Between our overflowing inboxes, buzzing phones and our natural inability to stay focused for extended periods of time, work can often feel like a constant state of chaos.
But there are proven ways to tune out the noise, alter your habits and ultimately, regain control of your productivity, says Hans W. Hagemann, Ph.D., co-author of “The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance.”
Hagemann shares tips to help you bypass the distractions, establish a strong workflow, and shift into high gear at the office.
Establish concentration time
“No one questions the fact that you are unavailable when you’re already in an important meeting, but there’s often an unspoken assumption that when you aren’t in a meeting, you’re free,” says Hagemann. “And yet, when you need to focus, you are in an important meeting — with yourself.”
To increase productivity, he suggests carving out a chunk of the day where your door is closed, your phone is shut off, and everyone who works with you knows that you’re unavailable. He calls it “concentration time,” and says it’s the best way to make sure that the overwhelming flow of distractions — telephones, emails, texts, and colleagues — are completely eliminated.
“Although mistakenly perceived as a boon to productivity, ‘multitasking’ is actually the sworn enemy of focus,” says Hagemann. While multitaskers are typically viewed as overachievers, who are doing five things at once, “it’s too tempting to believe that those are supernatural abilities, without measuring the real effects,” Hagemann says, noting that multitasking actually leads to an increased number of mistakes, a decrease in the overall quality of work, and a harder time getting back on track after the interruption.
Work in manageable chunks of time
If you struggle with working on a single task to the point of completion — and let’s face it, we all do —Hagemann suggests trying the “20-minute rule.” The goal is to devote 20 minutes exclusively to one task before shifting to another. “The satisfaction of completing each time block should give you a dose of dopamine, and so will the prospect of facing the next ‘new’ task,” Hagemann explains.
Schedule in “tech breaks”
For those who simply can’t resist the siren song of their electronic devices, Hagemann mentions the possibility of interweaving “tech breaks” into your day, a concept from psychology professor Larry Rosen of California State University. The idea is to stop working every 15 minutes or so, spend 2 minutes texting, surfing the web or posting, and then return to 15 more minutes of undistracted work. Overall, he explains, this technique allows for “social downtime” which can make it easier to focus.