How’s Your Focus?

Are you drowning in a sea of distractions?

You could be losing up to 40% of your productive time through something that many think is a great ability. What’s that great ability? Multi-tasking.

I received a video last week from Tim Tarango of NLP fame. He points out that losing 40% of productive time is losing almost 4 hours of an 8 hour workday. Think about that – jumping from one task to another is costing you time, efficiency, and the quality of your work is likely suffering as well.

How are you managing your workload?  Do you have a system to track your tasks and create a daily and weekly schedule for maximum productivity?  Are you making consistent progress toward achieving your goals?

Are you spending too much time working?  Are you able to meet deadlines and still maintain sufficient time downtime outside of work?  Or are you taking on more than you can accomplish? Do you have enough free time to take care of your family, friends, and to truly enjoy life?  Would others say that you do quality work on time and on budget?

Productivity means that you work faster and get more quality work accomplished in less time. When you are productive, you get to spend time on what matters most to you. Your ability to focus gets you there.

Whether it’s distractions from email or social media, or the telephone or co-workers, productivity suffers from lack of focus.  Tim compares multi-tasking to shifting gears on a race car – every time you do so, you’re losing momentum.  If you’re a business owner, how much is that loss of momentum costing you?

Multi-tasking makes you’re less productive.  It means that you are not as successful as you could be.  It will limit your money-making potential and can cut into your free time as you have to expend more time completing tasks that you would do much faster if you were focused.

What’s the answer?  In The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance, authors Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann examine the flow state and how mental focus sharpens performance.  The flow state is the state of mind when you are the most creative and productive.  Athletes call this “being in the zone.”  It will greatly increase your productivity and help you create the margins you need to enjoy life.  How do you get there?

In a 2004 TED talk, Dr. Mihaly Csiksentmihaly used the following chart to explain the balance that must exist to achieve optimal mental flow.  It is the balance between the challenge of a particular task and the skill of the person seeking to achieve that task.


Let’s break down how the challenge of a task and the skill of a performer achieve different levels of productivity.

  • Apathy is the state of lowest challenge and lowest skill level meet.  Our productivity is hurt because we’re not mentally engaged in what we’re doing.
  • Boredom is the mental state where a low-level challenge is met by a medium level of skill.  Again, we’re not really engaged mentally.
  • Worry happens where a medium difficulty and a low skill level meet.  Our worry cuts into our productivity.
  • Anxiety occurs when a challenge is high and the skill level to meet that challenge is low.  Again, our productivity is negatively affected by our emotions.
  • Arousal happens when the challenge is high and there is a medium level of skill.  Similar to worry and anxiety, arousal is not the optimum emotional place to be for optimal productivity.
  • Relaxation happens when the challenge is easy and the skill level is high.  We can accomplish a lot when we’re relaxed, but not as much as when there’s a higher challenge.
  • Control occurs when there is a medium challenge that is met with a high skill level.  Similar to the relaxation state, we’re not sufficiently challenged to perform at our best.
  • The mental flow state is the nexus between high challenges and high skill levels.  The challenges are difficult, but not overwhelming; the skill level is high enough to meet the challenges.  This is the mental state where we can offer our best efforts.

How can we get to the mental flow state where we are most productive?

Finding the Mental Flow State

First, we can develop our skills so that we can meet the highest standards in our niche or industry to meet the tasks and activities required with the highest skill level possible.

Second, develop the discipline that the highest mental flow state requires.  This level of discipline can come through prayer, meditation, exercise, martial arts, practicing or performing music, or a host of other activities that require us to stay focused on the present moment.

Third, set well-defined goals that challenge you to achieve your best.  What is it that you want to achieve?  It may be completing an important project, or meeting a deadline or challenge. Doing work that demands our full attention and concentration can get us into the highest mental flow state.  Flow experiences happen when we are fully immersed in what we are doing. This is when excellence happens.

Fourth, set aside sufficient time to complete the task.  While the flow state will save you time and increase your productivity, you cannot rush into it.  It happens as you fully immerse yourself in your challenge.

Fifth, focus completely on the task at hand – this is where the mental flow state happens and this is where distractions like multitasking will destroy any hope of getting there.  Often when your attention is broken, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get back to the flow state where you are most productive.

Be aware that your emotional state can inhibit your ability to find the flow state.  Negative emotions like anger, anxiety, apathy, boredom, or worry, will be barriers to you finding the flow state – consult the chart above.

In a 2013 study, Owen Schaffer of Human Factors International describes “the zone” of mental flow as “an intense and focused concentration on the present moment.”  He found seven conditions of the optimal flow state:

  1. High challenges
  2. High skills sufficient to meet high challenges
  3. Knowing what to do (the task or challenge)
  4. Knowing how to do it (knowledge and skill)
  5. Knowing how well you’re doing (feedback)
  6. Knowing where to go next (workflow)
  7. Freedom from distraction

As you work, seek to set conditions so that you can be most productive.  Understanding mental flow can help you do that.

I welcome your questions and comments, and your likes and shares.

 

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