Personal Productivity

How to train your power of concentration

Studies show that efficiency is reduced by up to 50 % when multitasking.

9 Sep 2015 | 3 min read
Trine Kolding
Denmark’s leading expert within efficiency and planning. At TimeLog, Trine Kolding shares tips and tricks, makes you more efficient, teaches you about time and increases your personal productivity.

Just think of an average day at the office where you are constantly switching between phone calls, answering emails, interruptions from colleagues and customers, your own thoughts and things you must remember, which regularly pop up in your memory … Our brain has a good reason for having trouble focusing on one thing at a time; it is out of practice.

In recent years, I have written five different books about efficiency, and each time I have the opportunity to test my own form of the day and not least efficiency when it comes to working concentrated.  Let me give you an example:

The book ”Den effektive leder” (The efficient leader) has 250 pages. I signed a contract, which bound me to write that exact number of pages.  According to the time consumption I had laid out, I had six and a half weeks to write the 250 pages, after my Christmas holiday and other tasks were deducted.

That is quite a number of finished pages per day, and I can reveal that I had no time for procrastination or bad days in the time schedule. Therefore, this work process was an interesting occasion to test my own tools for handling procrastination and postponement behaviour.

For each book manuscript I have written, the conclusion has always been the same: The longer periods I work in this focused way, the easier it gets to stay concentrated, the faster I reach a state of 100% concentration, and the more efficient I am. Here is how I tested it:

Two types of days

There are two types of work days that go by differently.

1) The days where I remove all temptation

  • Clear the desk for other tasks, notes, phone etc.
  • Empty my mind for things I need to remember and place time for them in the calendar
  • Avoid opening the mail programme
  • Make sure to have snacks and drinks within reach, so I do not need to walk to the kitchen on a regular basis and get tempted by other interesting things

I start out with a clear plan for which targets I would like to reach today, and make sure I have everything I need within reach - and that only!

2) The days where I do the opposite

  • Where I just want to read my emails before I get started, but end up answering them
  • Where I am a little tired and feel I need more frequent pauses, which as a rule result in me surfing the internet, calling people I have not talked to for a long time which decide the length of the phone calls etc.
  • And where I end up switching between writing the manuscript, answering emails and making phone calls

Since my targets are very specific (I know exactly how many characters I must write per day to keep pace), I can clearly read the effect of the two ways of working. My experience shows that if I use the day 1 model, I finish the 15,000 characters about an hour before I have to pick up my kids. Here I have time for answering e-mails and phone calls at the end of the day. On the worst days, the day 2 model gives a result of only 7,500 characters from when I start in the morning until I pick up my kids. This means that I have to work in the evening.

My completely unscientific experiment supports the before mentioned study of multitasking that documented an up to 50% reduction in efficiency. In addition, I am less tired after a focused day where I have concentrated on one thing all day. At the same time, I see that the quality of my work is better on these days. I simply think better, and I quicker manage the material.

I am aware that this working method is not easy to apply in open offices or when having an ordinary day at the office. But little is better than nothing, so think of it in small steps:

How can you incorporate smaller sequences of uninterrupted time in your everyday life?

I guarantee you save time and become more efficient.

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