Focus: Do More and Better Work By Being Present

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A new study by Harvard researchers reveals what you probably already at least suspected: a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The trouble is, our minds are very likely to stray from the task at hand unless we’re doing things that tend to require our undivided attention, like working out, holding a conversation, and, apparently most of all, making love.

The reason we manage to stay focused during those tasks is that they require us to remain present in order to guarantee success. That ability to stay in the moment also produces the side effect of satisfaction. Our happiness is never higher than when we have our mind on what we’re doing. That’s a good lesson for web workers.

Job satisfaction, looked at from the perspective of this study, has a lot to do with focus. And for people who work from home, that’s probably not great news. If you’re a remote employee, you generally have unfettered access to the Internet, which means you also have about a million things vying for your attention. You’re probably adept at multitasking, but that same ability to split your focus could lead to unhappiness, which would also lead to burnout.

Maintaining focus is easier said then done, however. So how best to keep your mind on one task? Break that task down to make it easier to identify what’s required to do a truly great job. The difference between really exceeding in the task, and just doing a “good enough” job, is all about attention. If every time you set out to do a task, you set higher standards for yourself than you did last time, you’ll have an easier time maintaining focus and avoiding a wandering mind.

You should also avoid compulsively checking your email, and turn off those audio notifications for new mail. It might be hard to do, depending on what kind of work you do, but even if you can manage to avoid the email crush for a few hours a day, that period of unbroken focus should help improve the quality of your day by quite a bit. Having email “quiet time,” or, even better, keeping specific times during which you open your email app, should make for better email communication, too, since you’ll be more focused on those conversations.

Focus isn’t easy to achieve, especially with so much potential for distraction at hand, but as a remote web worker you have certain advantages over traditional workers. You won’t be as distracted by coworkers, for instance. Also, you have more freedom to set your own schedule, so you can plan attention-heavy tasks for times when you’re less likely to be tired and more prone to distraction.

Even if your task is undesirable, focusing on it to the exclusion of all else will provide a greater sense of satisfaction, and should help you feel happier in your job. It won’t be easy, and work is one of the places your mind is most likely to wander, but if you’re aware and take an active hand in keeping present and in the moment, you’ll have a much better chance of getting things done.

What methods do you use to help you maintain your focus?

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