The power of concentration when harnessed becomes one of the most powerful tools for success and increased productivity. Concentration however is a skill that is totally antithetic to today’s pop culture. Let’s admit it our inner man-child or woman-child craves to be entertained. Being entertained is fun and refreshing but it also kills productivity like nothing else if you overindulge.
While in medical school I had to be a full time medical student studying 40+ hours per week, plus I had to be a full time wife and mother to 2 beautiful girls, in addition I also worked part time as a nurse working 20 hours per week. Trust me, increasing my productivity was not just an option it was a necessity. Starting medical school felt a little like a “sink or swim” moment and since sinking has never been an option for me I had to find a way to swim fast and to do so, I had to become PRODUCTIVE really really fast.
The most important thing I learned about PRODUCTIVITY was, in order to maximize your PRODUCTIVITY, you must increase your CONCENTRATION. I quickly realized that the ability to concentrate on a specific task or goal was the secret ingredient to most success stories. The problem is CONCENTRATION is just not sexy. It is boring and it involves things like forming great habits and breaking bad ones. Who wants to hear about that when you could be catching up on Beyonce’s pregnancy pictures? But the truth of the matter is, the ability to increase your CONCENTRATION is directly proportional to your chance of success:
So here a 5 really quick tips I learned on how to be productive. You may know some of them and you probably just need a quick reminder so here goes;
KEEP AN ACCURATE SCHEDULE:
I learned this the hard way. After forgetting important events and missing important deadlines, I finally learned my lesson. Your schedule becomes your blueprint for increasing your ability to concentrate. Although this may sound paradoxical, my ability to increase my concentration is increased when my schedule is busier. I found out that blocking out 2 hour blocks for certain tasks led to decrease productivity because there is no way I am ever going to be able to focus for 120 mins. Rather, breaking everything up into smaller time blocks usually less than one hour (see below) leads to increased productivity. Also hearing the alarm sound prompting me to move on to the next task is usually a welcomed nudge.
UNDERSTAND AND DETERMINE YOUR “FOCUS CYCLE”
“Focus cycle” is a term I made up and I define it as the amount of time you are able to solely focus on a single task before your mind wanders for good. In reality, you will get interrupted by multiple thoughts during this period but eventually your will lose concentration and your mind will wander for good. This number is different for everyone and for some it is 20 mins for others it is 60 mins. You have to determine what your study cycle is? For me it is somewhere between 30 to 40 mins. After that amount of time I am fried and I am ready to be distracted. Think of your focus cycle like the REM/NREM cycles of sleep. It is often more refreshing to wake up during the lighter stage of sleep (NREM). Likewise it is also refreshing to break your concentration at the end of your focus cycle rather than abruptly stopping in the middle of it. My focus/relaxation cycles are usually in 30–40 mins/15 mins. Notice how my focus/relaxation cycles last anywhere between 45 – 55 mins which as you may recall is the average time of each college class or period. That time length was not just chosen haphazardly but I believe it is more than likely the average time of concentration for most adult. Now I know some people who are able to be fully concentrate for 120+ mins but do not be envious these are freaks of nature. Remember the surest path to success is to be consistent with mundane but necessary tasks.
SCHEDULE SOMETHING FUN DURING YOUR 15 MINS RELAXATION BREAK
I often reward myself by watching 15 mins of my favorite show. It does however take a lot of discipline to turn off that show after 15 mins. Other times I just listen to music or I get up and dance. Unfortunately, sometimes I just answer emails because breaking out into my favorite dance steps randomly in the library may be frowned upon. My favorite thing to do however is to call my husband or a good friend for a few minutes. I usually get a great conversation and a good laugh and I can resume my work feeling refreshed.
TURN OFF YOUR PHONE
This is a real issue and yes I know you have heard it before and will probably read it on other blog posts but it bears repeating. TURN IT OFF! Or at least turn off the notifications on your phone, your watch, your laptop, your tablet. I used to turn off the notification on just my phone but then I realized that being constantly notified via my laptop was just as bad if not worst. It was getting harder and harder to ignore my daily 3 on Medium and that is just no bueno! I turned off all notifications using my mute button on my devices and this works wonders for me.
REWARD YOURSELF FOR MAJOR MILESTONES
Every time you meet a major milestone reward yourself with something fun or something useful that you would not normally splurge on. I just rewarded myself by updating my bedding linen recently. For some this is no big deal but for me this was a real splurge. I saved for a few months and I can’t explain it but I sleep much better now. Activate your mesolimbic pathway (that is the reward pathway in the brain). Get your dopamine levels and endorphins pumping and teach your brain to associate increased CONCENTRATION and PRODUCTIVITY with PLEASURE. Before you know it, you will cultivate and develop the most valuable skill and habit to ensure your success.
I recognize that we are all overworked, over exposed and over stimulated today but if you liked this article, consider liking it and sharing it with a friend, family member, colleague, hater or frenemy!
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