This seems to be a lost art these days, and maybe not having grown up with social media and everything accessible through my phone lends itself to this skill. But it certainly is skill you should acquire, as I have seen just how much impact it has for me. Some simple tricks for productivity can go a long way.
First things first…block out time to work on one thing. For example, I am once again at my favorite coffee shop to write this blog, so here is my protocol that I follow:
I arrive early in the morning. I find that while I can work out first thing in the morning, I don’t really enjoy it or have the same fight in me at 6AM as I will later in the day. I feel like I am most creative in the first part of the day. Scientifically speaking, I am closest to the brain wave settings from sleep, which is when my creative brain is most fluid. I arrange my schedule accordingly.
I choose a table that is out of the way whenever possible. By arriving early, I have more options than if I wait until 8AM. I do not want the distraction of people walking right by me, or worse from behind me. I find this distracting every time it happens, and it breaks my focus. I like a table in the back, where I can look up to see who is in the coffee shop whenever I choose, but can also keep my head down and focused on the task at hand.
HERE IS THE BIG ONE... I put my phone on silent mode. Since I am going to use my SiruisXM app, I can’t put the phone on airplane mode, so this is the best approach for me. I don’t like Spotify or YouTube for music in this scenario, as there are commercials (interruptions) and I am doing my best to avoid this. Silent Mode is important because I do not want my attention fractured every time my phone vibrates when a work email or text message comes through. I want to allocate all my brain power to what I am working on, so I do not allow my phone to be a distraction. Period. No calls, no work emails, and certainly no other notifications. As a side note, I do not allow any notifications from any social media apps, only text messages and work emails. By silencing them, I can concentrate completely on what I am doing.
I listen to music with my noise-cancelling headphones. I like to be in a public place but drown out the noise of the surroundings in this fashion. I am not sure exactly why, but this is the best environment for me when working on a creative project. The mood I am in will dictate my choice of music, everything from cheesy 70’s music to classic rock to house/trance music. This is as close to multitasking as I get in this time frame, I listen to music while I am working. But the music and the noise-cancelling headphones help me focus, so I consider them an asset and not a detractor.
This sounds really simple, right? Well, having spent as much time as I have observing the habits of Millennials and Gen Z’ers, hardly anyone is doing this. There is WAY too much activity constantly distracting you from your task. Multitasking has become a way of life and the idea of doing ONLY one thing at a time seems like a foreign concept to most. Try it and see if this is actually difficult, or uncomfortable, to sit and focus on only one thing for a period of time. It may take some practice to get comfortable with it, but whether you are studying, working on a project or whatever, this skill will help you a lot. The quality of your work will improve and you will get things done more quickly. I sit down and crank out a 1200 word blog about four days a week, and it only takes me about 45 minutes to do it. I come in with a topic in mind, do my preparations like I listed above, and get to work. I am here for a reason, and this reason is a single task…write another blog. I will save things like working on the phone app or my website for later in the day.
While is it clear that most people can multitask, that does not mean it is the best way to operate. Texting and driving has become so commonplace that it would be easier to count the people in cars who are not looking at their phones while driving versus those who are. It is dangerous, we all know that, but it has become such a part of life to be looking down at our phone that we don’t think twice about it. Maybe this will help you consider not doing this…according to this website and the National Safety Council, nearly 1,600,000 car crashes a year can be directly attributed to texting and driving. DISTRACTED DRIVING IS DANGEROUS…PLEASE STOP. Do one thing at a time, and get to your destination safely.
While there are not the same physical ramifications to distracted studying, the penalties can also be high in the realm as well. If you are studying for a final exam that you need to pass in order to graduate, those are high stakes. You wouldn’t want to try to juggle while you are studying, so stop juggling your attention while you are preparing for the test. It is the same thing. Your brain does not operate as well when you are constantly breaking your focus and then refocusing on what you are working on. You may have gotten used to it to some degree by now, but this is not the recipe for maximum performance. Think of it like playing Tetris and just letting the pieces fall where they may instead of you arranging them into a cohesive order. The information is there, technically speaking, but it is scattered all over the place. Not nearly as accessible as it would be if you “tightened up” how the information is stored in your brain for access later.
When you need to get serious about a task, follow the model I laid out above, it will serve you well. It will probably take some practice, as many of us are used to operating in constant multitask mode. But once you get the hang of this, you will see the benefits I am sure of it.