Focus and productivity in the age of distraction. The right tools and mindset to get your productivity back.

How to focus on focus
Do you feel always busy? ✔
Do you feel overwhelmed? ✔
Do you feel like you are not achieving your goals? ✔
Do you feel tired all the time? ✔

Me too.

The majority of us struggle to keep up with our daily agenda. We are constantly running behind, chasing whatever goal we set, but steadily struggling to reach it. But why?

The answer is pretty simple, we are constantly distracted, I mean literally always.
We live in the Age of Distraction. At work, an average person gets distracted every 90 seconds, and will manage to get a mere 3.5 hours of productive time in an 8-hour workday.

Lately, I’ve been having a hard time focusing on my projects and being creative. I felt a bit like a dog catching a whiff of a bone but being unable to find it, over and over again. If that’s what you’re feeling too, don’t worry! There are many tricks and tools available that may help you as they’ve helped me during these last few weeks. Most of them are pretty easy, some a bit harder to implement, but they work. Let’s find that bone!

The epidemic of distraction

Being a brand designer and strategist I ask lots of questions, so bear with me…please don’t leave me, this is my first blog article!

When was the last time you watched tv? I mean only watch tv.
When was the last time you read a book? You and the book, nothing else.
When was the last time you just sat down and listened to your favourite music? Just you and the music.

I can’t answer any of the above, and if it’s the same for you too, then you probably have a hard time channelling your attention. The reason is there:  in your pocket. In your hands. On the coffee table.

Your phone 📱

An amazing tool that made our life easier, faster but also more connected, way more connected, too flipping connected. We are literally bombarded with notifications, buzzes, news, dogs, cats, and other cute creatures. And when it’s not your phone, the notifications will pop on the corner of your screen at work, on your watch while walking the dog, or even on your fridge while grabbing a beer!

The math is simple and pretty tragic:

Dr Sahar M. Yousef a cognitive neuroscientist at UC Berkeley with 10 years research experience on the topic stated:

“Distraction burns cognitive energy in our brain, literally making us dumber”.

Wait a second: that’s not all, in another experiment she found out that even the presence of a phone, even a fake one, on the desk will make any human being less intelligent.

So should we kill our phone? No. Or at least not entirely. We need to regain control over our devices and work towards more intentional connectivity.

  1. Screen time apps
  2. Plan device free mornings, then days, then weekends
  3. Turn off notifications at work
  4. Hide it from sight
  5. Fail. Repeat from point 1 and good luck!

Our brains are ancient

Unfortunately, our brains did not evolve much. We could have: telepathy, memory control, super-fast matrix-style learning, but no, nothing at all. We still have the same brain, designed to be on the lookout for predators, resources or other threats, to focus — yes, but on one task at the time.

Our brains are not wired for multitasking, they simply cannot handle it. We run on a very limited amount of power, and when we are distracted, we burn more fuel which results in feeling tired, feeling busy but not accomplishing much.

So how can we get more from this amazing, yet fragile super machine?

We need to protect our brain from overstimulation, kill all sources of distraction and identify our performance peak hours. Dr Yousef came up with a simple, yet amazing tool: Focus Sprints, and they work like this:

  1. Identify your top performance period, 2-3 hours when you feel rested and energized. For some this may be early morning, others prefer afternoon or you may be a night owl. Book those hours in your calendar as GST (getting shit done).
  2. Minimize distractions, turn off all notifications, shut your email, and hide your phone, put your headphones on and tell your coworkers and manager that you need this uninterrupted time for high-quality work.
  3. Pick 1 to 2 big tasks and break them up into more digestible junks. Write them down onto a to-do list. Each task should take approximately 30 minutes. Crossing off elements from your list will give you a sense of satisfaction and purpose, pumping that dopamine (happiness hormone) up your brain.
  4. Rest, take a walk, go for a swim, or stare at something green; it’s proven that our nervous system can relax when perceiving the colour green.
  5. Repeat as many Focus Sprints you can fit in your day and get shit done!

If you want to dive deeper into the art of Focus Sprints, check this webinar.

The creative power of boredom

Wait, is boredom a good thing?

For us old enough, let’s take a trip down memory lane back in the analogue times. Do you remember when you were a kid and there was nothing to do? We were creating new games, making up fantastic stories and let our imagination to travel uninterrupted to find new amazing places. This is because when we are bored our brain is free to wander, and explore weird and unpredictable places, we are free to create and be creative. Ever had a great idea in the toilet or while taking a shower?

This can be translated into a simple equation:

Being bored frees our brain to connect the galaxy of ideas spinning in our heads and to come up with that amazing idea that was crushed by the wave of overstimulation. Boredom powers our ability to be creative.

100k by being bored.

Kyle T. Webster is an American illustrator, designer, author and educator. His illustration work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and other publications.
He shared a  beautiful story about being bored at 99U this year. One day after he finished his lunch and while staring at his plate completely bored, he realised that the beetroot he had in his salad left some pretty interesting patterns on his plate. He turned these patterns into a series of Adobe Photoshop brushes and made 100k revenue by selling them.

Being bored can really affect your life in amazing and positive ways. There are some simple things you can try.

  1. Turn off all stimuli
  2. Find a safe place that you love, where your mind can wander. This can be taking a long shower, running, having a massage, or listening to your favourite music.
  3. Allow your mind to get bored and drift freely, with no limitations.
  4. Have a notepad nearby to take notes.
  5. Rediscover and enjoy boredom.

Links and reads

If you want to dive deeper into these topics, here are some links and reading material that will help you regain control of your focus, boost your productivity and be more creative.

So how did I do in my first ever blog post? If you enjoyed it please share :)