How to be more concentrated, create better products and be a better colleague
Concentration was not much of a topic 20 or 30 years ago. Most people could easily focus on page-length articles without pictures or infographics. This is hard for us since we are constantly bombarded with information about all sorts of channels and devices. The new media takes our attention almost uninterruptedly and our impulsive brain is helplessly exposed to the many stimuli.
Attention is the new currency
The digital world is brilliant!(?)
The countless positive achievements of the digital age are undisputed. The only problem is that our brain has not yet learned to deal with the modern flood of stimuli. When we’re not in a workflow tunnel, our brain constantly scans the environment for new stimuli and pounces on any interesting information. Nowadays we are constantly receiving new messages over the smartphone and the internet, so our brain absorbs them permanently unfiltered. Even before a stimulus can be processed, we jump to the next and feel exhaustion only when it is already too late.
Added to this is the fateful addictive potential: achieving positive stimuli such as Facebook Likes or viral videos your brain, it pours out the feel-good hormone dopamine. — This can cause you to jump happily back and forth between posts and animal videos and eventually become chronically distracted.
It is especially difficult when we try to do several tasks simultaneously — also known as multitasking. This way of working is not only ineffective, but even unhealthy. We can not dedicate ourselves to several things at the same time. In fact, when multitasking, our brain jumps between different tasks instead of mastering it simultaneously. This leads to an overload and reduces the quality of the work. The high pressure also leads to the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which is harmful in the long term.
Wealth of information generates poverty of attention
To concentrate you need a clear and attractive task.
Sometimes concentration is a breeze, e.g. if you are engrossed in an exciting book. Unfortunately, as some things are less interesting, it requires some effort and discipline to stay on the ball in such situations.
The following three things will help you.
First, a well-defined task is like a magnet for your attention.
A concrete, yet unattained goal draws our attention almost magically. The more clearly you know what you want to achieve, the less likely your thoughts digress. Just imagine, you want to operate in the morning “client management”. Such a vague goal will hardly motivate you to work purposefully. If you make a phone list of 10 clients between 9am and 11am, your success rate will be significantly higher. You know exactly what to do, and with each checkmark you can set a milestone that will motivate you to keep going.
Second, a motivational task should be attractive, neither over-nor under-demanding.
When a task seems to be over your head, it creates stress, which in turn affects your thinking. This makes the task even more difficult and causes further stress. A vicious circle that causes your brain to seek compensation for more pleasurable stimuli. You may feel overwhelmed at such moments with checking your emails or playing a round of Angry Birds.
In case of under-demand, the opposite happens. Your brain is not busy with the easy task and is looking for additional stimuli. You start thinking about other things in parallel and are already completely distracted.
A task should be clearly defined and reasonably to keep us stay focused
The third and most important condition for concentrated work is simple: calmness. But how do you manage to create islands of silence in the storm of daily chaos?
First of all, you should turn off annoying devices and applications and remove potential distractions from your field of vision. It actually helps deliberately mute the phone, close the e-mail client, and actively shield the inner temple of concentration from unwanted noise. Those who tend to take unplanned surf breaks while working can even block access to the network for a while with apps like Self-Control or Freedom.
Sometimes, worries and fears emerge abruptly from the depths of our consciousness and pool our capacities. If you notice that your thoughts continue to wander even without external influence, you can direct your attention back to the present with short concentration exercises. This brings yesterday’s argument with your partner, the outstanding bills or the planning of your next vacation at least for the moment in the background: Take a few minutes, close your eyes, take a deep breath and let your mind wander consciously through your body. As you trace into your arms, feet and toes, you bring your thoughts of your body back to the here and now.
Afterwards you open your eyes and go back to work with renewed energy.
Your brain needs breaks and creative freedom
If you are working on an important project and finally making good progress, you would probably like to continue working until completion. Unfortunately, your brain does not participate, because concentrated work takes up a lot of energy despite everything. Therefore, introduce regular breaks for mental recovery in your work schedule.
Even if we are deeply immersed in a task and do not perceive the work in this tunnel as such — our performance inevitably decreases. Imagine your brain as a mental muscle that performs well in concentrated work and therefore loses strength sooner or later. Since fatigue and mistakes creep in at some point, it is rather counterproductive to work through them for hours without a break.
Therefore, schedule a pause of about ten minutes every 50 to 60 minutes, during which you will definitely initiate other brain functions. Leave the e-mails and the internet to the left and do something instead, e.g. a short walk in the fresh air.
However, there are also activities where too much attention is even unwanted. Concentration helps us to achieve productivity and efficiency, especially when we are gradually working through a task.
But, if we want to create something completely new or find creative solutions to a problem, we can not continue with concentration. It takes the opposite: distraction and distraction.
To be truly creative our mind should exceptionally not be at work but free to float through the boundlessness of associations. Again and again scientists and artists confirm that they had the greatest ideas in moments of relaxation and calmness.
As paradoxical as it sounds, sometimes we have to be scattered to work effectively.
What can you do?
Be aware that you check your emails only two or three times a day instead of every 15 minutes. You will notice that you still can not miss anything and in between you can fully concentrate on other things.
Take your Inner-Hulk for a walk
Stress and pressure additionally reduce the ability to concentrate. You can reduce excess adrenaline by doing sports regularly.
Create islands of calm, e.g. through certain periods of the day when you are unavailable. During this time you can doing tasks from a to z exactly how you planned it.
Thanks for reading my short article “Creativity, concentration and get shit done” — I would love to get feedback from you, just drop me a line!
Creativity, concentration and get shit done was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.