Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Do More by Doing Less: How to improve your FOCUS

In the past few years research has been steadily accumulating in favor of doing LESS multi-tasking in order to be more efficient.  It's fairly common sense that it goes without saying: you are less effective when your mind has to juggle several different tasks.

Imagine if all of your attention was a giant pie.  If you were to cut it into thirds you might consider doing three tasks at 1/3 your normal efficiency.  However, in reality dividing your attention between tasks actually decreases it incrementally.  Furthermore, some tasks can actually become distractors when they don't get our full attention.

Research from the National Academy of Sciences corroborates the fact that being unfocused can have both short and long term consequences.  They found that mass media consumption resulted in poorer performance on a standardized attention study even in the absence of previous distractors.  In other words it is likely that you will remain distracted long after you turn off the TV, log off facebook, get off the phone, or turn off your computer.  

The good news is that the brain can learn to ignore distractions and improve focus:
  • Guard your heart.  Barbara Fredrickson, psychology researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill, believes that a 3:1 balance of positive to negative emotions results in better team dynamics (calculated using mathematical modeling by collaborator Marcial Losada).  
  • Remove distractions.  Examples include setting a set time during the day to check email, facebook, or surf the internet.  
  • Segregate your work/rest/play cycles.
  • When faced with unexpected distractions, pause and consider your options.  Choose to focus your attention rather than react automatically.  Over time it will become easier to resist distractions.
  • Take scheduled breaks during work.  Also, set stop times for tasks that will take a considerable amount of time and energy.  I find that I work better knowing that I have an end point.
  • Shift attention to other projects when you feel yourself fading.
Try to do one thing this week to help you be more focused!

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