There’s so much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it! That’s what most of us tell ourselves as we find ourselves faced with a mountain of work and deadlines and we don’t know where to begin.
It’s hard to find a structure that allows you to get the most work done in the least amount of time. But that’s exactly what focus time was made for.
So, in this article, we’re going to explore the wonderful world of focus time and look at ways we can all implement it in our lives.
What is focus time?
Focus time is pretty self-explanatory. It’s chunks of time dedicated to focusing on a single task in order to aide productivity and get as much done as possible.
We have distractions flying at us from every direction, and it does nothing for our work output. So implementing dedicated focus time periods helps resolve this issue.
Now let’s be clear. Focus time isn’t supposed to be a hack to help you work for the entire day. Because your brain is just not made for it. In fact, research suggests your brain is only capable of around four hours of deep work every day.
Instead, the aim of focus time is to make the most of those deep work hours to get the most work done.
What are common workplace distractions?
An interesting recent study highlighted that the average worker is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes out of an 8-hour workday. That means the average person is only productive for approximately 36% of the day.
And it makes sense. The office is full of distractions. And distractions cost more time than you think. Not only do you lose the time the distraction takes, but according to University of California researcher Gloria Mark, it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus after a distraction.
Before we delve into the different distractions you may face while you are trying to be productive, it’s important to make a distinction between distractions and breaks.
A distraction takes you away from your work while you should be concentrating. A break is an intentional period of time away from working. Breaks are a crucial part of productivity so it’s vital not to confuse the two.
Here are some of the most common work distractions:
It’s so tempting to open an email the moment it pops up on screen. You have no idea what is in it and your curiosity can’t help it. Or maybe you worry that not checking your emails straight away means you’ll miss crucial information that could heavily impact your day.
But every time you leave your focus flow to check an email, you break your concentration, and you have to build it back up.
Colleagues asking for help
You’re a nice person and you want to help out your colleagues. That teamwork is one of the best things about working with others. But having a free-for-all system where people can constantly come and ask for help whenever they want isn’t going to help your productivity.
If you want to get more done, then doing two or more pieces of work at once saves time, right?
Well, maybe not.
When we multi-task, our concentration is split between multiple tasks. Your mind has to keep shifting between thought processes as you shift between work types. Which means it takes longer to complete a multi-tasking session than to complete each task individually.
Not being able to decide on the work you want to focus on
Ok, so you have nine different tasks on your to-do list today. Cool. Which one do you start with? On the one hand, this task is quick and easy, but on the other hand that task is more time sensitive. And what about the task over there? The boss asked me to do this task as a favour, so if I want to be in their good books, maybe I should start there…
Yep. It’s an inner dialogue we’re all far too familiar with. And before you know it, 20 minutes have passed, you have no work done, and you’re still no closer to a decision on what to do.
Sneaking your phone to scroll social media and answer texts
No matter what you do as a job, there will always be boring moments where you can’t take it anymore. But instead of taking a break and regrouping, you decide to have a quick distraction by picking up your phone and engaging with the outside world. And with the world at your fingertips, who can blame you?
The problem is, those innocent five minutes of scrolling in the middle of a task equal a 30 minute loss in productivity. Hardly seems worth it, right?
Eight steps to create your own focus time
You know the productivity red flags, but what can you do to reap the benefits of focus time?
Experiment on your concentration capabilities
Let’s start with the basics. Focus time is all about scheduling chunks of time where you concentrate solely on work. The most popular focus time technique is the pomodoro technique where you work in chunks of 25 minutes.
It’s a great starting point, but it might not be the best length of time for you. You might find it too long to concentrate in one go. Or you may find that you only get into your work flow after 15 minutes, making 25 minutes too short for you.
Don’t be afraid to keep adjusting the length of each focus time block you implement until you find what works for you.
Take advantage of distraction-limiting settings on devices
The tech world is getting wise to the distractions they’ve caused. To rectify it, most devices have software to put your device in “do not disturb” mode. This means no emails, messages, or other annoying notifications will ping on your screen while you try to concentrate.
Put your phone away
You know what’s better than do not disturb mode? Not having your phone in sight to begin with. While you can’t avoid your laptop, almost all jobs can do without your mobile.
So unless you need your personal mobile for work (for example if you’re a social media admin), put it away.
You can always put your important contacts as a favourite so their calls will ring through despite being on silent, so there’s really no excuse.
We identified multi-tasking as a distraction. So what’s the antidote? Single-tasking! No matter how tempting it is, stick to one task at a time and see it through to completion.
Be clear on how you want to use your focus time
Don’t waste your focus time trying to pick a task. When you plan your focus time blocks, assign each one with a task and do that task. There will always be a reason that pops into your head as to why a different task would probably be better to do, so ignore that voice.
Honestly. Unless your boss comes running into the office waving their arms in the air and screaming “YOU HAVE TO DO THIS TASK THIS SECOND! IT’S AN EMERGENCY!” then don’t worry about trying to schedule your tasks in a perfect order. After all, done is better than perfect.
Schedule distraction time
Distraction is awful for concentration, we’ve already established this. But those distractions aren’t just going to go away. Instead, carve out blocks of time specific to each distraction.
For example, you can have an email focus time, a “help your colleagues” focus time, and a “I need Twitter and Instagram to know I’m alive!” focus time.
That way, you don’t feel deprived, making concentrating during focus time much easier.
Break times are vital to success
Focus time needs to be split up. And the only way to do that is to take a break. With the above-mentioned Pomodoro technique, for every 25 minutes of focus, you have a 5-minute break. Every two hours, you take an extended break of 20 minutes.
Other focus time methods suggest 53 minutes of work then 17 minutes of break. The length of your break is up to you and how much you need to perform at your best during focus time, so again, experiment and find what works for you.
Block time out to block your focus time in advance
If you’re not used to focus time, it’ll be easy to forget about it after a week and go back to your old patterns of unproductivity.
You can solve that by creating a focus time block dedicated to planning the following week’s focus time blocks in advance!
Find your rhythm
Productivity is unique to everyone so it’s crucial you experiment with techniques and timings to find what works for you.
And now you know the distractions stopping you reaching your productivity potential, you’ll be able to make steps forward to remove them!