Do you work a lot but don’t get as much work done as you would like? Do you get frustrated by not being able to focus on your work?
Imagine boosting the results you produce by putting in less effort than you do now!
You simply need to tweak your current approach to your work. It’s all about good preparation and managing your resources strategically.
Whether you’re struggling with your studies, creative work, your job or your life goals – these 10 juicy tips will help you improve and maintain your focus in order to boost your productivity while saving time and energy.
1. Get 8 hours of sleep every night.
Sleep is very important! Not getting enough sleep impairs your brains executive functions.
Insufficient sleep makes it harder for you to pay attention by slowing your reaction time and it also makes you more forgetful by impairing your memory retention. All this significantly undermines your work and study performance.
Sleep deprivation compromises your creativity, your ability to make decisions and solve problems; as a result your productivity becomes decreased.
“A sleep deprived brain slows you down. A well-rested brain allows you to work smarter, not harder.” – Camilla Kragius
Experts recommend 7-8 hours of sleep per day because more or less will affect your cognitive capabilities and increases the chances of metabolic and heart diseases.
I tracked my sleeping habits for a while and found that I was at my very best when I slept for 8 hours per night with 1 rest day a week of oversleeping and leisure. Sleeping 7 hours or slightly less for a day or two was manageable but I would soon start to experience lack of energy for peak performance.
2. Start your day in the right way
The last thing you want to do at the start of an important work day is to skip breakfast, as it can lead to crankiness, lack of focus and feeling of exhaustion.
You probably heard the saying “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and it’s true, because breakfast provides you with the necessary energy to start the day off on the right foot and set the tone for a productive day.
Even more so if you eat food that provides an added benefit to your cognitive performance like nuts and berries.
An article by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience confirms that nuts like almonds and walnuts are powerful brain food. They contain omega 3 fatty acids which are known for being very effective in fighting neurodegenerative diseases and neurological conditions in the long term, as well as being beneficial to cognitive performance on the day to day basis.
Another article by Journal of Biological Chemistry shows how berries are also beneficial to brain functions. Most of them contain tannic acid, which is a “natural inhibitor that prevents cognitive impairment”, so much so, that they even prevent dementia and Alzheimer with their rejuvenating effect to the memory base.
I myself have made a habit to have morning cereal with various nuts every day, and I often have some berries and dry fruit snacks handy to munch on when I’m doing work that requires a sharp mind.
3. Organize your work area
Having a clear work area helps you mainly by removing distractions and reducing your stress levels. Having everything prepared and organized also puts you in a mindset of control and confidence which promotes productivity – as opposed to clutter, which takes away these benefits.
I am far from being a saint in this area and often excuse my mess by calling it a creative chaos, saying I know where everything is (yeah, right!).
Jokes aside, whenever I work on a project that requires focus I make sure to keep the area of my field of vision free of clutter and highly organized, in order to keep my attention locked on to the work at hand.
4. Remove distractions
Distractions are poison for attention span because they take up your valuable time and also throw you completely off your focus, for this reason you end up missing out on utilizing your time properly.
Aside from making your work area organized and clutter free, I highly advise that you turn off the sound on your phone, get yourself away from other people and avoid multitasking when trying to focus on a challenging project. Doing this enables you to easily get into the flow state.
Flow state, also known as being in the zone, is a mental state of feeling completely immersed and involved into an activity, making you hyperfocused and allowing your mind to tackle complex ideas and processes easily.
Flow state is easily attainable on schedule and with full benefits, but only by being smart about utilizing the lessons contained in this article.
5. Define your goals
Clearly defined goals are extremely important. Whether you’re engaged with a project or simply working toward a longer term goal – the more clear your vision of the end result, the easier it is to plot a straight line toward reaching that result you are aiming for.
This is especially true for large projects or goals that have multiple steps along the way which you need to surpass.
Apart from knowing exactly what you’re aiming for, you need to know your timetable and resources. With this knowledge at your disposal you can begin making a manageable strategy to achieve your goals in a streamlined fashion, which leads me to the next point.
6. Divide you work into manageable tasks
Now that your goal is established you need to divide your project into small, manageable tasks according to your timetable and resources.
This way you can laser focus your attention on segments of the project and have a clear roadmap to follow in order to achieve your overarching target.
The ideal goal of any productive effort is to achieve desired results at lowest cost of energy and resources.
Having a good plan and a well charted course of action serves to save you time and energy which you would otherwise waste by being sidelined – if you were just winging it or improvising with your process.
