WEEK 1: The Science behind Focus
Brain focus is a top-down process in which your brain first takes in the visual information and begins to process it so it can tell you what to focus on. Losing focus, on the other hand, is actually an evolutionary system designed to keep us safe. This occurs when your brain notices things that require attention, an evolutionary mechanism that requires the brain to break concentration when something is dangerous.
Once focus is interrupted, it can take the brain anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes to return to the original task, although the human brain should be able to focus on any given task for up to two hours before it will need a 20-30 minute break. A University study found that multitasking may be to blame for focused interruption. By training our brains to ignore irrelevant cues, thereby decreasing out attention to detail. You can train your brain to stay more focused; however, it takes work and requires mindfulness.
WEEK 2: Techniques
Give yourself deadlines: The 52-17 Technique. Using a time-tracking and productivity app, researchers studied the habits of the most productive employees and learned that the most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes before returning to work. They concluded the reason for the employees high productivity rate was due to the intense purpose with which they worked for the 52 minute period enabled by the resting time lead into the work interval.
Be aware of your emotional state: The brain responds powerfully to negative emotions which it regards as a threat signal. These negative emotions interfere with the brain’s ability to do cognitive work. You can keep the negative emotions at bay by noticing negative emotional patterns. Pay attention to incidents throughout the day that trigger a negative emotional response and try to find a way to resolve that trigger and let go of the irritation. Additionally, exercise and sleeping well will improve the brain’s ability to stay positive.
Prevent distractions: Your brain continuously scans the environment around you even when you are focused on a specific task. To prevent distractions from taking away your focus, use the ABC methods to halt your brain from becoming distracted. Become AWARE of your options: you can stop what you are doing and address the distraction, or you can let it go. BREATHE deeply. CHOOSE intentionally: continue with your task or move on to one that is more important.
Shift your focus: Sometimes you need to turn your attention to a different task in order to give your brain a break. Before you begin a different task, allow the focus to be on your body rather than the brain. This can include going for a walk, doing deep breathing exercises, or stretching. Even if you aren’t consciously aware when you are doing this, your mind continues to sort through past tasks and can often trigger new ideas.
WEEK 3: Stop Feeling Guilty
In order to properly focus the brain needs to take periodic rests to increase sharpness and motivation. Many tools and techniques are available for accomplishing just that. However, while both employees and managers report knowing the importance of taking a break, many do not actually do so. As work demand intensifies, employees tend to believe if they never take a break from work, they will be able to accomplish more despite the fact that without a break, we are actually less efficient and prone to make more mistakes.
In a study done of office workers at Staples, more than a quarter of employees did not take a break, other than lunch, during their workday even though 86% acknowledged that taking a break would make them more productive. Employees cited they did not do so because they either felt guilty or did not feel as though they could leave their desks. So, stop feeling guilty! Giving yourself a little time to recharge will truly improve your focus when you return to the task at hand and improve your quality of work in the long run.
WEEK 4: Suggested Activities
Now that you’ve realized the importance of breaks and are going to include them in your day, there are many productivity boosting activities that can be done during that resting time. For example, a 20 minute walk can increase blood flow to the brain, enhance the connectivity of important brain circuits, and improve memory and cognitive performance
Eating can also be a productive use of time while giving your brain a chance to rest; a healthy snack can replenish brain power! Further, read a non-work related book or grab a coffee- some studies have shown optimal times from consuming caffeine fall between 9:30-11:30am and 1:30-5:30pm, times that more closely correlate with our body’s circadian clock.
Another option is listening to music; focusing on music can significantly improve our motor and reasoning skills! Depending on the environment of your workplace, a midday nap of even just 10 minutes has been shown to improve cognitive function and decrease sleepiness and fatigue. In addition, talking with friends or coworkers during a period of rest from work can increase productivity by helping us de-stress.