Focus

Our culture seems to be a little addicted to overwork. I mean, working hard, putting effort in, getting heaps done. That’s all good, isn’t it? That’s valuable. That makes us feel like productive members of society.

We can tell ourselves that we are working and that it’s all goodness and duty, but maybe sometimes we are working long hours to avoid our families, or our feelings, or ourselves.

And just because we are putting long hours in, doesn’t necessarily mean we are getting heaps done.

Moz remembers a time when he was doing a night shift. He and his boss worked until around 3am when they realised that their productivity and efficiency had gone right down. They chose to take a nap for a couple of hours and then get back on with it. They finished up at around 7am.

If they had worked through, they probably would have still finished at around 7am. The nap gave them the boost of energy they needed to work efficiently for the rest of the night.

In a similar way, the other week my pastor took a mental health day. He works six days a week and after a while he got a bit tired. (Fair enough!) By taking a mental health day he could come back to work refreshed and get more done, more efficiently. 

But I hope you notice that there’s a word that keeps coming up in this discussion, and that’s ‘efficient’.

A business in the UK (Voucher Cloud) surveyed 1989 workers and asked them how many hours they would actually work in an 8-hour day. The answer averaged out at just under 3 hours a day. What did they do for the rest of the work day? They read the news, chatted, made snacks and hot drinks, made phone calls, and even applied for new jobs! 

By working efficiently and effectively, you can get more done in less time and free up time to do what you love.

There are several tricks that you can use to get this efficiency and sense of focus.

Firstly, it is a good idea to figure out what you are working on right now. Make a list, prioritise, and then focus on the job that is the top of the list. If you’re jumping from job to job, you’re not going to make a dent in any of the tasks you need to achieve. Find one task, focus on that one, and get it done.

You can trick your brain into getting into work quickly by using separate spaces for different activities.

If your brain knows that this is a ‘work space’ then it will get into work mode much more easily. 

Caleb (my son) worked this out during the COVID year when he had to do his university studies from home. He had a desk and a desktop computer where he could have listened to lectures and worked on his assignments. The problem was, that desk was where he played his computer games. So when he tried to work at that desk, his brain told him that it was a gaming space. He did much better when he worked on his university assignments at the dining table, and relaxed by playing computer games at his desk.

As I do all my work from home, I need to do the same thing. I have a desk, an office space that I use for editing work and administration. When I want to write my novel or work on something creative I often move to the dining table, or even take my laptop to a café so that I can be in a different frame of mind. To relax, I head up to the lounge room. But I try not to do any work sitting on the couch. That is my relaxation space.

Another way to keep focus is to get rid of interruptions or distractions.

I used to keep Facebook and Twitter open on my desk top so that I could look at it for a ‘break’ through my work day. But I realised just how much I was being derailed by that, so now I usually peruse the socials on my phone in my relaxation place, rather than on my computer in my admin place.

And when I really REALLY need to focus I bring in another technique. This is the Pomodoro technique. Named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Remember those?

I set the timer on my phone for 25 minutes. During that time I am completely focused. I do nothing else. No phone calls, no socials, no email. The job is the thing. I do the job. Then, the timer goes off and I give myself a five minute break. I walk around. I stretch. Then it’s back for another 25 minute work session and so on until I get the job done.

Studies show that it takes 5-10 minutes to refocus after an interruption. That is why it is so important to keep your phone on silent and your socials closed, and even to turn your email off while you focus on a task. 

Speaking of email, the best way that I have heard to deal with that constant interrupter is to only check your email three times a day and to deal with it as you check it. Schedule it in, like a meeting. That way it doesn’t derail your other good and focused work.

I don’t have a problem with good productive work. But I do have a problem if it takes over your whole life and leaves you no time for anything else. And one way that I see that happening is if you half-work when you should be focusing. It means your work drags out, doesn’t get done, comes home in the evening, takes over your weekend.

Instead, try setting a timer and really focusing on your work. That way, when you get it done you can really relax, have some fun, be creative, play, with no guilt at all.

What do you use to help you focus?

My Most Important Productivity Tip

We’re all back into it now. School has begun again, all the regular activities have started up. We’re back on the treadmill.

And it can really feel like a treadmill. You start on Monday with a list of things to do. You don’t quite get through them but you have high hopes for Tuesday. But the list keeps getting longer and you don’t feel like you can cross off very much. On Thursday night you have a moment of panic when you realise that there is no way that you will be able to get it all done on Friday and you realise you’ll have to take work home over the weekend. 

Saturday you chill out a little bit, sleep in maybe, do a bit of housework, but then you open the laptop or the file of paper and put it on the dining table. You don’t want to work on it really but it has to be done and it stares balefully at you over the entire weekend, robbing the weekend of its joy and robbing you of rest. 

‘If I have enough energy to do this thing I want to do,’ you tell yourself, ‘then I have enough energy to do the work I brought home.’ So you don’t do the things you want to do, and you don’t do the work you brought home either.

The net result is that you go back to work on Monday feeling more tired than you did on Friday and the to do list continues to pile up.

Which brings me to my very important top productivity tip of all time.

Rest.

The way we are made is that we need time off. I firmly believe that humans are made to function best if we take one day off a week.

A whole day. 

Of rest.

I must admit that I got caught up on the busy-ness treadmill last year and it took me to a bad place. And it’s a difficult treadmill to get off. Being productive is highly admired in our society. We begin to feel that our worth is tied to our productivity. 

But it’s not. 

We have worth because we are human beings, made in the image of God. 

And you know what God did once a week? He rested.

Sure, the stories we have of Jesus are stories where he ‘broke’ the sabbath. Where he healed someone, or his disciples pulled off some grains of wheat and ate them because they were hungry. But as a general rule, Jesus rested on the sabbath. His treatment of the sabbath warns us not to get too stupidly strict about what is work and what is recreation, but still, rest and recreation are vitally important.

The thing that got me off my treadmill was to simply stop. To take a full day of rest each week where I didn’t catch up on the week’s work, and I didn’t make myself do anything.

A day of no ‘shoulds’.

There’s a great fear that keeps us working and working, but that fear is groundless. It is the fear that if we stop, things will fall apart. It is based in the pride that says that we are the ones keeping things together. But God is the one that holds all things together. And taking a day off a week is a discipline that says that we trust him more than ourselves. That he is God and that we’re not. And that even if things do fall apart, we know that he will bring good out of the rubble.

So I encourage you this week to take a day off. Just one day out of the seven. I don’t care which day it is, but whatever day works best for you, take it off for rest and recreation. I promise you that you’ll feel better for it, and that you’ll work better the next week.

It’s always better when you work according to the user’s manual.