I have been studying this question for myself recently, and have discovered that first thing in the morning is the ONLY time that I can write with full focus and no distractions.
That’s BEFORE I get online and start doing all those distracting things like e-mail, FB and Twitter. Early in the morning is when my creativity flows! I have to work on my book first thing in the morning or forget about it for the rest of the day, and apparently I am not alone.
According to David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, our brains are finely attuned to distraction, so today’s digital environment makes it especially hard to focus.
While multitasking is an important skill, there is also a downside. Rock says: “It reduces our intelligence, literally dropping our IQ. We make mistakes, miss subtle cues, fly off the handle when we shouldn’t, or spell things wrong.”
To make matters worse, distraction feels great. “Your brain’s reward circuit lights up when you multitask,” Rock says, meaning that you may get an emotional high when you feel like you are doing a lot of things at once.
Here are three tips to help you become more focused and productive:
1. Do creative work first. Typically, we do mindless work first and build up to the toughest tasks. That drains your energy and lowers your focus. “An hour into doing your work, you’ve got a lot less capacity than (at the beginning),” Rock says. “Every decision we make tires the brain.”
In order to focus effectively, reverse the order. Check off the tasks that require creativity or concentration first thing in the morning, and then move on to easier work, like deleting emails or scheduling meetings, later in the day.
2. Allocate your time deliberately. By studying thousands of people, Rock found that we are truly focused for an average of only six hours per week. “You want to be really diligent with what you put into those hours,” he says.
Most people focus best in the morning or late at night, and Rock’s studies show that 90% of people do their best thinking outside the office. Notice where and when you focus best, then allocate your toughest tasks for those moments.
3. Train your mind like a muscle. When multitasking is the norm, your brain quickly adapts. You lose the ability to focus as distraction becomes a habit. “We’ve trained our brains to be unfocused,” Rock says.
Practice concentration by turning off all distractions and committing your attention to a single task. Start small, maybe five minutes per day, and work up to larger chunks of time. If you find your mind wandering, just return to the task at hand. “It’s just like getting fit,” Rock says. “You have to build the muscle to be focused.”