain-friendly strategies that work
Executive coaching clients frequently ask me for help and tips on staying focused, whether that’s on a specific task or at work in general. With working from home, a choice for many now, the virtual team environment appears to be creating more distraction, not less.
As this question has featured a lot in the last few weeks, and with the end of the year fast approaching and that “I’ve got two months to get X done” feeling, here are five brain-friendly strategies to support you to stay focused on a task.
USE A TIMER
Gamify your activities, especially those which you will likely procrastinate, by using a timer. My coaching clients love this and it’s a Brighter Thinking strategy that is essential to getting more done faster and with zero stress. Set the timer for 5, 10 or 15 minutes and focus to the finish. Now that you have started, you can choose whether to re-set the timer for another burst, if your schedule permits, or repeat when the next available ‘doing’ slot is booked in your calendar. I guarantee that you will become an elite high-performing to-do-list completing hero by implementing this tip.
90 MINUTE MAX
Neuroscience has found that the brain will cope with a maximum of ninety minutes of single focused attention on one complex task before the mind starts to wander and requires a break. I stick to this religiously when facilitating training in groups and coaching. For activities such as those involving creative skills and attending meetings and presentations, the attention time will be much less before your focus dwindles and your brain needs a break. You may argue that films are often two hours or more in length now and you sit still absorbed for this amount of time. Watching films or television is a passive activity as far as the brain (and body) is concerned though, hence not using the same energy, focus or attention as thinking or decision-making.
MONO TASK WITHOUT FOLLOWING DISTRACTIONS
Think of your brain and its attention like a muscle that needs to be exercised to stay at its optimum. If you regularly give in to distractions such as checking messages whilst creating a presentation or drafting a report, you are then training your brain to ‘jump’ whenever something exciting and new arrives. Your brain is already hardwired to do this. After all, that beeping alert could be a threat to your survival (the equivalent of the stone age rustle in the bushes!).
Protect and train your precious attention by digging in and sticking to the finish. Continue with the task until the timer goes off. Read the article or chapter until the end. Switch your devices off during meetings. Ask others to respect your focus and kindly not disturb you so that you avoid interruptions. Eliminate notifications so that there is no temptation.
If you struggle to read an email in full before scrolling to the next or cannot stick with one thread of messages at a time (or read an entire book), this is a sure sign that your brain is learning to become distracted and scattered which will be reflected in your approach to your work – and your goals.
BEWARE OF THE BRAIN DRAINS
Social media and indeed being online for long periods of time appears to affect us in multiple ways. Research has found that not only will your attention diminish, but your overall mood will also be impacted and not for the better either. I strongly suggest limiting your screen time and being conscious in your choice to spend a certain amount of time for example, checking your newsfeed or replying to posts, so that you remain feeling in control of how you spend your day – and your life. Social media apps are designed to be addictive and therefore, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you tackle this habit.
BREAK FOR YOUR BRAIN
After thirty minutes of writing (with a timer!), my brain alerted me to make a cup of tea which also helped me to get up and move my body. I sat back down and finished the assignment. If I had not been attuned to my brain wanting a quick energy boost from movement and a change of scene in another room, it would have taken me much longer to complete the original task. This sounds so obvious, however, I hear far too often leaders not allowing themselves these little breaks to replenish and nourish themselves – and then feeling exhausted at the end of the day, every day. Until humans become cyborgs, we will always need regular breaks!
To ensure that you take daily action and stay on track towards achieving your objectives, you can benefit from my bold challenge, support and accountability (whilst enjoying the process!): contact me for help by completing the online ‘Let’s Talk’ form below.