“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.” – Greg S. Reid
7. Get the most out of your time by understanding your rhythm
Don’t you just hate it when you carefully allocate the time to comfortably tackle your workload, but your brain simply doesn’t want to cooperate and you struggle to muster the focus you need at that time.
For this reason, you need to understand your Circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythm is your energy distribution within a daily cycle relative to your sleeping habits, but also affected by the day and night in relation to your sleeping habits.
In the chart you can see the most common energy distribution pattern, experienced if you go to sleep at night time and wake up in the early morning.
In order to fully utilize the energy distribution of your circadian rhythm, it’s important that you go to sleep and get up at the same time every day because this stabilizes your circadian rhythm and makes it more predictable and effective.
Once you have established consistent sleeping habits, you can track your energy levels and grade how energized you feel on a scale from 1 to 5 at various points of the day. Afterwards you simply compare the results over time and you will have your own personalized circadian rhythm chart.
“When you dance to your own rhythm, life taps its toes to your beat.” – Terri Guillemets
8. Short breaks between intensive work sessions
As shown by the circadian rhythm, there are occasional intervals during the day where the levels of energy and cognitive performance pull back significantly, making any kind of work a struggle.
It’s best to use these pull-backs to gear up the energy even more by taking necessary and (hopefully) deserved breaks. Breaks are important and often overlooked as a significant booster to productivity.
As for the circadian rhythm, a mid-day power nap between the energy bursts is the most effective way to ensure a strong peak of energy in the second daily interval.
As for the work sessions:
The Pomodoro technique, developed in the late 1980’s and still praised by many today, suggests intensive work sessions lasting for 25 minutes, separated by 5 minute breaks in between.
Ernest Rossi, a PhD in clinical psychology and renowned author, advocates 20 minute breaks between 90 minute work sessions. He explains that after about 90minutes of intensive work, we get a buildup of stress hormones (e.g. cortisol, adrenaline) and we need to take a break to reset our cognitive energy levels and avoid the many symptoms of the psychosomatic stress response.
A recent study by Desktime, one of the leading employee productivity tracking software, analyzed the top 10% most productive employees and found that “The most productive people work for 52 minutes, then break for 17 minutes.”
All three examples are based on extensive research, and while they all differ in their prescribed timetables, one this is for certain – that productivity is best achieved by having bursts of intensive work mixed with relatively frequent breaks.
Taking a 5-20 minute break to stretch your legs or take a breather between your focus sessions will surely come as a boost to the energy and focus levels in your following work session.
According to the requirements of your project and your personal preferences – you need to come up with a productivity sweet spot for yourself.
You will find that if you experiment a bit in establishing a framework of your own preferences and biorhythm, the results you achieve will be very rewarding.
9. Morning exercise & meditation
Morning exercise and meditation are also often overlooked when it comes to sustained cognitive performance.
There are many studies which confirm that stretching exercises and mindfulness meditation help improve energy levels and cognitive test performance.
Stretching results in increased blood flow to the brain and release of endorphins, while mindfulness meditation reduces ruminative thoughts and effectively declutters the brain.
I do a 5-10 minute morning stretching exercise before breakfast every morning which opens up my appetite and makes me feel energized. Also, whenever I have the opportunity, I like to take a short break outdoors (a balcony or window works just fine) and take in some sun and fresh air while trying to clear my thoughts.
These are both very simple and gratifying habits that I definitely suggest that you practice as well.
10. Power munching
I saved the best for last! Of all the tips and tricks, power snacks are my all-time favorite. There’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee or a chocolate bar to give you that extra push of energy when you need it.
I drink coffee religiously and often munch on my power snacks while I do creative work. My favorite snacks are definitely chocolate, berries, raisins and nuts. All of those can are very helpful aids when it comes to working on projects that demand focus and creativity.
When it comes to physical efforts or needing a little wind in your back for pushing through a long day at work – power bars are my secret trick. These can be bought at most supermarkets and they have high energy and nutritional value.
Making this article was a lot of fun and brought back some awesome memories of experiences I had while learning to apply these lessons in my own life.
Conclusively, I want to leave you with a heartfelt bonus tip:
Don’t let life pass you by on your way to success, make the time to enjoy the little things! Having the support of your friends and family is better for sustainable motivation than any hack I could ever offer you.
I always recommend viewing your mind and body as machines; viewing your projects and goals in a strict, result oriented fashion – but the point of greater productivity is to have more time and possibilities for your personal life.
Which of these tips are new to you? How will you apply them to boost your own focus and productivity? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear what you have to say!