Welcome back to Part II of our series on concentration and focus. Last time we covered a series of important tools to greatly increase your productivity so if you haven’t read that article we recommend starting there first.
Today we’re going to talk about ways to boost your concentration and effectiveness even further. Read on to learn how to accomplish high-quality work in a fraction of the time.
The Truth About Multi-Tasking
Watching a movie while balancing the checkbook. Joking with friends while lifting weights. Driving while texting. Listening to the news while your wife talks about her day. Multi-tasking is practically a modern social necessity. Quick, when was the the last time you chatted with someone on the phone and you both were just sitting and talking?
Most of us have faith in our ability to do several activities at the same time. But how well are we doing those simultaneous actions? Not very, as it turns out. Dozens of studies have shown that attempting two activities concurrently cuts our concentration by almost 40%. Even worse, the focus levels drop for both activities. That means if you’re watching a movie while doing your taxes, not only will you miss the part in Game of Thrones where your favorite character turns out to be evil, you’ll also have a 40% higher chance of a potential IRS audit. Rough night.
The good news is that it works both ways. If you want to quickly and dramatically increase your productivity at work, all you need to do is close all your other browser windows, turn off the podcast and allow 100% of your brain to tackle the task at hand. The same thing is true at home. Finish your taxes correctly first and then you can invest all your emotional energy into plotting the perfect revenge for that douchebag king.
Build Breaks Into Your Work
It seems logical that if we want to accomplish more we should spend more time working. If you have three employees – one who works 50 hours a week, one who works 40 and one who works 25 – the 50 hour guy is obviously gonna be the most productive. Except he’s not. This new study by the Draugiem Group shows that the most effective workers take roughly 17 minutes of time away from their tasks for every 52 minutes they spend working, a rest-to-work ratio of approximately 1-to-3.
True, grinding away at a task hour after hour will eventually enable you to complete it but the process is painful, mind-numbing and ineffective. Thankfully there’s a much better way. Save time, keep your brain sharper and produce better results by scheduling breaks often throughout your day. In addition to the creative benefits and the mental stimulation, your muscles and spine will thrive with regular opportunities to stand up, stretch and move.
An excellent example of this concept is The Pomodoro Technique. Created by Italian productivity expert Francesco Cirillo, the program breaks down your day into multiple 25-minute segments called Pomodoros (Cirillo liked to use a tomato-shaped timer and pomodoro is Italian for tomato). You set your timer for 25 minutes and once it’s done you take a five minute break. Then after four Pomodoros, you take a longer break of up to 30 minutes. The system is simple, repeatable and it works amazingly well.
Eat and Drink Like An Athlete
Everyone knows if you’re training for a marathon you don’t eat crap food at any time of the day or night. The same rule holds true in the office. If you want to perform at the top of your game you need to feed your brain and body the best possible fuel. Learn about Protein, Carbs and Fats and add them to your diet appropriately. Then make sure you have good snacks like nuts, jerky and fruit available whenever you need them.
But adding the right food is only half of the equation. You also need to eliminate the foods that are working against you. To avoid that awful sugar crash later in the day, remove sugars and refined-starches from your breakfast and lunch. Stop eating donuts, muffins, bagels, cookies, mocha frappucinos and sugar-filled energy drinks. Instead use complex carbs (oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice), protein (eggs, yogurt, protein-smoothie) and fat (olive oil, cheese, nuts, seeds) to give you balanced, sustainable energy for your entire day.
Your brain is roughly 75% water. With that fact in mind, it’s pretty obvious we need to drink our recommended 8-10 glasses every day. What isn’t obvious is how much hydration actually affects our performance. A study by the University of East London showed that thirsty individuals who drank a single bottle of water increased their brain speed by 14%. This is a huge boost! And good news for those of you who don’t drink plain water: Tea, coffee and flavored drinks all count towards your daily quota of H2O.
Learn To Harness Your Chronotype
What the heck is a chronotype? Coming from the latin word chrono (meaning ‘time’) your chronotype is your biological predisposition to higher productivity at specific times of the day. Every human is born with a natural ability to think and work better during certain hours. Early Birds (5am-8pm) do well in the morning but crash early. Normal Risers (8am-11pm) wake up later and last longer. Night Owls (10am-1am) start after most people but are active well into the evening. Overnighters (1pm-5am) are out of sync with general society but keep the world running after everyone else is asleep.
Determining your chronotype will pay major dividends for your productivity. If you’re a Night Owl working in California but your job requires you to wake up at 4am to handle East Coast clients, no matter how much caffeine you drink you’re always going to struggle. The same is true for Early Birds trying to work Overnight shifts: You’re never going to function as well as your co-workers who have the correct chronotype.
Remember, biology always wins. Learn your individual needs and drives so you can make your body work for you rather than against you.
In the last several decades there’s been a huge increase of interest in meditation. Forty years ago the Western World viewed it a strange religious tradition practiced only by monks on mountaintops or hippies on acid. Now there’s regular articles in the NY Times, Wall Street Journal and Forbes discussing the benefits of mindfulness. Even Harvard Medical School, the bastion of old-school thinking, is now teaching classes in meditation and psychotherapy.
Multiple studies have shown that regular meditation will:
- Reduce stress
- Increase blood flow to the brain and organs
- Improve concentration
- Slow – or even reverse – signs of aging
- Control anxiety
- Increase happiness
- Improve memory
- Help lengthen sleep
- And a lot more
If you want to boost your effectiveness, calm your mind and be happier at work and at home, try adding regular daily meditation to your schedule.
Pro Tip: A quick, one-minute meditation (like this one at Head in the Clouds) will fit nicely into your Pomodoro breaks.