It’s time to think and work differently

22 August 2023

Donna McGeorge

Donna McGeorge is an author and global authority on productivity.

Time management and mindfulness not working? Donna McGeorge provides four tips to help your team cut through distractions and help them focus better. 

Workers are finding it hard to focus. Over 95 per cent of the workforce say they are interrupted at least three or four times per day, and it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully recover focus after a distraction. And let’s not talk about the 30 odd hours a month we are spending in unproductive meetings!

Here are four ways to think and work differently that will help your team reduce the impact of distractions and focus when they need to.

1. Reframe laziness

Allow your team the time and space to get into a flow state. This can be challenging in a world of interruptions, distractions, and short-term attention. For many years, researchers have proved time and time again the positive impact of restful activities:

  • Daydreaming, and even boredom, promote creative thinking.
  • Discovering non-work-related activities that both rejuvenate and excite you will provide the energy you need when it’s time to get down to work. They also create an awesome contrast frame, so you’ll enjoy work-related activities even more.
  • Being in flow: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this term in the 1970s for what happens when we become ‘so immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity that we lose sense of space and time’. And we get more done! Up to 500 per cent more, according to a 10-year McKinsey study.
  • Socialising: We get cognitive boosts from social interactions, and we also experience higher levels of intellectual performance.
  • Disconnecting from work: Those of us who can disconnect from work are healthier, more engaged when we are at work, and less prone to procrastination.

2. Allow them some adaptive capacity

Think about your eight-hour workday. Your eight hours are your total capacity. If you plan to use all those working hours, you aren’t leaving yourself any margin or adaptive capacity.

What do you need a margin for? Think about the last time you put your head down to dedicate yourself to getting something done. How many times were you interrupted?

You’ll do far better if, rather than operating flat out at 100 per cent capacity all the time, you perform below your peak capacity, thereby giving yourself some breathing room to relax, as well as some capacity to surge when necessary.

Encourage your team to protect at least one hour of their day (approximately 15 per cent) from meetings or putting attention on others. Allow them this space to think, breathe and focus.

3. Pay attention to the clock in your body, not the one on the wall

Our body clocks are designed for greater mental agility in the morning and more physical dexterity in the afternoon. This means thinking about when you do something is as important as thinking about what you do.

  • The first two hours of your day is best for tasks that positively affect your work and results, and require a lot of attention, energy and focus. This is your most important work.
  • Mid to late morning is best for tasks that require you to be on your game, perhaps in the service of others.
  • After lunch is best for tasks you can almost do in your sleep because they are easy and the stakes are low. Time often flies here because you are on autopilot doing things that are repetitive or routine.
  • The late afternoon is best for tasks that don’t require a lot of heavy lifting, brain-wise, but will have a positive impact on your world. They may concern planning, maintenance or preparation — basically, anything that will set you up for a successful next day.

This framework works well for early birds, but not necessarily for night owls. Encourage your team to find their ‘best two hours’ and protect that for their most important work

4. Batch the work

Batching like-minded tasks together, and then blocking time for them, will enhance your team’s ability to focus and will also accelerate the speed at which (particularly routine) tasks are completed.

Email is a great example of this. It’s not good practice to dip in and out of email all day. Three times a day would be best to allow people to stay on top of demands, but also focus on what’s important.

Over time, encouraging your team to work at 85 per cent capacity, while focusing 100 per cent on the tasks at hand, will produce more consistent results.

Donna McGeorge is an author and global authority on productivity. For more, click here.

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