Dazed, delirious and distracted. Does that sound like you? Do you ever get to 3pm and wonder where the day has gone and why there aren’t more things crossed off your to-do list? Don’t worry, everyone feels like that sometimes. But, according to the experts at music licensing company PPL PRS, there are some very simple things that you can do to improve your deep focus and in turn boost your productivity.
What is deep focus?
Deep focus, otherwise known as deep work, is a state of mind where you can concentrate solely on one task. It is when you remove all other distractions and thoughts, enabling your brain to work at the highest possible level of intensity that it can. It is, in essence, the opposite of procrastination.
Shallow work, on the other hand, is when your attention is divided across a whole load of different tasks. It’s like when you have your emails, your Twitter page, and a half-finished list of bullet points in front of you all at once. It becomes easy to flit from one task to the other and lose what you really set out to do.
Most of us are likely to fill the majority of our day with shallow work, primarily because it’s just easy to do. The reality is though, that the bigger, more immersive tasks need doing, and they are more likely to require our undivided attention.
Giving both shallow and deep tasks the right amount of attention requires a specific way of thinking, and that’s why it takes work. So, here are PPL PRS’ tips to get you started:
Switch off social media
These days, it’s really hard to switch off from the outside world, and that’s primarily thanks to social media. It’s an easy distraction to give in to, helping us satisfy our desire to keep in touch with friends and family, and stay up to date with the latest news and information.
One reason for many people’s addiction to social media may be dopamine, a chemical released in the brain that can contribute to our happiness. Studies suggest that using social media can release dopamine and this in turn can encourage repeated use of social media.
What most of us know as ‘FOMO’ on social media (the fear of missing out) can also act as a huge distraction, whether you’re at work, watching the television or supposed to be paying attention to a romantic date. So, how can we combat it?
Simply turning your phone off is probably the simplest answer, but it might not be an option if you’re expecting an important call. Instead, try turning off your notifications or setting your phone to ‘do not disturb’. That way, only the most important messages will get through, and you can start to focus on deep work without your most pressing distraction. If that doesn’t work, there are plenty of apps ready to download that can help you stay off social media.
If you’ve got a big project to work on, or a deep piece of work at the top of your to do list, preparation could be your best friend. Making sure that you have everything you need in place before you get started is vital, so that you can avoid having to get up and lose focus along the way.
Blocking off the right amount of your time in the calendar is vital, but always remember that deep tasks can take longer than you might expect. Make sure you leave time to make amends, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get a big task done in a small amount of time. If you leave too little time, your brain might start wandering onto what’s coming next, and you’ll lose focus.
Listen to music
Listening to music whilst working can bring several benefits, not only in improving our mood but also in increasing productivity. Music that you know and enjoy listening to has a great effect on the brain, notably improving your focus.
It all happens because unfamiliar music can act as a distraction as your brain attempts to take in new information and sounds. Plus, research suggests that music you enjoy stimulates the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, making getting through your to-do list more enjoyable.
Music without any lyrics is also proven to be beneficial, as words can be incredibly distracting to some people. A UK study found that general background noise isn’t the main contributory factor when it comes to a loss of focus in deep tasks, and it actually depends on how intelligible the words are. For some people it’s the words that break our concentration, as we stop to think about what they mean.
Take a break
Achieving a deep level of focus is incredibly rewarding and can make your day a whole lot more productive, but it can also be exhausting to work for a prolonged period of time, which can cause you to also be less efficient. That’s why it’s still important to take breaks.
Naturally, our brains wander, whether it’s because we’re bored or because we’re getting tired. Even thinking about what we’re having for dinner can be more exciting than the deep work we’ve buried our heads in, so it’s important to have some down time and make the most of it.
Make sure that you schedule your breaks in properly and use them to their fullest. Whether you need to grab a snack or spend ten minutes chatting to a friend, just make sure that you’re really taking abreak from all work.
Taking control of your working day, planning when you can get your work done, and minimising distractions is essential. And developing a habit for deep work can be incredibly beneficial for your workload in the long run.