6 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR FOCUS AT WORK
The average human has an eight – second attention span-less than that of a goldfish, according to a 2015 study from Microsoft.
That number had shrunk over the over the years due to our digital connectedness and the fact that the brain is always seeking out what’s new and what’s next.
“No matter what environment humans are in, survival depends on being able to focus on what’s important-generally what’s moving. That skill hasn’t changed, it’s just moved online,” writes Alyson Gaubsy, consumer insights lead for Microsoft Canada.
So what do you do when you need to focus on work- and not what’s moving around you? For most people, the first and most important step to increasing focus is to change the way you view it, says Elie Venezky, author of Hacky your Brain
“Focus is a muscle, and you can build it,” he says. “Too many people labor under the idea that they’re just not focused, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Once you drop this mistaken belief, you can take a much more realistic approach to building focus.”
With a combination of mindset and tools, it’s possible to set up an environment that fosters focus. Here are six tricks and tips for eliminating distractions and paying attention to what you need to do:
- PREPARE YOUR BRAIN
Before a task, calm your brain, says Venezky. “Take a minute or two to sit in a comfortable position and breathe deeply into your stomach,” he says. “You don’t have to sit cross-legged or chant. Let your body calm down before you approach you work. You’ll find it really helps you concentrate.”
- UNDERSTAND WHERE YOUR FOCUS NEEDS TO BE
Focus also involves an understanding of what is worthy of your distraction, says Ron Webb, an executive director at the American Productivity and Quality Center, a nonprofit research organization. “Success comes down to embedding that focus into the flow of how you work,” he says.
Webb suggests taking time to identify what deserves your focus for the year, for the month, for the week, and for the day. Then look at your calendar and block time dedicated to focus.
Focus also involves an understanding of what is worthy of your distraction.
“This keeps folks from being able to send calendar invites that are last-minute, nonemergency issues,” he says. “These are focus killers.”
- UNPLUG FOR 30 MINUTES
If you need to focus, log out of email and social media. “Even if you live and die by email, do yourself a favor and log out for 30 minutes either in the beginning of the day or for a period in the afternoon, “says Jan Bruce, coauthor of meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier. “you won’t believe how much you can get done when you’re not always interrupting yourself to return emails.”
- GRAB SOME COFEE
That morning coffee doesn’t just help you wake up; it helps you focus on the day. If you need an attention booster in the afternoon, a coffee shop run might do the trick. In a study published in the Journey of Alzheimer’s Disease, French physiologist Astrid Nehlig identifies a connection between caffeine and cognition. While caffeine doesn’t improve learning or memory performance, Nehlig found it does increase physiological arousal, which makes you less apt to be distracted and better able to pay attention during a demanding task.
- CHECK THE THERMOSTAT
If it’s too hot or too cool in your work environment, it could impact your focus. A study from Cornell University found that workers are most productive and make fewer errors in an environment that is somewhere between 68 and 77 degrees. Another study from the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland says the magic temperature is 71 degrees. If you don’t control the thermostat, you can opt to bring a sweater or a fan.
- TAKE SHORT BREAKS
Instead of succumbing to distraction, build it in, suggests a study from University of Illinois. Psychologist Alejandro Lleras found that participants who were given short breaks during a 50 minute task performed better than those who worked straight through.
The study examines a phenomenon called “vigilance decrement, “or losing focus over time. Taking a short break in the middle of a long task reenergizes the brain.
“We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” writes Lleras. “Our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks, if is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task.”