Have the Best Day: Stay Focused

Try this: Some evening this week, just before bed, glance at how you used your phone throughout the day. You can find this on iPhones under:

Settings→Screen Time→See All App & Website Activity

For an Android phone it’s under:

Settings→Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls

Then tap the … in the upper right and select:

Manage Your Data→Daily Device Usage

Add up (approximately) the total time you spent in Slack®, X® (aka Twitter®), text messaging, WhatsApp® TikTok®, and similar apps.

Finally, consider that you probably spent no more than a few moments in these at any one time, just snatch out of your day here and there. So, if the total time is, say, 90 minutes, and you spent, say, less than a minute in each at a time, that’s 90 focus interruptions, or about one every five to ten minutes. We know that multitasking is a myth, which means you were juggling up to a dozen different tasks every hour. With each switch costing a bit of time to remember what you were doing and why.

So, if, as you lay there, you feel like your day was ground through a cheese grater, you now know why.

Is Tech the Problem? Or the Answer

Being able to reach someone, or learn something, near instantly can be a benefit. It enables us to act cohesively and quickly, like a flock of birds flowing effortlessly together. But, when it breaks our rhythm, we suffer and lose a bit of our day.

Some tasks require uninterrupted concentration. Software is one example. Developers will often bury themselves in headphones or put Do Not Disturb signs up. It’s near impossible create complex code in three or four minute bursts.

Other times, we can work on auto-pilot, getting things done while listening or responding to something else.

The trick is to know when you’re each mode. Your phone’s Focus Mode can help. Both Android and iPhones support it, letting you tweak which apps get blocked. Maybe you let Slack® flow through (if your company requires it) while shutting out text messages and other disturbances.

Knowing What to Do

We can also shred our day by frittering away on tasks that are best put off or less important. Sometimes we need that break to fiddle with a less demanding bit of work to clear our heads. That’s fine. What hurts is when our fiddling becomes procrastination causing us to avoid work we really should get done.

One way to distinguish what matters from what can wait is to live your life backwards. Take a few moments before getting busy to imagine yourself at the end of the day. What would make you feel good about how you used the day? Write those things down as your “To Do” list and make it your map to guide you.

Now, every day we get random interruptions and unexpected work tossed onto us. That’ll never go completely away. But, by writing down what we’d like to get done, we boost the odds of it happening despite what we can’t control.

Muscle Up Your Focus: Meditate

Focus is like a muscle: We can improve it by using it. And one proven approach is meditation.

Meditation, despite images of flowing saffron-colored robes, is not about getting in touch with yourself. It is about learning to be in the present moment. Through practice you learn how to let the fleeting, unimportant stuff float by while not losing your grip on what needs your attention.

Most fitness apps have meditation programs. Or you can use one of the popular ones, such as Headspace, Calm, or Balance. Whatever you choose, it will take more than one or two sessions. Focus, like weight training, gets stronger with repeated effort.

Productivity is Not Everything

Productivity, getting stuff done, is not the goal of every day, maybe not even most days. Still, for most days, unless you have a staff swirling around you to care for your every desire, things go better better with improved focus.