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A psychologist shares his number one tip for staying focused at work


Do you have trouble staying focused?

If tasks that should take 30 minutes take you an hour to complete, or if you constantly find yourself looking at your phone or checking your Facebook throughout the day, the answer is probably yes.

Larry Rosen, Ph.D., research psychologist, and author of “iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us, says that we rarely “focus and attend” any task for more than 3 to 5 minutes before getting distracted – primarily by emails, texts, and social media.

“The bottom line is we are all constantly self-distracting whether you’re in school, at your job, or just at home,” Rosen says.

To combat these bad habits, Rosen says we have to retrain our brains to respond based on a set schedule rather than spontaneous cues, i.e. an alert or notification.

Rosen suggests starting small. For instance, you can set your alarm or a timer for one minute during which you can check any communication network. Once those 60 seconds are up, set it for 15 minutes – the maximum attention span these days – during which you must work without checking your email, texts, or any social media platforms. Then repeat.

The key to this method is turning your phone facedown and on silent, as well as closing out of all your distracting windows on your desktop, rather than just minimizing them. “If you see or hear the notifications, it’s going to stimulate you to move and switch your focus and your attention there regardless of whether you want to or not,” Rosen says.

Once you are comfortable with 15 minutes of distraction-free work time, which Rosen has seen take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, bump it up to 20, 25, and then 30 minutes. “Once you’re at 30 minutes, that works,” Rosen says.

Rosen says we need to stop responding instantly to every cue like Pavlov’s dogs.

To hold yourself accountable and avoid straining any personal or professional relationships, you will want to make a public announcement to alert everybody who is used to you responding right away, that you may not be able to get back to them for up to a half hour, Rosen says.

He suggests the following message: “I realize I’ve gotten into these bad habits of acting a bit like Pavlov’s dogs and respond upon cue, and I’m now going to respond on a schedule. I’m working myself up to 30 minutes so it may take me up to half an hour to get back to you. Please know that I’m not ignoring you, but I’m trying to focus and attend so I can do justice to my work.”

Rosen says he’s seen companies implement this method on a group-wide setting during firm-wide meetings where everyone checks their phone once every 15 minutes to prevent the distracting anxiety that research shows people feel when they can’t check their communication networks.

This internal drive to check your networks because you’re anxious that you’re missing out on something important is just as distracting as visual or auditory cues, Rosen says – and the trick to carving out 15 to 30 minutes, where you’re able to concentrate deeply on one task, is to not let either of them control your responding methodology.

“If its driving you, then you need to become the driver again,” Rosen concludes.

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