We live in a world in which we are always being pulled in multiple directions. Being constantly busy is often seen as a virtue. At work, we have our office phones ringing, mobile phones ringing and pinging with messages, texts, emails, alerts, notifications, reminders, meetings. In an open office, we can also hear everyone else’s conversations, the printer, the door bell, people coming to the front door, field staff coming in the warehouse and into the office, meetings, sales calls, plotters… Pressure is put on people to get the most amount of work done in the shortest amount of time and multitasking is seem as a sought-after skill – people want to save time by doing multiple things at once and we are constantly bombarded by multiple streams of information.
Unfortunately, multitasking doesn’t work. When it comes to skills that require cognitive brain function, we need to focus on one task at a time for optimal effectiveness and efficiency. Focusing on one thing can also reduce the amount of mistakes made and the time it takes to do the task, since our short term memory can only handle a handful of thoughts at a time. Focusing increases the speed of accomplishing the task and the quality of work. Watch The Myth of Multitasking Test below to test this out.
Concentrating your thoughts and efforts one on task or project increases your positive results. In boxing training, the mind needs to focus on the body’s movement and placement in space and the speed and timing of those movements. While you might be able to think about a problem at work while doing a repetitive motion like skipping, the same can’t be said about practicing boxing combinations with a partner. Punches have to be throw accurately, with a determined amount of power and speed for the situation. While also throwing punches, the boxer is moving his or her feet to shift weight, while also blocking, shifting, keeping the muscles tight in case a blow makes it through the defense…oh yeah, and don’t forget the breathing. Now, do all of those things and figure out that problem you left work thinking about. If you choose to focus on solving that problem, chances are, you’ve just been punched in the face multiple times. Focus is the key to success.
Here are some suggestions on how to improve your focus:
- choose a goal – you need to know why you are focusing on this task and what importance it has to your day or your life
- do one task at a time, until it’s done – this can be a tough one, so to start, set a timer for each task to break it into smaller chunks and avoid distractions (see The Pomodoro Technique)
- remove distractions (or remove yourself from distractions) – this can be shutting off your phone sound or alerts, putting your phone on Do Not Disturb, closing your web browsers, shutting your office door, or leaving the space for somewhere quieter
- keep a to-do list with deadlines and notes (try the Todoist app, many of us use this at work, or, a notepad if your phone can easily become a distraction). This will give you the ability to jot down important information when a distraction does pop up, but allows you to put it to the side until you finish your current goal.
- practice mindfulness. This is the ability to bring your thoughts and attention back to the present moment and task after your mind wanders. It’s a skill that can be learned through practice and involves compassion and curiosity vs judgement of our thoughts.
- reduce clutter – this can be visual clutter like a sink full of dirty dishes or an unmade bed, or stacks of papers all over your desk.
- say no. Recognize that you can’t do everything and you can’t do everything all at once. Prioritize your tasks and goals and make decisions on what you can focus on.
- celebrate meeting your goals – take a break before starting on your next task or goal