“Starve your distractions. Feed your focus.” ~ Unknown
What Destroys Productivity
We live in a society that both craves and requires an elite level of productivity. It’s often said that you’re being left behind if you’re not producing.
This leads to a life filled with multi-tasking, over-committing, and a lack of sleep.
Being productive is not bad, but what’s being caught up in the wake of your striving to be more productive?
Three Ways You Can Be More Productive
Here are three ways you can begin being more productive without being destructive toward other areas of your life:
- Increase Cognitive Bandwidth
When you wake up in the morning, you typically charge your phone during the night, and, upon first glance, it is at 100% battery life.
Think of this as your cognitive bandwidth.
Like your phone, your choices, habits, and routines feed or take away your cognitive bandwidth every minute of the day (even when you’re asleep).
I’m sure you’ve felt the days when it seems everything is clicking. You’re focused, energized, and ready to tackle the tasks before you’ve sipped your coffee.
This is a day when you’ve got a lot of cognitive bandwidth.
Then, on the other hand, there are days when you feel depleted, can’t focus on anything, seem to be checking your phone more often, and skip your workout.
This would be a day where you’ve depleted your bandwidth.
It is the smallest of details in the day and night that determine what level of bandwidth you possess throughout the day.
Here are a few things that take away from cognitive bandwidth:
- Micro-decisions (i.e., what to wear, what to eat, when to work out, etc.)
- Task-switching (working on a project while intermittently responding to a text thread)
- Poor sleep (read here)
- Low heart rate variability (read here)
- Increased cognitive load (see below)
Here are a few ways you can increase your cognitive bandwidth:
- Set out your clothes the night before
- Plan your meals and meal times (this also helps you make great nutritional choices!)
- Practice day-scripting
- Create a task list Focus on proper sleep hygiene practices (read here)
To be more productive, find ways to improve your cognitive bandwidth.
- Reduce Cognitive Load
When you’re at work, it’s very common to open multiple computer tabs while switching between email, projects, and video calls.
Think of cognitive load as the number of tabs you have open on your computer.
Cognitive load is the amount of working memory in the brain.
More cognitive load = worsened concentration = worsened productivity.
Here are a few ways you can reduce your cognitive load:
- Stop Multitasking! Contrary to popular belief, this is not helpful.
- Get sweaty! When you work out, your brain releases BDNF, which helps with working memory.
- Focus on your sleep (read here)
- Practice meditation to clear your mind (read here)
To reduce cognitive load, begin looking for areas in your life where you feel overwhelmed or overworked - and simplify!
- Get into Flow!
Flow is a state of being where we feel our best and perform at our best.
To be in flow, cognitive bandwidth must be high and cognitive load must be low. On top of that, you must be free from distractions.
There’s an idea in the world of productivity and concentration called “Parkinson’s Law.”
Parkinson’s Law states that a task will expand to the amount of time allowed.
For example, if you set a time block of 90-minutes to write an article, the article will most likely take close to (or slightly longer than) 90-minutes.
However, if you shrink that time down to, say, 45-minutes, the very same task will be completed in a shorter amount simply because you allowed less time for it.
Give Flow a Try!
Being in a flow state works best when you intentionally create “flow blocks” throughout your day.
Essentially, this means that 3-4 times per day, you are intentionally focused on one singular task for 60-90 minutes. Nothing else.
Then, between the flow blocks, you allow reasonable time to take a mental break and do something you enjoy.
To improve your concentration, consider employing flow blocks in your work day.
Take Time to Set Yourself Up to Be Productive
To conclude, concentration is tricky, especially in a society that demands high levels of productivity at an ever-increasing pace.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your concentration and productivity, start with increasing your cognitive bandwidth, reducing your cognitive load, and getting into flow!