Today, right now, you can push your productivity into overdrive.
And that means protecting your time and focusing on the essentials, with no room for interruptions and distractions.
Human beings are, essentially, single-core processors.
Once you start juggling tasks, you divide your attention, concentration, focus, and in the end, everything suffers.
And guess what, you increase the time spent refocusing on important tasks.
To do your best work, you need to be able to focus at will, and overcome constant interruptions.
Yet, only few people really understand just how bad the interruption issue is.
The law of homogeneous sequences
Carson’s Law, also known as Law of homogeneous sequences states that a task completed in one single stretch will actually be completed much faster than doing that same task in multiple attempts or multiple goals.
The law was named after Swedish researcher who theorised back in the 1950s that it takes less time and energy to complete a task in one go than it does if you continuously stop and start.
Or put another way, once you start doing something you must finish it (or at least you shouldn’t start until you have everything you need to accomplish it).
A task started should always be finished before moving on to the next one.
The benefits of single tasking cannot be overemphasised.
Alternating between tasks gives the illusion of productivity.
When you are responding to a multitudes of demands, you think you are making progress, but in actual fact, you are moving tasks at a snail pace.
Any interruption (work-related or not) introduces a change in work pattern.
In a study, “The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress” Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith and Ulrich Klocke concluded that, “…interruptions lead people to change not only work rhythms but also strategies and mental states.”
It’s like switching rungs on a ladder, you lose your momentum if you keep going up and down instead of taking more steps and getting to the top.
Interrupting a task once you’ve reached your maximum productivity phase implies you’ll have to go back to the beginning, thus waste time, energy and efficiency.
Distraction is the enemy!
“If you see distraction externally, you end up creating an internally distracted state.” — Tim Ferriss
Demand for our time is increasingly exceeding our capacity — draining us of the energy we need to bring our skill and talent fully to life.
We are currently exposed to an unprecedented flood of information and requests than ever before.
And we feel compelled to read and respond at all hours of the day and night.
Being selective, doing less, is the path of the productive.
It pays to focus on the important few and ignore the rest.
“The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention,” Nicholas Carr explains in his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. “We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”
Learn to transition between tasks
In order to stay focused for longer periods, it is advisable to organise sequences of interconnected tasks.
“We have to proactively manage the way we transition between tasks to help our attention be more focused and less distracted or divided among everything we have on our plate,” says Sophie Leroy from the University of Washington Bothell School of Business.
“The ready-to-resume plan is one simple way to help when dealing with frequent interruptions” she adds.
If we do similar things like, for example, checking our backlog of emails, we’ll stay highly focused.
Alternating between tasks also diminishes your intellectual capacity.
Many experts are also telling us that these interruptions and distractions have eroded our ability to concentrate.
“In 2005, research carried out by Dr Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, writes Harriet Griffey of The Guardian.
Don’t take the mental cost of switching from one task to another lightly.
Many experts advise their audience to get rid of notifications, or use noise cancelling headphones so they can get in the zone and don’t get bothered by audio cues or visual cues visual distractions.
If you take Carlson’s Law into account when planning your work, not only will you optimise time, but also efficiency and productivity.
Emails, tweets, status updates, phone calls, text and meetings are just some of the known intrusions that occur all day every day.
You cant ignore them, but you can plan you work schedule so that you deal with them in a way that retains your productivity.
Use the 90 minutes cycle to your advantage
The human body operates on cycles called “ultradian rhythms.”
According to research, during each of these cycles, there is a peak when we are most energised and a period when we are exhausted.
Your brain can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes at a time.
Afterwards, a 20–30 minute break is required for you to get the renewal to achieve high performance for your next task again, according to research.
During a productive sprint, you focus only on one task at a time and avoid distractions.
Each sprint has a specific goal, and the end of the sprint signals a break to relax and set up for the next sprint.
Reset your brain for peak performance
Studies are showing that taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive.
It pays to go on a media fast. Turn off your email for a few hours or even a full day if you can, or try “fasting” from news, entertainment and all distractions that prevent you from taking advantage of regular breaks.
It’s only when you come to appreciate and accept the ebbs and flows of your body that you can really start to deliver maximum results.
The world is getting louder. Distractions are inevitable. But silence is still accessible if you plan for it and stick to it.
Take a break for greater concentration. All the little tasks and decisions you have to make every day as you work gradually deplete your psychological resources.
Taking a break (even for 15 to 20 minutes) is a proven way to sustain concentration and energy levels throughout the day.
Taking breaks is biologically restorative.
Daniel J. Levitin of McGill University once wrote about the importance or reseting your brain every now and then. “If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods” says Daniel.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. This is a result of how the brain’s attentional system evolved. Our brains have two dominant modes of attention: the task-positive network and the task-negative network (they’re called networks because they comprise distributed networks of neurons, like electrical circuits within the brain).
The task-positive network is active when you’re actively engaged in a task, focused on it, and undistracted; neuroscientists have taken to calling it the central executive. The task-negative network is active when your mind is wandering; this is the daydreaming mode. These two attentional networks operate like a seesaw in the brain: when one is active the other is not.
The human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days. The good news is that there is a fix to get back on track–all you need is a brief interruption (aka a break) to get back on track.
Harvard Business Review examines another important benefit of scheduling breaks on purpose. They allow you to reset and refocus on the right things
When you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. It’s a practice that encourages us to stay mindful of our objectives…
Short breaks will reduce your stress and re-energise your up time, increasing your creativity, productivity and enthusiasm.
Breaks give you the much needed time to rest your eyes, move around, stretch your stiff muscles, get more blood and oxygen flowing to your brain, to refresh and obtain a fresh outlook on problems that need fresh perspective.