A magnifying lens can set a paper on fire when you hold it under the sun. But this works only when the lens is ‘focussed‘ on the paper. Similarly, when we focus our efforts on particular goals, we are able to achieve better and more impactful results.
Focus helps ‘dreamers’ become ‘achievers’.
Multitasking is a Myth:
Focus is all about ‘single-tasking’. Multitasking sounds like an efficient way of working and it might make us look ‘busy‘, but we simply cannot create anything of value when we do not focus. As a human being, we are programmed or wired in our brains to focus on one task at a time – work on it, finish it and then move on to the other.
Much recent neuroscience research tells us that the brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously, as we thought (hoped) it might. In fact, we just switch tasks quickly. Each time we move from hearing music to writing a text or talking to someone, there is a stop/start process that goes on in the brain. – Psychology Today (source)
Dr. JoAnn Deak, the author of Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, whose observations were quoted in Forbes Magazine, argues that the brain is only able to focus deeply on one task at a time. Trying to do too many things at once causes the human brain to lose the capacity for deep thinking altogether.
When you try to multitask, in the short-term it doubles the amount of time it takes to do a task and it usually at least doubles the number of mistakes – Dr. JoAnn Deak
5 Action steps to bring more focus to your worklife
Step 1: Define your macro-goals – Clarity on the bigger picture.
Why do you do what you do? Where are you heading in life? What is your life’s purpose? How does it align with your work?
List down the things that you would like to achieve in the following timeline:
- Lifetime Goals (personal and professional)
- Three Year Goals
- One Year Goals
Step 2: List down the micro-goals – Short term focus with more details.
Once you have the bigger picture in place, start drilling down to more details and focus on the following timeline.
- 6-Months Goals
- 3-Months plan
- 1-Month plan with timeline
In this step, you need to get more detailed and list down the exact names, places, things, and other details of your goals. The 1-month plan needs to be very specific with dates and time.
Step 3: Group and prioritise your tasks
List down all that you like to accomplish and group them into various containers. Then prioritize the tasks in each container by order of importance. In Step 4, we will discuss how to get these tasks done. For now just make sure that you do not miss any task that needs to be done.
I am a big fan of the GTD method and the Kanban system. GTD method by David Allen lists 5 steps – Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect and Engage. In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen emphasises the need for creating buckets/groups of tasks and emptying the buckets regularly to prioritize tasks. Kanban is a similar system of grouping, organising and moving tasks from one stage to another, using regular reviewing techniques.
Online free tools like Trello will help you group and prioritize your tasks.
Step 4: Create time blocks
To-do lists do not help in your productivity. Harvard Business Review lists down 5 main reasons why to-do lists do not work:
- The paradox of choice
- Heterogeneous complexity
- Heterogeneous priority
- Lack of context
- Lack of commitment devices
So, the best way to gain more focus at work is to start ‘blocking‘ your time everyday. If you work for 8 hours, divide the 8 hours into chunks of 30 mins each, and block each chunk for certain activities. Any task that you plan to accomplish has to be accomplished at a particular time. So, take your to-do list and start placing tasks against specific time blocks in your calendar.
I recommend using an organizer to help you block time. You could also use a simple online calendar like Google Calendar to help you block time. If you want a be a bit more advanced, tools/apps like Focus Booster, Priority Matrix and Passion Planner (if you are like to organize yourself offline) would be useful.
One of the books that could help you focus and learn more about time blocks is The One Thing by Gary Keller.
Step 5: Align Your Team & Co-Workers
It is important to have everyone who works with you understand your style of work, priorities and schedules. At least in a high-level, it might help your team to know what you are focussing on right now.
In our digital marketing agency (Open Minds), we have daily morning stand-up meetings for each team and weekly review meetings to make sure that every team member knows their focus area and they also know (briefly) the focus areas of other teams and the leaders. This helps team members understand each others’ schedules and time blocks, so that there is a clear expectation of when everyone is available for meetings, discussions and inputs.
Hope this helps you focus.
All the best for a focussed worklife!