As a small business owner, you have to manage several scarce resources – money, time, and perhaps most important: attention. In today’s hyper-connected, constantly distracted world, one of the biggest obstacles to your daily productivity is simply knowing how to stay focused long enough to be productive. As tempting as it may be to burn the midnight oil and work longer hours, recent brain research shows that frequent, strategically timed rests during the workday is perhaps the smartest way to boost productivity. We’ve compiled a list of key insights into how small business owners can do a better job of managing their attention. Take a look!
It’s easier said than done, but it’s important for small business owners and their employees to block out unnecessary distractions during the workday. This is hard to do – we live in a world where, according to “Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain”, “on a typical day, we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986.” While it may not be realistic or desirable to totally cut yourself off from your daily flow of online information and social networking connections, try to minimize the distractions. Consider using tools like Freedom or SelfControl to limit your access to the Internet during important work times.
Recognize Your Brain’s Two Modes of Attention
The brain is the most complex and mysterious part of our bodies; we’re still learning more about how it works and why people think and act the way they do. Our brains have two main “modes” of attention – the “task-positive network” of brain cells and the “task-negative network.” Basically, the “task-positive network” works to keep us engaged and focused on a task, while the task-negative network is what we use when our minds are wandering or daydreaming.
Let Your Mind Wander
Even if you’re not actively focused on a task, your brain is still “working.” There is value in allowing your mind to wander because you need to rest your brain by daydreaming throughout the day. However, this is not the same as being lazy or procrastinating; it’s a sign that your brain is making connections between different ideas, solving problems, and coming up with creative insights. Studies have shown that when people listen to music or go for a walk outdoors, they can trigger the “mind-wandering” mode of the brain that helps them find deeper perspective on what they’re working on. Another important type of productive restfulness is to take naps; studies have shown that even a 10-minute nap can improve cognitive function and reduce fatigue.
No More Multitasking
Instead of flailing around in a sea of distractions, interruptions and fruitless multitasking, take control of your workday by dividing your day into designated “project periods” that allow you to focus only on a single task for 30-50 minutes at a time. You can also work more effectively by managing your daily interruptions to maximize your attentiveness. For example, only checking email or using social media at designated times of the day can limit unnecessary interruptions and boost your overall productivity.
Managing your attention and maximizing your mental energy isn’t as hard as it may seem. Try implementing some of the tips we’ve included in this article to start working smarter, not harder!
To learn more about the science of attention, check out this article in the New York Times: “Hit The Reset Button in Your Brain,” by Daniel Levitin, Aug. 9, 2014.