27 September 2023

Finding focus: How a ‘not-to-do’ list can improve your focus on work

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Rachel Lefkowitz* says concentration is getting harder to achieve at the moment, so to improve your ability to focus, create a ‘not-to-do’ list.

Focus is hard to achieve these days.

Our new “co-workers” (both two-legged and four-legged) demand attention.

Breaking news headlines lure us in.

And social media bombards us with ideas of what we “should” be doing to fill our days.

But now is not the time to try to do more.

It’s a time to do less, and let things go.

To improve your ability to focus, create a “Not-To-Do” list, says Dave Crenshaw in Finding Your Productive Mindset.

By saying “no” far more often than you say “yes”, you’ll free up time and mental space to focus on what matters most.

Here are five things to add to your “Not-To-Do” list today.

Five items for your “Not-To-Do” list

#1 Multitasking

You may think that multitasking will help you be more productive.

Chances are, it won’t.

Sometimes you can’t avoid it, but the reality is that everything will take longer and you’ll be more likely to make mistakes.

The quality of your work — and your relationships — may suffer.

Allow yourself to give your full attention to one thing at a time.

Participate in a team video meeting without simultaneously checking the news.

Sit down for a nice lunch without responding to emails.

#2 Filling up your schedule

When we’re working from home, our personal and work lives collide, making for more interruptions.

Overscheduling yourself in this environment will only make things more challenging.

“Because interruptions happen frequently and changes occur regularly, we cannot have our schedule on a razor’s edge with no room for error,” says Crenshaw.

Instead of boxing yourself in with back-to-back-to-back meetings, build buffers, or margins, into your day.

A bit more space in your schedule will give you the flexibility you need to tackle one task at a time, and maintain your focus, even when things change.

#3 Pursuing every idea

Interruptions can take the form of an unexpected phone call or a knock on your office door.

But sometimes, you’re the one doing the interrupting.

When an idea pops into your head that’s unrelated to what you’re working on, you don’t have to act on it.

Jot it down and return to it later.

Crenshaw recommends capturing all of your incomplete ideas in a “gathering point” — like a Google doc, an app like Evernote, or a physical journal.

“In this way, the ideas that pop into my head have a minimal disruption to my productivity when I’m trying to be focused,” he says.

#4 Constantly checking the news and social media

Especially now, the news cycle is relentless.

It can be tough to stay informed without being consumed by worrisome headlines.

Social media can also be overwhelming.

Your feed may have positive articles and funny memes to balance out the negativity of the news, but those are also “time thieves” that suck you in.

Protect your focus by allocating brief times during your day to check the news and social media.

Turn off notifications and breaking news alerts and only check the news during your scheduled time.

#5 Trying to fix what you can’t control

Maybe you saw something online that upset you.

Or you had a difficult exchange with a colleague.

If something bothers you and causes you to feel less motivated at work, how do you move past it and find your focus again?

“A lot of people’s negative emotions result from the frustration of trying to change things that they cannot control,” says Crenshaw.

Don’t waste time thinking about what you cannot control, like what other people say and do.

Instead, shift your attention to what you can control: how long you let a problem bother you and what actions you can take to make a difference.

* Rachel Lefkowitz is Senior Marketing Manager at LinkedIn in California.

This article first appeared at learning.linkedin.com.

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