Do you remember the last time your focus was completely on listening to another person, a loved one, a friend or a colleague?  When was the last time you effortlessly stayed on task for a full hour without a single distraction taking you away? Perhaps 15 minutes is more realistic. When was the last time your attention was locked on for 15 minutes in this day of electronic alerts and never-ending distractions?

It is the ultimate definition of engagement, giving your attention; everyone wants to be heard, to matter. 


We would like to think that as evolved humans our attention is top-down, controlled by our brain and will, but past experiences show us that we are often under the influence of our environment, of a bottom-up reaction where our brain follows the distraction. Some distractions are healthy for our brain and for our performance. We need a break every so often, a gift telling us it is ok to look around, go for a walk or just stop looking with such hypervigilance for an answer to a challenge.

At times pushing ourselves for extended stretches to complete that article, write complex code or create the ideal chemical component to solve a client’s problem sends us down the same thought path over and over. Literally stepping away and getting “fresh eyes” on the challenge can supply a fresh perspective or allow you to see what is right in front of you. It is often said that a misplaced item is found “the minute I stopped looking for it”.

Click the Timer on Your Phone

A documented time management method developed in the 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique, is used by researchers and executives alike. It involves using a kitchen timer to break down work into chunks, separated by short breaks. The most recent research found not only did using this method increase the end of the day production results but also spurred a strong feeling of accomplishment throughout the day.

This is incredibly simple yet I have found it crazy helpful. Seldom does a day arrive with less than 5 items on my calendar. Committing to 50 minutes, then taking a break and evaluating where I am gives me the freedom to truly concentrate during that 50 minutes.

Try a version of it for a week and see how you feel on Friday as you head home. Set a timer with your phone or use a kitchen timer for 50 minutes. Perform a task you need to complete and stay on it for that full 50 minutes. When the alarm goes off get up and take a 10-minute break. Go for a walk around the office, walk outside for a breath of fresh air, or grab a fresh cup of tea from the kitchen. The connection between our body and brain shows us that by getting up, by physically moving our brain reacts to our movement. After 10 minutes of movement set your timer again for 50 minutes and repeat.

Knowing that there is a break coming to do whatever might have distracted you allows your attention to stay on course. See if that freedom to concentrate keeps you on task.

Your Time is Valuable Too

It has been written over and over to restrict when you respond to email, but how many of us do it? One day I took it to heart with the knowledge that I could always go back to my unproductive ways at any time. I silenced all sound alerts and turned my phone over. The first hour was tough, I wanted to see if anyone needed me, perhaps a client reached out or a colleague responded about lunch. But I persisted through the mental anguish. It took discipline, but with each hour I was further from ever turning back.

A Day One agreement at Optimal Edge Performance is limiting email and text check-ins to once each hour. Though never easy at first, clients return week two amazed they were able to accomplish so much since we last met.

Try it. To make it easy take 5 minutes at the top of every hour to check, read and respond to any critical messages. Next week make it a 2-hour window, then keep increasing that number. Unless you work in a life or death situation anyone who is waiting for a reply will understand you are busy and will get back to them shortly.

Many emails can be dealt with at the end of the day. Most of the Super High Functioning Innovators I know check email when starting their day, mid-day and again at the end. 

At the end of your day set aside 30 minutes to take care of anything else that needs to be responded to. With this dedicated time, you are able to thoughtfully respond, read what is pertinent and delete what isn’t. When email and texts are abundant it is easier to delete those that really don’t deserve your attention. Just 30 minutes at the end of the day will force you to prioritize which ones need to be responded to.

Give yourself permission to take breaks from your work, from your striving, and your email. It just may help your brain and life perform at levels you have not imagined.

by Debbie Vyskocil, President of Optimal Edge Performance