Can you remember the last time you were able to knuckle down to some deep, productive work?
Or does your brain feel permanently frazzled as you toggle from one task to another, struggling to concentrate?
Find your flow state
Remember when you last worked in flow? That’s when you were completely absorbed in your work, losing track of time, forgetting about the outside world.
Flow is when we are at our most productive and creative. People who regularly work in flow (two hours a day ideally) report greater levels of happiness, work less hours and get paid more.
For most of us, this is a rare treat. We get into flow once a week if we are lucky. We usually have to hide somewhere to do it.
Don’t kid yourself that you can multi-task. No one can: we can only do one significant task at once.
Office life is a sticky molasses pool of digital distractions, routine administration, needless conference calls, unproductive meetings, powerpoint decks that no one reads and lengthy email chains.
We can’t actually WORK at work anymore. Real work has to fit around the sides of the fake work. It doesn’t matter if you are a genius or a goldfish, it’s impossible to concentrate on anything meaningful. It’s ridiculous!
Try these fixes to find your focus.
Do one thing at once.
Don’t kid yourself that you can multi-task. No one can: we can only do one significant task at once. You can’t listen in a meeting while doing your emails, or take a call during dinner, or interrupt writing a report to handle a query. It is an inefficient and ultimately chaotic way to live/work.
Do one thing at once and learn to manage interruptions. Be fully present in whatever you are doing, so you can 100% concentrate, 100% listen, 100% engage, as the occasion demands.
Your diary should contain time to do actual work, as well as time for meetings.
Our brain is constantly bombarded with information and choices. Give it a break.
Switch off as many digital channels as you can so you can focus on what’s most important. Don’t check your emails constantly; build a routine of checking them several times a day and switching off notifications in between so you aren’t distracted.
People can call/text/find you if there’s a genuine drama. You don’t need to have your phone in front of you, pinging away, using up your attention. Wean yourself off it. Set an alarm to check it in 45 + minutes, and put it away. Let me know how good it feels when you try this.
It is too easy to get bogged down with emails and queries that add little value whilst create more work for you and everyone else.
Chunk your time.
Match your tasks to your time. Your diary should contain time to do actual work, as well as time for meetings. If your time is boundaried like this you don’t have to make a choice about what to do next and procrastinate or slide into doing the easy quick hit stuff that’s screaming out in front of you (your inbox). You just follow your plan.
Batch up your tasks into 90 minute chunks so you aren’t switching from one to another, but doing all your emails at once, or writing reports, handling client queries, supporting colleagues and so on.
Just one priority task a day might be a realistic intention – don’t over-estimate what you can do.
First things first.
Your first chunk of time must be for your priority tasks. Your brain would prefer the dopamine hits it gets from the quick pay-off of easy, routine tasks like clearing your inbox.
It is too easy to get bogged down with emails and queries that add little value whilst create more work for you and everyone else. They don’t move us forwards, but we hope they get us back to square one so that we can do our ‘real’ work. The problem is that we run out of time.
Reverse the pattern, get your energy up with a few quick wins, then move on to the big stuff asap. Just one priority task a day might be a realistic intention – don’t over-estimate what you can do. And perfectionists like me have to learn to live with some unfinished small stuff.
More great advice from Zena Everett:
About the Author
Zena Everett is one of the UK’s leading careers experts, coaching and training professionals from a wide range of companies including Shire Pharmaceuticals, Bausch and Lomb, Gazprom, HSBC, Citigroup, the Institute of Chartered Accountants and several international law firms.
She is an Executive Coach on Oxford University’s global Executive MBA programme as well as the author of two books: MindFlip: Reinvent your Future, and Crazy Busy: How to Get More Done in a Day. Sign up to Zena’s mailing list at www.zenaeverett.com to get a free digital copy of Crazy Busy.