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10 Steps to Improve Focus and Productivity in a World of Information Overload



An infinite ocean of data is at our fingertips, and we are continually bombarded with unnecessary and often unwanted information. Constantly being interrupted by notifications, pings, beeps, and alerts on text, WhatsApp, email, social media, adverts, news, and everything you can’t seem to ‘unsubscribe’ from! But this vast access to knowledge has become more intrusive than helpful and is now shown to be detrimental to our focus, productivity, health and happiness. From being sucked into the vacuous hole of doom scrolling to the subconscious need to instantly view anything that pops up or pings in our phones, the ability to focus is constantly being challenged.


Busy woman sat at work desk with paper flying
Information Overload


Too Many Open Tabs?


With an abundance of data and resources at our disposal, multitasking has become the norm, bringing pressure and expectation to get everything done simultaneously. But although we think we’re getting more done, our brain can only fully focus on one task at a time. Too much multitasking or task-switching is not good for physical or mental health. Although it may seem efficient, the act of shifting tasks is taxing on our brains and can cost up to 40% of our productivity. It has been shown in studies that people saw a 10-point fall in IQ when distracted from a task by emails or phone calls. That’s equivalent to losing a whole night's sleep and more than twice the effect of smoking marijuana. Digital overloading also increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol, raising your heart rate and blood pressure and can have significant indirect effects on burnout, depression and anxiety. Research by Professor Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, found that overloading the brain's processing capacity actually slows us down and makes us less efficient. In reality, your brain's limited capacity for multiple simultaneous thoughts means that while you think you’re doing many things simultaneously, you are actually inefficiently switching from one task to another.

Taking Control

How to Improve Your Focus and Productivity

So, how can we have a harmonious and healthy relationship with our devices and the continuous interruptions that fast-evolving algorithms intrude into our daily lives? Ultimately, it is up to you to take control! Here are ten tips to help you get back in the driver's seat to improve your focus and productivity.


1. Reduce Brain Clutter

Let go of the need to know everything and prioritise what you actually need to know. If it’s not contributing to your wealth, health, happiness or growth, it’s unnecessary data taking up valuable space and living rent-free in your head.


2. Eliminate Distractions

Put your phone on Do Not Disturb as often as possible. Your messages, emails and alerts will still be there when you have time to check-in. Unsubscribe to anything you don’t need, take control of who and what has access to you, and turn off any unnecessary alerts and notifications.


3. Make a Daily To-Do List

Before bed, write a to-do list for the next day. Be realistic, prioritise what’s important and don’t overload yourself. Completing one task at a time uses your brain's full optimal performance and attention. You’ll be more productive and organised and do each job to the best of your ability. Task switching will only slow you down.


4. Take Breaks

Spending too much time on one task can reduce focus and attention, making you feel frustrated or stuck. Taking short breaks to refocus your attention elsewhere can dramatically improve your concentration when you return to your original task. If your work involves a lot of time on your laptop or phone, try digital-free days or time away from your devices to do something relaxing, creative or physical.


5. Meditation

Clearing your mind will give you better focus, boost productivity and help you avoid burnout. Some of the most successful people in the world attribute daily meditation to their success, health and happiness. The Calm App has a great beginner's guide!


6. Exercise

Physical activity boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels, improving mood, energy, and focus. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, promoting cell growth, better sleep, improved energy and memory and helps to reduce stress. Add a brisk walk into your daily routine, take the stairs where you can and do something you enjoy as you’re more likely to stick to it.


7. Take a Cold Shower

Be brave! Step in for 30 seconds and build up to a few minutes. Take deep breaths in through your nose, hold for a few seconds, then slowly out through your mouth like you’re blowing through a straw. Aim for five days a week. This has a powerhouse of benefits. Not only does it build mental resilience, it will increase endorphins, improve metabolism and circulation, boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, lower stress levels, and reduce muscle soreness and fatigue. The brain also receives a boost of oxygen, which gives you a hit of energy and improves clarity, concentration and focus.


8. Connect with Nature

Being in nature can take you from depressed, stressed, anxious or sad to a calmer, more balanced state. Walking in nature, taking slow, deep breaths and detaching from your devices will help you find respite, clarity and focus.


9. Sleep

Sleep is essential for your body and brain to do some housekeeping. Trillions of brain cells are rewiring themselves, working on memory and learning, and your body is healing. I highly recommend the book ‘Why We Sleep’ by Mathew Walker. Establishing a good bedtime routine is essential, especially if you have problems getting to sleep. Click here for some helpful tips!


10. Eat Well

What we eat has a profound effect on our overall health. Food is fuel! Your body and brain need the right fuel and information to function optimally. Our bodies need six essential nutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats, Vitamins, Minerals and Water. Eat a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, healthy proteins and good fats and avoid processed foods. Always read labels and buy fresh, organic produce when you can. Reduce your sugar intake as your glucose levels directly impact your ability to focus. Include oily fish, avocado, leafy greens, blueberries, nuts and seeds, eggs, green tea and whole grains in your diet, which can help boost your brain and memory.


Conclusion


Do what you can to protect and nurture your physical and mental health and happiness. Small and consistent healthy habits can have transformative effects on your life. Taking control of the time, quality, and usefulness of information you’re exposed to daily will help you to fully focus on what’s in front of you and what’s important. Try different ways to limit who and what has access to you so you can allow your brain to process uninterrupted and complete each task optimally. Health and Mindset Coaching can help and support you to make lifestyle and habit changes that unlock your health, wealth and happiness potential. Using personalised strategies and scientifically proven tools to improve your health, focus, productivity, resilience, stress management and life balance.

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