How Focus is the Key to Productivity
“Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them.” Jack Canfield
Almost all success stories begin along similar lines. ‘Things changed when I started to stay focused on my goal…’ The importance of staying focused cannot be emphasized enough. There can be no productivity without Focus. And even if you somehow manage to get work done in a distracted state of mind, you can imagine the kind of quality you would have delivered.
You Cannot Stay Focused If You Are Multitasking.
No matter what the procrastinating voices inside you whisper, Multitasking does not increase productivity. It seriously hampers the quality of all the tasks that you are performing. You might be able to save time and have the illusion of being more productive, but when the quality of your work takes a serious blow, you need to ask yourself if it is really worth it?
“Inevitably we find ourselves tackling too many things at the same time, spreading our focus so thin that nothing gets the attention it deserves. This is commonly referred to as “being busy.” Being busy, however, is not the same thing as being productive.” Ryder Carroll
So, if you think you can listen to songs, or watch a movie while you are working on your presentation for tomorrow, think again. And if you continue to do that, be prepared to find the lyrics of the song, somewhere in your presentation.
In his seminal book, ‘The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done’, Dave Crenshaw talks about how Multitasking only costs more time and money, and damages relationships at work and at home.
Dave Crenshaw explains how Multitasking is essentially just switch-tasking. We think we are handling multiple things simultaneously, what we are really doing is that we are merely switching our attention between task to task. What this does is, it forces our brain to divide its attention to two different tasks at hand. Our Prefrontal Cortex, which is responsible for
catering to our conscious actions, undergoes a forced spilled and makes the brain follow two different trails of thought simultaneously. It leads to a constant back and forth between, let’s call the sections, Brain 1 and Brain 2.
The only thing, we end up doing is giving less brain power (as there are two separate strains) to each task, for small, oft-interrupted intervals. This means that both tasks will require a longer time to complete and will still be a product of lesser brain power than what we could have accomplished if we were focusing on just one task. And this is why Multitasking is a big No if you are aiming for Productivity without compromising on the Quality of your work. Multitasking, though, is not the only enemy to Productivity and Focus. The next opponent you need to fight to stay focused is – Distractions.
Focus is steering clear of all Distractions.
Is that a notification for a Facebook comment? Is that your colleague coming up to you with a fresh piece of office gossip? It might be tempting to think that this is all in good form, just to relax a bit before you go back to work; but haha haha. Sure thing.
You are steering out of focus every time you pick up your phone to check the notifications on different social media platforms, or when you answer an unimportant call in the middle of writing your report for tomorrow’s submission. You are basically losing focus, every time you get carried away by external stimuli and end up compromising whatever it is you were working on.
In a report by Udemy, ‘Udemy In Depth: 2018 Workplace Distraction Report’, it has been revealed that 54% of workers believe that Workplace Distractions are keeping them from performing as well as they should. And 50% of the workers are of the opinion that Workplace Distractions make them significantly less productive.
In a digital age that is brimming with Distractions thrown your way from all around you, the only way to stay focused is to set a difficult, but realistic deadline for yourself. This will help you in hitting the right balance between Time Pressure and Productivity. Block out everything else and set down to work. And see how productive you get when you are only focusing on one thing at a time and giving it your all, without being constantly distracted by irrelevant things.
The research, ‘How Blocking Distractions Affects Workplace Focus and Productivity’, discusses how cutting off all distractions provide significant benefits of increased productivity and focus.
It was concluded that while using Blocking Software to place Website Blockers to prevent non-work distractions, a significant number of workers reported an increase in their productivity, there were individualistic differences in work behaviors when it came to self-control in the management of distractions.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that officially implementing policies or regulations, though effective, only lead to a superficial change. A more effective change would be the one that individuals drive from within. Discussed below is one approach to Focus.
Goleman’s Three-Tiered Focus
Daniel Goleman’s book, ‘Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence’, divides Focus into three kinds – Inner, Other and Outer Focus. He argues that all high-achievers need to inculcate these three kinds of Focus to really succeed by optimizing their productivity. Goleman has based his argument on case studies from diverse fields, from competitive sports to education, and arts to business.
The three main types of Focus or Attention that have been mastered by successful people, as maintained by psychologist and journalist, Daniel Goleman, can be classified as :-
Inner Focus – Self Awareness
All journeys either begin or end with Self-Awareness. The one we are concerned with here begins with Self-Awareness and ends with Success. By Self-Awareness here, Goleman refers to internal control. It is realizing our dreams and potential so that we can make a decision about what to do and what not to do in life.
Establishing Inner Focus attunes us to our intuitions, guiding values and therefore, allows us to make better decisions in life. Goleman proposes a 360-degree Evaluation as a test for self-awareness. This is a process that involves us rating ourselves on a range of specific traits or behaviors and then comparing the results with what others think about us.
Other Focus – Reading Others
Once we have mastered our relationship with ourselves, the next step is to move on to our relationship with others. This means that we evolve our Emotional Empathy, which helps us in feeling what others might be feeling. Emotional Empathy leads to Cognitive empathy.
Cognitive Empathy is the ability to understand the perspective of other people. This enables us to make room for different opinions and to respect differences instead of undermining them or letting them come in the way of our relationship with others. Once, we begin to be open and accepting of multiple, even contradictory, points of view, we learn to foster Empathic Concern, which is the ability to put other’s feelings before ours whenever needed.
Outer Focus – The Bigger Context
This section deals with something that is bigger than us – the social systems and institutions that we have created, or the larger world. Mastering personal and interpersonal relationships prepare us to move on to intelligently and emotionally navigate the larger world. The most successful people have only been able to reach success and hold on to it, by learning to navigate systems and understanding the impact it has on us, on other people and on other systems – or in other words, on the world at large.
To conclude, developing a state in which you are focused, and unresponsive to all distractions, is the ultimate key to being Productive. Making a smartly planned use of your time is extremely important if you want to succeed in life. And when it is accompanied by Focus that leads to Productivity of the best quality, there is no stopping you.
Shyamal is the Founder of SmartTask, an online work management tool that’s helping teams be more productive by having clarity on who’s doing what by when. Has a penchant for researching and sharing strategies that could benefit a team’s productivity.