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This is the message that I want everyone to hear: The highest levels of accomplishments are achieved when we work in bursts; A burst of focused effort, followed by a burst of collaborative effort, and then followed by a burst of play time to get re-energized and ready for more.
In my research, I've discovered that we need at least 40-minutes of focused, concentrated effort to achieve a breakthrough into what I call the Accomplishment Zone™, where we are really achieving the results we seek. But how can we stay focused for this length of time with all the various distractions of the workplace — co-workers, email, technology, even our own thoughts and minds, which of course, can be the biggest distraction of all.
I'll be presenting more on this topic at the TechSoup-hosted webinar, Staying Focused in an Information-Saturated World on Tuesday, February 19 at 11 a.m. Pacific time, which you can register for now.
Register to attend this free event today!
Here, I'm offering three specific and simple techniques that can help you become better at staying focused, and also recover more quickly when your mind drifts into unrelated territories or someone interrupts your focus:
Not just any timer — a countdown timer. Setting the countdown timer for 40 minutes (or whatever time period we choose) and then pushing the Start button has significant implications.Just the fact that the timer is running seems to drastically heighten our awareness of time and allows us to quickly notice when we deviate from our task. It's as simple as that. It is fascinating that such a simple and easy tool can have such an impact on our focus, but it does. Buying a countdown timer may very well result in the biggest return on investment that we can ever achieve!
Creating a brief outline at the beginning of each 40-minute session, listing key steps that we need to get done in order to complete the selected task, can make the session as successful as it can be.Just like the timer, which appears to be a simple and perhaps expendable tool on the surface, micro-planning is a powerful technique that can help us stay focused, and if and when we have to deviate to take care of urgent issues, this helps us restart our task with the minimum amount of effort and the fastest recovery time.
Okay, so this last technique isn't as easy as the others; it would be if all external interruptions were within our control. Wishful thinking! Indeed, we can turn off the email beep, forward the phone to voicemail, and indicate that we are busy or "away" in our instant messaging status, which we should do during our focus sessions.
But it is much more difficult to switch off the people who stop by, the noise or conversations around our work area, and most importantly, the urgent and critical requests that come from bosses, colleagues, customers, family, and friends, not to mention the blame and guilt that come from not being available to handle all of the above promptly.
One of the things you can do is close the door to your office or put up a sign that lets co-workers know that you're in the middle of a focused session. And if you do get interrupted, don't be afraid to let people know that you are currently in the middle of a task.
Negotiating your time and setting up an environment in which you can be productive are the skills that will help you stay focused and make you more successful!