focus at work

One of my personal goals is to live out the maxim: “Work smarter, not harder.” I try to increase my efficiency as much as possible during the hours I spend in the office. I have the belief that if I increase my efficiency, my tasks are accomplished faster, allowing me to work less hours. My family is my heart and soul; therefore, I want to spend as much time with them as possible and less hours in the office, but without losing productivity. Am I alone on this desire?

Throughout my career I’ve read many books, attended seminars, talked with coaches, and more, in an attempt to work smarter not harder. If you read five different business books, five different answer will arise. I have gathered much information in my search, but it has been overwhelming trying to find the most helpful items. Today, I want to share four ways that have helped me work smarter in my professional life.

  1. Scheduled production time. The modern workplace floods workers will distractions including endless meetings, conversations with co-workers, social media, and more. Scheduling times free from these distractions allows me to focus on tasks for a designated amount of time, resulting in high production of work. You can see slots on my calendar throughout the week titled “production” preventing others from scheduling a meeting. If you’re in an open office space, place headphones in your ears to indicate to others that you’re in the zone. Do what it takes for you to have blocks of time to pump out work.
  2. Regular breaks. Psychologists spend countless time trying to understand how our brains work. Organizational psychologists look specifically at the work environment to understand how human beings operate in this area. One common results shows humans have the ability to focus for a limited amount of time. This ranges from 45-90 minutes. I have found my ideal length being 50 minutes. Therefore, I schedule 50 minute blocks in my day, followed my scheduled 10 minute breaks. The brain needs breaks from being hyper-focused on a task to recharge. Rather than taking a break in the middle of a task, challenge and train yourself to focus for a period of time followed by a break. Take a walk, talk to a coworker, grab a glass of water, check social media, allow yourself to break from the task at hand. Be conscious of the time, and give yourself permission to forget about work for a period. This teaches two things: to stay focused for a period of time and learn to have productive breaks.
  3. Turn off notifications. Have you had the experience where you are neck deep in a project, in the zone making great progress, only to have a notification pop up in the corner pulling you completely out of your mindset? This happened to me all the time. Fearful I’d miss an important email, I allowed myself to regularly be distracted from my task at hand. How often do I receive an email that needs responded to instantly or even within 30 minutes? Rarely. Turning off notifications minimizes distractions from the work one needs to perform.
  4. Minimize meetings. A few high-profile leaders publicly stated their objection to meetings, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bonzo. Though this is a unique idea, most company cultures do not function this way. But a truth exists within their message: professionals spend an absorbent amount of time in unnecessary meetings preventing work from being completed. An underlying belief exists in the business culture – that you cannot decline an invitation to a meeting, especially if you are a junior employee. This belief steals employees from pertinent tasks to sit through a ninety minute meeting simply to be in the loop. When invited to a meeting, ask yourself and/or the other person a few simple questions: “What can I contribute to this meeting?” “What pertinent pieces would I miss if not attended?” “Would a short email or conversation after the meeting be sufficient?” Through asking these questions, it will become evident if your time is best spent in the meeting or elsewhere.

The greatest challenge to our own productivity is ourselves. As James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits, small changes have the potential for profound impact. The acts of scheduling production time, having regular breaks, turning off notifications, and minimizing meetings are four small and potentially powerful ways to increase your productivity. Take this article as an opportunity to commit to one of these ideas for two weeks. I guarantee after two short weeks you will see progress in your productivity at work. Who wouldn’t want that?

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