In this crazy world we live in, it can be hard to avoid distractions at the best of times. Factor in a global pandemic and daily press briefings, the post-Christmas madness, and the always-on nature of running an online biz, and you might find you’ve got the attention span of a goldfish. Don’t worry – you’re not alone in this. We’ve all experienced being deep in work-mode and then suddenly finding ourselves scrolling ASOS or the Guardian or Twitter with no memory of how we got there.
Technology can be our nemesis when we’re trying to focus. Endless pings on Instagram, WhatsApp, Slack and Facebook have us sneaking glances at our phones every five minutes, which stops us from fully immersing ourselves in the task at hand. On average, it takes 23 minutes to get back in the zone after checking our phones. And given we check our phones almost constantly, it’s no wonder there’s a knock-on effect for our productivity. So what can we actually do about it?
If focusing on your work is proving tough post-holiday break, this article is for you.
Make *good* use of technology
It might sound counterintuitive, but there are a lot of great tech tools out there to help us stay focused. My personal favourite is Self Control, a free app that blocks you from a list of websites for a certain period of time. I block Instagram, Web WhatsApp, Netflix, YouTube, the news, my favourite online shopping sites, and anything else that might distract me when I really need to do some deep work. I usually set my time for a few hours, and there’s literally no way to unblock it once it’s set. I then leave my phone in another room, so I really have no choice but to focus. It’s intense, but it works great for me.
Fiona Thomas, author and founder of Fiona Likes to Blog, is another focus-app-lover. “I swear by the Forest app, which is particularly good for writing tasks,” she says. “It keeps you focused and unable to scroll on your phone for a set amount of time, and it’s amazing how much you get done!”. Forest allows you to do good whilst simultaneously beating your phone addiction: you plant virtual trees and earn credits by not using your phone, and those credits are then used to plant actual trees around the world. Win-win.
Work in short bursts
We sometimes find it hard to focus because the task in front of us is so daunting that we get paralysed by overwhelm. Break down what you’ve got to do into small chunks, and get to work. You’ll find it much easier to focus on one small task (replying to 3 emails, for example), than if your goal were to get to Inbox Zero from 247 unread mails. The Pomodoro Technique works very well for many of us: essentially, you work in short, focused bursts with short breaks in between. Every so often, you have a longer break to restore your energy before jumping back in. Pick a task you want to Pomodoro, and set a timer for 25 minutes. Put away anything distraction-inducing, and get your head down. Once those 25 minutes are up, take a 5 minute break. Don’t just reach for your phone (it will take you almost a whole Pomodoro session to get back in the zone, remember?). Instead, try making a cup of herbal tea, reading a couple of pages of your book, or just getting up to stretch. You can rinse and repeat as many times as you need to get the task done.
Get enough sleep
If you’re really struggling to focus on a day-to-day basis, it’s worth taking a step back and having a look at your lifestyle. If you’re guilty of delaying bedtime by binge watching Netflix, only to chug coffee the next morning to get you through the workday, that’s probably something to address. Our ability to focus is closely linked to sleep and nutrition: scientists at Harvard Medical School have even assembled a list of brain foods that can help us work optimally. Spinach, kale and strawberries make the list, if you were wondering what to add to your next smoothie. Additionally, if you make a habit out of late nights, you’ll find your long- and short-term memory suffers – not to mention your ability to concentrate in your client meetings… Do yourself a favour and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep. You’ll be able to focus better the next day, meaning you’ll get your work done earlier and be able to have a long, relaxing evening.
Sometimes, we just need a bit of external support. If you work for yourself, there’s no boss to keep you accountable. Instead, we’ve got to come up with ways to make sure we stay focussed ourselves – and it’s easier said than done. If you’re working from home, the pull of the couch, or fridge, or even that pile of post to sort through by the door can be enticing. It seems like when you’ve got a big work task to complete, anything is more fun than the task at hand. Working with an accountability buddy can do the trick. “Co-working via Zoom has been great for me,” says Vivienne Berryman, a transformational life coach. “Also, setting intentions on a Monday is useful, but I don’t always stick to them!”.
I’m a big fan of Zoom co-working myself, and often have my work friend and close collaborator Lauren Hall, founder of The Studio Grace, in the background of my laptop telling me off when I spend too much time answering non-urgent emails. If you want to give buddying up a try, have a look at Found & Flourish’s own accountability buddy system. It’s the same idea: often just knowing we’ll have to report back to someone gives us the focus we need to power through our to-do list. Consider setting individual goals via Zoom, then reconvening an hour later to check in.
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About your author
Phoebe is Found & Flourish’s resident Business blogger, she is London-born and Frankfurt-, Paris- and Amsterdam-raised. Combining her Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship with 10 years writing for international publications, she’s the founder of BURO155 and Wellby, helping female entrepreneurs achieve their business goals through strategic online content. Phoebe is also a writer, and has written for outlets including the Huffington Post, the Guardian, the Next Web, For Working Ladies and Restless Magazine.
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