Do you find yourself struggling to stay focused? At the end of the day do you feel like you’ve been busy but not really accomplished the tasks you needed to get done?
Whether you are used to working from an office or from home, your work environment has certainly changed during this crisis. You will probably find your attention being pulled in many different directions between work and home obligations. Add to this the lack of focus you may be experiencing due to the challenges and anxieties presented by this unprecedented time and you will undoubtedly be finding it hard to get into the zone, particularly with more complex work tasks.
Getting into the zone is known as achieving flow state, a positive psychology concept which occurs when you are completely engaged in an activity to the point where you may lose track of time and what’s going on around you. Being in a state of flow leads to greater output, higher levels of creativity and feelings of happiness and accomplishment. All of which I imagine you could do with right now. Here are my suggestions for how to get yourself into a flow state.
Prepare your mind
We only have a finite amount of attention we can direct to any one thing and a finite amount of information we can retain and so we need to make sure that capacity is being used for the right thing. Get anything that is vying for your attention but not directly relevant to the task at hand off your mind – release your cognitive load. Perhaps more commonly referred to as brain dumping this can be done by writing down or recording a voice memo of absolutely everything that is whirring around and in place as a potential distraction.
Remove the distractions
It can take 15–20 minutes to get fully absorbed by a task and into a true state of flow. Every time your focus is broken, that’s another 15 minutes to get yourself back to where you were. Try to notice where your distractions are coming from and make changes where you can – is it notifications on your phone, your inbox, interruptions from other people?
It’s difficult at the moment when most people are working at home – you’re not just getting used to working in a different way yourself, you might also have family members who are now effectively your co-workers, all with their own distracting quirks and habits. But you need to do what you can to protect your working time in order to boost your productivity, which will then leave you with more time to spend with those co-workers once you’ve all clocked off for the day!
One thing at a time
Don’t try to multitask. It sounds efficient to achieve more than one thing at a time, but in reality, shifting between tasks is counterproductive and it will take you longer to complete anything as you bounce your attention around and have to take the time to refocus.
Where possible, finish a task before moving on. If you work something through from start to end, you can avoid being left with ‘attention residue’ – if you move on to something else before you have fully completed it, some of your attention will remain with the first project, even as you’re trying to focus in on something new. The process of batching can help with this: grouping related components of the same larger job together, either into time slots of, say, 90 minutes, or into complete assignments that will then allow you to move on to a new focus area when finished.
Move through the struggle
This diagram demonstrates the process of getting into a state of flow. There are lots of ways to try and move through the struggle phase but this is what helps me.
Start with your breathing. On each inhale, count to six and then stretch each exhale to a count of twelve. Doing this for a couple of minutes will help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down the fight or flight response in your body; this will improve your decision making and problem-solving abilities.
I find that giving myself a 15 minute ‘get-out’ clause tends to work really well. When I’m in the struggle stage of the process, I tell myself that I just need to try for 15 minutes and if I’m still not properly focused on the task at the end of that time I can move on to something else. Giving myself the excuse to stop generally results in me actually reaching a state of flow; by allowing myself an out I’ve removed the need to fight against being there and it becomes easier to sit with the physical and mental restlessness and go on to become fully absorbed in what I’m working on.
Know when it’s just not working
Having said that, there are some days where I just can’t get through the struggle phase and that’s ok. It’s important to recognise that there is no sense in trying to force yourself through if you are simply too tired, or don’t have the mental capacity at that point or are just not in the right place. You’re better off stepping away completely in this instance and returning to the task at a later point when you are better equipped to tackle it.
If you’d like to talk more about ways to manage your current experience, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07837993241.