If you find yourself getting distracted frequently, you are not alone. Building a ninja like focus today is essential more than ever before. Furthermore, it is a proven and reliable way to boost productivity, engagement and wellbeing. So, how can we boost productivity, avoid distractions and loss of focus while also improving our wellbeing? There is no greater place to look, in my opinion that in the sporting arena. Most great athletes know that consistent training, discipline and a clear goal is foundational to achieve their success. However, to achieve constant improvement and growth, it is deliberate, purposeful practice that is the essential sought after skill we must cultivate.
Developing more deliberate focus and purposeful practice in all we do is the key to greater business and professional success. Moreover, being deliberate and purposeful creates a sharper focus. Sharp focus helps channel energy towards our future outcome and builds engagement and satisfaction. And both of these improve our wellbeing and productivity. This is why it is important and furthermore, how to achieve it.
Our attention span is at an all time record low
Today, we boast an attention span of a mere eight seconds. One second shorter than a goldfish. Part of our short attention span is due to the prolific rise in digital technologies which influences and impacts how we communicate and connect. Think about it. Externally, we are relentlessly bombarded with emails, notifications, phone calls, and social media alerts. Furthermore, we have additional things in our external environment to distract us. People, open plan offices, conversations, music and meetings.
The result of this is we end up switching tasks frequently. One moment we are looking at an email, the next we are checking our phones. We switch between watching interesting videos and writing that important report. Chatting or checking posts on social media against working on needle moving tasks in our business.
When you fully engage with your work, you are more present. Furthermore, to engage fully means you have to be clear and deliberate as to what you are focusing. And when you engage you raise productivity. This increases a sense of accomplishment which boosts good feelings. When you feel good you are more motivated which adds to our overall sense of wellbeing.
Distraction wastes time and can be disastrous for our wellbeing
Interestingly, many countries have seen a plethora of accidents, including deaths from the consequences of our digital distractions. Pedestrians, so plugged into their mobile phones have been hit and killed by cars as they forgot to look out for traffic. Their focus was not present to the world around them. and they stepped out into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Yikes. The European city of Augsburg in Germany, as an example, has installed a stop light for pedestrians to help interrupt their habit of being fixed to their screens. The anticipation of what you might find on your phone or in a message causes the brain to release a tiny shot of dopamine. Done too frequently leads to an unhealthy reliance and addiction to the phone. Your focus is hijacked by a gadget. There is even a name for this phone addiction – ‘nomophobia.’
Reducing hours could increase focus and productivity and enhance wellbeing
Productivity is at an all time low and many workers are only productive for two to four hours of their day. An increase in clear tasks and deliberate focus can make a massive positive difference to output, as shown by one company. Lasse Rheingans, who owns a digital advertising agency took a bold step in reducing work hours. Instead of a normal eight hours, he cut the day to a minimum of five hours, from 8am to 1pm. While there are clear guidelines and rules around these hours, he maintained staff salaries and witnessed amazing results in that productivity rose and profits doubled. A great side effect to this is an increase in personal fulfilment, new hobbies, more time with family and an increase in wellbeing.
Finally, we tend to make more mistakes when we are distracted. And mistakes slow us down so we are less productive. All of this has a cost to our mental and physical health and wellbeing. Consequently, it’s helpful to remember to be more deliberate and purposeful in all we do, as if we too, are athletes with clear goals and specific outcomes for our work day.
Energy management is a vital key to boost wellbeing and increasing productivity
In a previous article, I created a simple formula for boosting productivity. Productivity = E + D x T. This formula focuses on our energy, where E = Energy and D = Duration. T = the Task we are performing. Furthermore, when we complete tasks, a tiny amount of dopamine, the body’s reward hormone releases.
The key then is to ensure the task we are doing is important. To remember to tick the task off when completed and acknowledge this small win. Similar to when athletes pick a specific task or skill set to to practice. They do their sets, repetitions and practice and generally record this in a diary or log, before reviewing and fixing what didn’t work so well.
Delving deeper into this, let’s listen to some wise words from Anders Ericsson, a world’s leading authority on expertise and performance.
‘Practice isn’t what you do once you’re good at something. Its purposeful, deliberate practice when you are starting out that counts. Reviewing, fixing and repeating. Consistently again and again. This is what makes you great.’ Anders Ericsson
Purposeful, deliberate practice is taught to athletes by top sports and performance psychologists
This strategy works for many reasons. First of all, because the practice, or task, is purposeful and deliberate they are paying attention in the moment. This conscious act channels the energy of the mind, attention, towards a specific outcome. The result. A feeling of purpose, meaning and assurance.
Practice implies we are selecting something specific to focus on. As we put all of our attention on the task, remembering our brain loves specific targets to focus on, we raise our energy, increase focus and get more done.
Our engagement increases as does our flow state. There is plenty of research in the area of flow, or engagement. Furthermore, it is behind the most significant progress in science, business breakthroughs, innovation in arts and gold medals. As a result of McKinsey and Company’s ten year study, the result: ‘the learning process becomes 490% faster in flow.’
Flow state can increase productivity by five hundred percent and boost wellbeing
And in a joint Harvard Study:
“Top executives increase productivity by up to 500% in flow.” Harvard and Flow Geonome Project (various studies)
One of the greatest researchers on the Flow state is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In his book ‘Living with Flow,’ he says:
“The same feeling I have now identified as flow is reported by people when they are totally involved and satisfied with what they are doing at the moment”
Remember to review what you do with self-compassion and curiosity
When we review what we do through the lens of curiosity and kindness, we are deliberately giving ourselves feedback. And feedback is what helps us improve. Moreover, become more efficient in what and how we are doing things. It piques our curiosity and raises questions. And questions are what our brain loves. By thinking differently and doing things differently we help our brains grow and adapt using the concept of neuroplasticity. Creating new pathways helps create new behaviours and lock in new habits. This is what continuous improvement is all about:
‘Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.’ Mark Twain
- Minimise distractions. Turn off your notifications. Move your phones and other visual distractions off your desk.
- Get clear about what you are doing and go about your work deliberately and purposefully, focusing on one thing at once.
- Take small breaks as a reward and as a chance to reset and refocus.
- Most important, be brave and review how you did. Invest a few minutes daily to make this a key habit in your life.
- Make small changes to improve daily. This small change will help you keep out of your comfort zone, the only place where growth happens.
- All of this will help build engagement and flow. Furthermore, engagement is one of the five ingredients in Martin Seligman’s PERMA Model for Wellbeing and Happiness. Feeling good helps us keep motivated. And as we all know when we feel motivated we perform better and feel better.
In the words of US author, Og Mandino
‘It is those who concentrate on one thing at a time who advance in this world.’
So now you know the sought after skill that athletes use, here are three questions:
- How will you sprinkle more of this into your workplace?
- What will you do to be more purposeful at work?
- Finally, how can you live more intentionally and deliberately in all areas of your life?
While you may not win an Olympic gold medal, it will make a massive difference to your business, life and your overall sense of purpose and wellbeing.
About the Author
Mandy Napier is a Global High Performance Mindset Coach who is dedicated to supporting high achievers fulfil their potential and achieve extraordinary results professionally and personally. Transformations are the norm, and results guaranteed.
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