When brain researchers and Zen masters come to the same conclusion about productivity, maybe we should sit up and listen. According to the timeless wisdom of the ancient sages and popular science writer Daniel Goleman, we mortals need something called “open awareness” to be more productive in our everyday life.
In Goleman’s recent book, Focus: The Hidden Ingredient in Excellence, open awareness can be characterized by “utter receptivity to whatever floats in the mind.” Sound trippy? Perhaps. But a recent UMass Amherst study suggested such states produce our most creative thoughts. Unlike being selective and trying to solve a specific problem, open awareness allows the brain to make serendipitous associations that lead to fresh insights.
Think of it as productive daydreaming.
Goleman was interviewed by Forbes when his book was first published in 2013 and identified three types of focus:
- Inner focus
- Other focus
- Outer focus
Inner focus is self-awareness and self-management; other focus is empathy and outer focus is knowing the external, larger forces that shape our world.
Goleman describes three ways to apply this knowledge to the workplace. The first is to pay full attention (another way of saying that multitasking doesn’t really work). Do one thing at a time and you’ll do that thing right. Next, seek out experts to improve your performance. Finally, Goleman says you need to practice. Work, like everything else, is a process, and you can never become complacent or you’ll fall behind.
We wondered what other tips we might need to know about to be more focused and productive at work.
One way to focus is to know what to focus on. By addressing your workload and determining what needs to be done when you create a task list that facilitates efficiency. Make a three-tiered list of A work, which has an approaching deadline and needs immediate attention, B work, which have more flexibility, and, finally, C work for the loose ends and busy work.
“If you fail to prioritize tasks, this can lead to organizational and distractibility issues,” says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Training Program at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
Rego goes on to state that the work environment is one of constant distraction, which can disrupt your ability to focus on what’s important. There are voicemails, emails, coworkers, noise and a myriad other things pulling you away from your work. Sometimes even the tools you need to work can derail that work, such as the computer. If you don’t need it, then don’t turn it on, and you’ll find that you’re more productive and focused.
Stay in One Place
Being consistent is a sure way to stay on track. That consistency can be environmental. Changing where you do your work can bring about a vast amount of distracting external stimuli. But if you set down in one place and stay there you not only get used to the sounds of the place and can more easily shut them out, but you end up training your body to know that when in this location, it’s time to shift to work mode.
Research from Stanford has shown that multitasking not only dulls your focus but it may even hurt your brain. “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time,” the study says.
In fact, it’s physically impossible to do two things at once. Your brain is actually switching its focus back and forth rapidly from one task to the other. You’ll be able to better concentrate and tackle those tasks faster if you give them your complete attention.
One thing that helps you focus is using the right tools that do some of the hard work for you. ProjectManager.com has a full set of features that can help cut down your reporting time and the time you spend with daily task management, so you have time to… focus! Try it out with this free 30-day trial.