Constantly switching between tasks like checking emails, text messages, and answering phone calls actually makes us less effective in the long run than trying to play it off as “multi tasking”.
The human brain, being a muscle, must be trained. Cognitively speaking, neuroplasticity means that our brain easily gets used to a certain way of doing things and so the less we do other things, the less we will be able to do it. The old adage, “use it or lose it” has been proven to be true.
What prevents us from staying focused?
One of the elements that deteriorates over time is our attention span and this affects what we refer to as multitasking, but which is more correctly called task-switching. We are convinced that multitasking is a virtue and we praise it in people who have enormous capacity work in that capacity – moving from one task to another, from one project to another, from one client to another. What we have not grasped is that every time we do this we are preventing ourselves from really focusing on something.
Technological tools make the ability to concentrate more complex. On one hand, technology allow us to solve many problems and needs, but on the other, it creates new dependencies on content and notifications that feed our capacity for internal distraction.
Finally, all of this is combined with the new remote working condition, in which many of us are working, especially in those situations where there are children or other family members to take care of.
For this reason, new companies focused on these issues are combining the themes related to technology and psychology, encouraging you to create healthy and productive habits. One such company, born in Italy, Smartbreak, is doing just this.
How can we inspire and help the people on our team to focus on core activities and thus have a positive impact on their work? How can we get them to regain their attention? What advice can we give, as well as apply it to ourselves?
Organize time the right way
To focus better we can organize our time be clearly scheduling blocks of time for “distraction” and those of focus. For example, we can decide to manage our emails only during certain times of the day, avoiding replying every time something new arrives and therefore avoiding interrupting what we are doing.
We can apply the same technique for social media. We can decide to check them only during certain times of the day, and to silence notifications while we are working. Here are some useful apps to help.
Similarly, we can decide to do focused work at a certain time of the day, for example in the morning, and we will not complete any other types of activities.
Finally, a limit should be given to the hours spent on conference calls, which is also an activity that requires a certain cognitive effort.
Stimulating the brain
Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley talks about activities that stimulate the brain. First of all, deep reading, of books that we like, that stimulate us, allows us to train our brain for concentration activities. To this we can add meditation, which is mental exercise, or even physical exercise itself, or even walking in nature. It is no coincidence that having plants in the workplace can help you to concentrate (here is an article on how to organize your home office).
Changing some harmful behaviors
This theme includes avoiding multitasking, and becoming aware of the attitudes that prevent us from staying focused, noticing and noting when we get distracted and how often we do it.
It is also important to learn to disconnect from your computer and take regular breaks for a few minutes and do something that gives you energy, like a quick stretch, a snack, or simply a few minutes to sit and think, that will allow you return more focused.
For those who work from home there are no longer those moments spent around the water cooler or in the break room chatting with colleagues, but it can be useful to take these small breaks anyway, finding a way to spend time with colleagues even remotely and chatting digitally.
Using your lunch break can also help. Having lunch in completely different space that is not the table or desk where you work, or taking advantage of the time to workout or go for a walk.
Finally, to help us focus we can define our goals and make them smaller, breaking them up into smaller, achievable goals that contributes to the feeling of finishing a task more often throughout the day.