Tag Archives: Focus

Do you want the toy or the bone? Research productivity

Are you fully focused on what you are doing? Are you using your innate ability to the maximum? How can you get the best out of yourself and your time?

Just a few days ago I was working with a student on a very tight deadline. He was obviously extremely stressed out about his progress and ability to complete the work on time. If he misses the deadline he will have to pay £3,000. The imminent  deadline and the prospect of the penalty should focus his mind like a laser and shut out all distractions. However, during our discussions he kept answering the phone, checking for text messages or quickly answering text. This was annoying and made me lose focus several times from important messages I was trying to convey. Despite my commitment to support my desire to help diminished every time there was an interruption.

This reminded me of a time earlier in the year when I visited my best friend Steven and his dog Slim. Steven offered Slim a bone. Slim was highly excited and desperately wanted the bone but did not want to drop the toy he had in his mouth to get the bone.

“Slim you can’t have both the bone and the toy at the same time” Steven said.

We are also like Slim. I am no exception. My desire to check text messages and e-mails is all consuming. I can’t resist the urge. We try to stay on top of e-mails and texts whilst trying to write a research paper or a thesis chapter. We are not willing to let go to focus on the gold. We are crap at communicating because we are talking to a friend and whilst texting. Just like Slim I often sit in front of the TV reading a research paper. When I think about my behaviour it is stupid but I try to be clever and justify it by saying I am spending quality time with my family. My wife is an excellent cook and spends hours preparing meals for us. Like an idiot instead of really enjoying and appreciating the meals I am planning tasks for the next day. Even when I go out for a romantic meal with the most important person in my universe I am thinking about work. How sad is that?

What a tragic life?  I should practice what I preach however just like Slim I want to have two things in my mouth at the same time. In my younger days I used to think  I can hold several things in my mouth. That’s a big fantasy and we all think we can do several things at once. Your mouth might be moving but can you really taste the food. You are switching back and forth from one things to another. If you don’t focus your mental laser how can you burn a hole in the most important task you are trying to do now. You must focus on one thing at a time. We all know that and as kids we used magnifying glass to focus rays of the sun to burn holes in paper. We know the value of focus but don’t practice it.

If you focus on the one most important task now that you love then you’ll be in heaven. If you do that you will be living a full screen 3D multicolour life. Focus on one thing at a time and let it consume 100% of your attention. You will love it and achieve amazing results.  Let everything else fade away.

For example, when I write I go to full screen mode and hide all the editing icons. The only thing I see is the text. This eliminates distractions and lets me focus on writing. I am more productive.  You can do this with anything. If you eat then just eat and enjoy the deliciousness of the food. If you are talking to a friend then really enjoy the company and turn off the phone. If you are surfing the net then just do that and nothing else. If you go to the movies with the love of your life then squeeze as much joy and happiness as you can from your time together.  

For students, if you are in the laboratory doing experiments then give that 100% attention. If you writing your transfer report focus exclusively on that. If you are reading a research paper then only do that. Don’t be like Slim trying to play with the toy and keep the bone in your mouth.  You will do better with only one thing in your mouth. Give 100% of your attention. Put your mind in a full screen mode.  You’ll have more fun and be more productive.  Let everything else fade into the background. This is simple in principle but it is far from easy. You need to develop your concentration muscle. You can only do that progressively. If you set a task to write for 4 hours in one go you’ll be bitterly disappointed. Start small or nano. Begin by doing 15 minutes at a time and then build up slowly. Add only 5 minutes next time and work up to 45 minutes stints. Have a break and repeat. It is much easier to do four 45 minutes sessions than one long writing marathon. Practice will help build your focus muscle. Start now and practice.

I practice meditation and at first even one minute of undivided focus on my breathing was so hard. Try it for yourself. Now after years of daily practice I can manage 30 minutes. If you let go of the toy you’ll really be able to taste the bone. Hopefully we are little smarter  than Slim. Smart thinking is single thinking in full screen mode. 


