When you have your plate full, keeping focused isn’t always easy. And when we can’t give our full attention to a task, we can’t give it our best. This can start a cycle of demotivation and non-productivity, unless we pull in the reins and turn it around.
It takes a strong resolve to focus, good motivation, and working smartly to beat distractions. Here are some ways to hone your ability to focus and stay focused on the task at hand:
1. Planned productivity
Reserve time for daily tasks according to how your personal productivity and attention levels vary throughout the day. You might be a morning person for example, whose mind is freshest for challenging tasks early in the day, and simpler ones later. If you aren’t sure when you are most productive, consciously explore this over a week or two, making notes of what works well for you.
When you have figured out your personal productivity scale, note down your tasks for the day in a small diary that you can carry around with you, and update as you go along. Taking tasks out of your head and putting them on paper is a relief for your mind, and a written commitment to yourself. Be realistic about how much you can fit into one day, taking into account your other responsibilities.
3. You can’t eat an elephant!
Break up big tasks into small manageable ones that you can note down, and handle step-by-step. This makes them easier to carry out, and should leave you feeling less overwhelmed. Once you have noted something down, stick to what you have set out: whether you feel like doing it or not. Small acts done consistently will bear fruit over time. Allah (glorified and exalted be He) exhorts us to persevere in order to beat the clock and attain eternal success:
“By (the Token of) time (through the Ages). Verily Man is in loss. Except such as have Faith and do righteous deeds and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth and of Patience and Constancy.” [Qur’an: Chapter 103, Verses 1-3]
Keep at it to keep your head above water! Take regular breaks, re-group and don’t give up.
4. Direct your focus
Remove all distractions that are taking your mind off the task at hand, or decreasing your productivity. Be honest with yourself about what these are.
Do not have any social networks close at hand while working! If you think you can multi-task better than most online, read the next tip.
If you aren’t sure of your optimal working environment, research ways to improve it and experiment with different options until you find a good fit for yourself.
In today’s always-on hyper-connected world, it is difficult to resist the temptation to open a new tab when we work online. And when we’re offline, our handheld devices never skip a beat. We forget that we have the power to choose to switch off. Given current research, mono-tasking is the smarter choice. A while ago multi-tasking was all the rage. But now it has been scientifically proven that in constant switching back and forth between tasks, one is actually slowed down.
The impact of multi-tasking varies across tasks of different intensities. Switching between casually reading a magazine and texting a friend won’t reduce productivity as greatly as texting and driving will (where the accompanying slowdown can mean life or death), but some level of impairment does occur. According to one study, productivity can be reduced by as much as 40 percent due to the mental slowdown in switching tasks.
Even more shocking is that over time, “heavy” media multi-taskers experience a reduced ability to filter out irrelevant information, i.e. distractors. That means that while we may think we’re getting more done at once, we’re actually reducing our own ability to focus, and in effect, our productivity!
A word to the wise: Reduce multi-tasking across unrelated tasks as far as possible.
6. Reward yourself
Sometimes when we have a task ahead of us – even if we enjoy the work we are doing – it can be a struggle to actually get down to doing it. This is only human, and we work better when we’re motivated to do a task. So why not create a reward for yourself for afterwards, as motivation to get it done? It doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. It can be something as simple as sitting in the park sipping your favorite coffee undisturbed, or taking a trip to the swimming pool, which you never have time for. Make time to get your tasks done, and make time for yourself too.
7. Don’t overdo it
It is important to know when you have passed your productivity level on a certain task and are now beating a dead horse. When your back aches and your mind isn’t functioning as well as it was, give yourself a break and focus on a simpler task. You can come back to this one when your mind is refreshed and ready again.
8. Keep sharp
Sleep well, eat healthy and make time for prayer, recreation and socializing. Work time should be work time, and rest time is rest time.
As believers, our strength is in our faith. It keeps us grounded and focused. So relax and focus your mind with meditation on Allah (glorified and exalted be He)’s creation, and do dhikr for a few minutes every day.
Try to establish a routine for your daily tasks: concentrating and getting them done one at a time will soon become a habit, in sha Allah.
Most importantly, make time each day to reflect on your deeds for the day and your productivity towards this life, and the next. Review to improve constantly, and the sky is the limit!