The Productivity Box: Brain Hacks for When Your Focus Slips Away

Focus is the main ingredient in productivity. Without it, you won’t be able to complete the tasks on your list in an accurate, efficient manner. As powerful as focus is, it can be hard to sustain. If you’ve noticed an ebb in your attention and concentration levels, there are ways to get back into focus and be more productive.

The Productivity Box: Brain Hacks for When Your Focus Slips Away

In this installment of The Productivity Box, let’s discuss a few brain hacks to overcome your barriers to focus. The goal is to make sure you can maximize workflow and strengthen your performance.

The connection between focus and productivity

Focus requires two key elements—concentration and attention. Concentration is the ability to harness the mental energy and functional skills to perform a certain activity, while attention is the state of blocking out all other distractions to immerse yourself in one singular objective. These traits combine to generate deep focus, which is a doorway into flow state.

According to the Behavioral Sciences Journal, flow state is acute, intense absorption in a task to the point where you lose awareness of time and other external factors around you. Entering flow state can lead to a 500 percent increase in productivity, the journal continues. That deep focus of flow state can impact your work performance in many ways, including:

  • Boost in creativity
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Effective decision making
  • Increased task enjoyment
  • More self-control
  • Clear goal orientation
  • Higher quality deliverables
  • Flexible thinking
  • Faster processing speed
  • Decrease in errors
  • Sharpening of skills
  • Efficient time management
  • Less cognitive load

Flow state creates a hyper-aware—almost meditative—frame of mind in which the task begins to feel seamless, and your mental reserves aren’t constantly draining from the overstimulation of emails, phone calls, social media, or other potential distractions.

That’s because flow state optimizes executive control in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, Behavioral Sciences points out. This allows you to direct attentional focus to the project at hand for as long as necessary. Bottom line: the more focused you are, the more you’ll accomplish. Getting into the flow is one of the brain hacks for boosting your productivity.

Why it can feel so difficult to focus sometimes

A recent survey found that two in three (out of 1,600) respondents have a difficult time focusing on one task, and one in three admit to losing their focus after only 10 minutes. This can have many ramifications—for these respondents, lack of focus lead to:

  • 73% feeling overwhelmed by their tasks
  • 72% dealing with frequent stress
  • 71% feeling slow or inefficient at work

We’re in a midst of a shrinking attention spans pandemic, but rest assure, there are ways to fight it.

5 main culprits that could be derailing your focus

Just about everyone will experience an occasional lack of focus, but if it’s a recurring theme for you, it might not be you. Here are some internal or environmental issues that might be getting in the way of your focus.

  • Mental strain – According to the Translational Psychiatry Journal, depression, anxiety, chronic stress, and other poor mental health outcomes can decrease your attention span. This often makes it hard to summon motivation, retain task-relevant information, and prevent your mind from wandering off-course.
  • External noise – The average employee will encounter 56 interruptions each day—80 percent of which are non-essential to their jobs. Between the constant ping of emails, chats, phone calls, or social media notifications, it’s not a stretch to see how all those noisy distractions can sabotage your focus.
  • Multitasking – You might assume that doing two or more projects simultaneously will save you time, but the human brain isn’t naturally wired to multitask. This effort splits your attentional focus, which overstimulates cognitive function and ultimately leads to inefficient performance. You’d better start doing one task at a time now!
  • Disorganization – If your work area is filled with clutter, that lack of organization could also dishevel your mental space. The brain wants order, so subjecting it to a messy environment can drain cognitive resources, impair the ability to focus, or even cause procrastination, according to Harvard Business Review.
  • Insufficient rest – While you’re asleep, the brain can replenish its front parietal and default mode networks, both of which control task-related activities, the Neurosciences Journal points out. But not enough rest will deplete these networks, which causes more fatigue, less alertness, and weakened concentration.

Transforming these distractions that sabotage your focus into advantages could significantly enhance your ability to concentrate.

Brain hacks to reclaim your focus on the job

A consistent lack of focus can harm productivity—but this outcome is entirely preventable. No matter what’s causing your own focus to plummet, a few strategic brain hacks can help to rejuvenate it.

  • Schedule your most strenuous task first. The most productive working hours are 9 to 11am, according to a recent survey. Take advantage and complete the hardest, most important task during that block of time. Your brain is more alert in the morning than later in the afternoon, which makes it easier to focus. Plus, being able to cross a difficult project off your to-do list will alleviate stress and create momentum to fuel you through the entire workday.
  • Segment each project into smaller chunks. A large project with meticulous details is often overwhelming, which can lead to procrastination. But if you break it into a series of bite-sized action steps, the whole job will feel more manageable. Once you determine the first of these smaller tasks, set a timer for 3 to 45 minutes, then work consistently without interruptions until you finish.
  • Reward yourself with an incremental break. After completing each small task within the larger project, allow yourself a breather to decompress and restore your cognitive resources. Research in the PLOS One Journal found that even 10-minute micro-breaks will sharpen your mind, boost energy levels, reduce mental fatigue, and help you refocus on the next action item to accomplish.

Use these ideas to boost your attention and concentration skills, tune out distractions, and shift your performance into the next gear.

Strengthen your focus

The workday can be stressful and full of distractions, but that doesn’t mean your focus has to suffer.

Implementing simple yet effective brain hacks can substantially elevate focus and productivity in the workplace. By strategically organizing tasks into manageable chunks and incorporating the Pomodoro Technique—breaking work into intervals with short breaks in between—you can optimize your cognitive resources. Additionally, creating a designated, clutter-free workspace and leveraging ambient background sounds or music can foster an environment favorable for concentration. These small adjustments not only enhance mental clarity but also contribute to sustained focus and efficiency throughout the workday.

Use these brain hacks to realign yourself and boost productivity in the workplace, allowing you to feel a sense of accomplishment for what you can achieve. And keep following The Productivity Box series each month for more tips and tricks.

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