12 simple steps to effective time management and happiness

There was a time when I was super organised. I scheduled meetings every 15 minutes, had a heavy teaching schedule and lots of administration work.  I worked extremely hard, replied to every single email I received no matter who it was from and scheduled my day from 8:00am to 12:00pm rigidly. Even though every minute of the day was accounted for even during lunch and coffee breaks I was doing something such as correcting a research papers from a student or advising someone about their future career. Even though I felt extremely busy and got things done I did not feel satisfied or in control. No matter how hard or long I worked my to do list kept getting bigger and bigger. I was running as hard as I could on a treadmill and no matter how hard I tried the treadmill got faster and faster.  I could never beat the treadmill. I kept this approach up since leaving university and felt it was essential for me to be productive and useful. It was part of my identity. My purpose was just getting things done. Even though I was successful I was not happy and fulfilled.

How to have  success and fulfilment in your life easily?

You’ll find these 12 steps can change your life. They have been adapted to make my life work and you can adapt them to your particular situation.

The key is to simplify your life and avoid complicated and rigid schedules. Focus on people instead of just tasks.

1. Learn to say no and reduce the number of scheduled appointments. Schedule only meetings that are unavoidable and attended only meetings you have to attend. Stopped attending meetings just because your on the circulation list or just because people want to see you.

2.Only put things on your calendar that you must get done, meetings that arise, however you have a choice of things to do. Selected in terms of importance. Leave gaps in my calendar for things you enjoy doing such as going for a meeting with a colleague about research.

3.  Focus on the task you are doing exclusively. Immerse your self in just one task at a time rather than multitasking. Do things that  you are passionate about and keep to a minimum things that have to do to keep someone happy. Take control of your tasks and set them yourself rather than let other people dictate them. This will make you more effective and you’ll have more fun doing useful work. Choose tasks that were important and challenging.

4. Eliminated distractions. Shut the door. Switch off your phone and email. Clear your desk and only have stuff on it that you need to complete what you are doing. The rest of the world disappears. Get excited about the task and you’ll be in heaven in the process of doing what you love.

5. Look at your goals and to do list and chose the top 3 things you want to do. These will get you closer to your goals. Ranked them in order of importance. If you have a series of phone calls then batched them together and rattle them off quickly. Answered emails twice a day instead of throughout the day. This top 3 list should rule your day and you’ll find a way to focus. Start the day with the most important task and then moved to the second and third things on the list. Focused on a single task and try your best to get it completed. Focused intensely on finishing the task. Don’t jump from one task to another. This is hard because things keep coming to mind that seem more important, attractive and enjoyable. Once you have prioritised don’t change your mind in the middle of a task. Review your priorities after completion of what you are working on.

6. When you have many tasks then they are difficult to organise. Work on making your task list small. Have fewer items on the list and organising will be easier. Three tasks are easy to organised but 30 tasks are more difficult to deal with. Focus on reducing the number of tasks. Eliminate as many as you can, delegate those others can do, postpone ones that can be done later and don’t others you are committed to but aren’t important. Focus on the most important things to you and your organisation.

7.   You have three most important tasks that you must do and then you will have a list of tasks that can be done quickly and easily. Don’t focus on these and neglect the most important ones. You can batch tasks together so that you reduce switch over time.

8. You can batch things like phone calls. Don’t make calls throughout the day. Have set times when you make calls. If you can also controls times you receive calls that will allow you more time to focus on the task at hand. You can route phone calls to your answer machine. This way you won’t be interrupted in the middle of the important work you are doing.

9. E-mail seems to be taking over people’s lives in offices now. You can batch your emails so you check them twice a day and answer the quick ones. You can answer them at 11:00am before lunch and 4:00pm just before going home. Don’t let emails prevent you from finishing the most important tasks.

10. Some meeting you can’t control, however those you can try to schedule them at the same time as batch just after one another. Set a specified time and agenda and don’t over run and always start on time. When you batch meeting together you will have bigger blocks of time to work on important things such as writing a paper.

11. Try to do research on website together as a block. If you have to research several topics on the web then do it together as batched tasks.

12. Your time management tools must also be simple. Use a calendar, Google Cal is good and it is very simple and available anywhere. Most systems have calendars with them and also space for taking notes. Have a simple note book to write things downs. You will have you top 3 tasks, batched tasks and your notes and information you need or will write down at meetings or from internet, papers and calls as you do your research. Index your note books so that you can find the information you want quickly.

Follow these steps and get a life full of success and fulfilment. Success and happiness do go together.