People are losing their ability to focus due to the distraction heavy culture we live in today. In the past decade or so, I’ve learned a ton about productivity. I’ve almost gotten obsessed with it at times due to necessity. While getting my undergrad degree, I worked nearly full time for several years. Then, in grad school, I started Speechy Musings and balanced working full-time with running a business for years.
First, let’s get a definition of “productive” out there. What exactly does it even mean to be productive? Part of it is maximizing output while minimizing time and effort. Another part is improving how much impact you can have with the time you’re given. One big part of productivity that is often left out of the discussion is your mindset. But don’t worry, we’ll talk more about that soon.
I don’t want this post to get misinterpreted and have you walk away thinking that you need to work harder. I doubt that’s the problem! I hope this email gives you practical tips and tricks for making the most of your time at work so that when your time to leave rolls around (whether that’s 3 or 4 or 5 or even 6) that you can leave work at work and reclaim your evenings and weekends.
So, without further ado, below are my top tips and tricks for being productive.
For me, making sure I get enough sleep is a huge part of my overall productivity. In addition, eating right and getting some exercise several times a week will make a huge difference in your ability to have the energy needed to focus and be productive. If your mornings are hectic, use your commute to work as a time to refocus and amp yourself up for the day.
Tell yourself: you are in charge of directing your ship. You are not a kite that is being flown around randomly by the wind. We all have to train ourselves to get in the right mindset in the morning and learn how to stay in that mindset throughout the day. I heard this boat/kite analogy once and it has stuck with me. I frequently remind myself that I have the power and control to dictate how I spend my time. If mindset is something you struggle with, check out some of the book recommendations linked at the bottom of this email.
Having a deep motivating purpose for increasing your productivity is important if it’s something you hope to stick with for the long haul. Why is it important for you to be productive and focused while at work? More time with your kids? Less distractions at home? Less stress? Close your eyes and visualize what a day might look like for you if you could be focused, energetic, and productive from 7-4.
Or, think about it another way. What if you could gain 2 hours a day? What would you do with your time?
All of these tips and tricks are a waste of time if you don’t have a “why” for becoming more productive. Focusing is hard work so it’s easy for this goal of yours to fall by the wayside unless you have a personal, motivating reason for doing this work.
Learning to focus is just like learning any other skill. You need to start small and build from there. The average worker can only focus for 7 minutes at a time before changing their browser, looking at their phone, or getting interrupted in a different way. This costs you greatly in productivity. Getting better at your ability to focus is by far my biggest tip. This isn’t passive, you have to work on it. Build your “focus muscle”. How long can you make it before getting distracted?
Below are 10 ideas for starting small and building your “focus muscles”.
1 – Turn off your phone during certain times (e.g., 8pm-8am). 2 – Keep your phone out of arm’s reach while at work. 3 – Close your email browser tabs except for times of the day you “do email”. 4 – Pick one task to do, finish it, and move on to another task (don’t multitask or switch between tasks). 5 – Write down 3 things each day that you need to get done. Do those before doing any other random tasks that pop up. 6 – Limit the amount of time you’ll spend on a task or that you’ll spend working. This gives yourself a slight feeling of time pressure which can help increase focus. 7 – Limit how many times a day you’ll check your email or your social media accounts (e.g., 5x for email, 2x for Facebook). 8 – Meditate every day (try the Calm app if you haven’t already). 9 – Create a “distraction to-do list”. While you’re working and a thought of like, “I should check the weather” or “I should respond to my coworker’s email” pops up in your head, write it on a distraction to-do list so that you can do it at a later, better time. 10 – Exercise, take a walking break, or switch up your environment. Work in the library for 30 minutes instead of in your office.
PS: One thing I do very intentionally is limit the amount of “24 hour cycle social media” that I consume. This includes Snapchat (I only look at ones sent to me) and Instagram stories (I rarely look at those at all). I don’t feel terribly comfortable creating videos or consuming videos when surrounded by real life family and friends so I don’t. Definitely a personal limit so do what feels best for you. Just letting you know you’re in good company and you won’t miss out on much if you join me 🙂
In the book Eat That Frog, the author Brian Tracy talks about getting difficult tasks done right away in the morning. I try to arrive to work early every morning. This is definitely my most productive time of the day. The quote the book is based on goes like this, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” So, get to work early and “eat that frog” (which could maybe be translated to “write that IEP” for me).
Based on several studies, people can only make around 200 decisions in a day before suffering from “decision fatigue”. We can’t really distinguish between important decisions and unimportant decisions (picking out shoes to wear vs. what tests to give a student for re-evaluation) so make important decisions in the morning too.
In order to best figure out where your time is actually going, do a simple time study on yourself. Start reflecting on what tasks you put off, what tasks can get done quickly, how much time you spend on certain tasks, and when you focus best.
Laura Vandercam, the author of 168 hours, frequently talks about how we are awful at estimating how we spend our time. People generally over report how much time they spend working. When you do a time study on yourself, you can figure out what tasks are taking so much of your precious time and figure out a more efficient way to do them.
Recognize that your brain might be trying to delay a task because it is difficult or outside of your comfort zone. When this happens, remind yourself that actions > results. As you practice staying focused and accomplishing difficult tasks, they will become easier over time.
Take Action: Pick a challenge from #3 above. How can you start small and learn to focus? How can you alter your environment at work to get more done? Consider doing a time study on yourself to figure out patterns of when you have trouble focusing and what exactly is distracting you.
SLP productivity is more important than ever. Increased job demands combined with a decreased ability to focus while we’re all getting less and less support does not make it easy. However, you must remind yourself that this work is worth it. Our students deserve our absolute best and if working on your ability to focus and ignore distractions makes you more effective at your job (in less time!), then I promise it will be worth it.
If you want to learn more about productivity, below are some of my favorite books that I’ve read on the topic. Note: These are Amazon affiliate links so you if you purchase through these links, I may receive a small amount of money. ????
Hope this week is filled with more focus, more communication, and more fun.
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