Recently we looked at the vital importance of white spaces in our calendars. How constantly being busy is detrimental to our focus and health: both mental and physical.

Diving into how this self-imposed busyness is not only causing illness by constantly pumping our bodies with cortisol and adrenaline, but is collectively decreasing our intelligence and making us less creative. And yet, we can’t seem to let it go. It defines us, giving us a false sense of importance. If we’re constantly busy, then we’re desired. Needed.

"We have managed to inextricably intertwine our identities and our value with our 'busy-ness' while simultaneously becoming ever more afraid to face the parts of ourselves we’ve left, or maybe even hidden, in the abyss of nothingness."
– Jara Dekker

Having determined that we’re in dire need of white space in our lives; it’s equally important to recognize the way you design the time you do structure has a major influence on your success.

Wait, what? I wasn't paying attention…

Constant notifications on our smartphones

As a society, we are distracted.
Constantly being assaulted by the notifications from the multitude of apps on our phones, smart-pads, laptops, t.vs, even our cars, we’ve become addicted to the “ping” or buzz of the phone vibrating on the table.
And if for a couple of minutes our phone doesn’t go off, we pick it up. We check to make sure we didn’t happen to miss something. The studies vary on how often we pick up our phones daily, it ranges between an average of 80 to an average of 214 times per day. This means, even if you’re on the low end of those estimates, you’re still looking at your phone every 13 minutes.

How often we pick up our phones at work and lose focus
(Depiction of the chain reaction from picking up your phone during work hours.
Image from RescueTime:Blog)

This onslaught of incoming data causes sloppiness, shortcuts, and the growing inability to focus on something for more than a couple minutes at a time.
Even in-person conversation is no longer enough to keep us engaged.
Not long ago I decided I was going to set a personal boundary, and therefore I now stop talking when someone picks up their phone while I'm speaking (often mid-sentence).
The most confronting (and annoying) part? About 30% of the time the other person doesn't even notice, and the conversation is just over. :/

So if we can’t even focus when we’re face to face with someone, how do we expect to be able to concentrate on our work and what we’re creating when we're alone?

Retrain your brain!

In miracle morning Hal Elrod writes about how it is a common, and huge mistake to see the majority of our actions as solely affecting as single moment. They have long term consequences. Influencing every choice after that through the message being sent to our subconscious and the habits we're developing because of it.

In his book he gives the following example: "When the alarm clock goes off, and we hit the snooze button (the easy thing), most people mistakenly assume that this action is only affecting that moment. The reality is that this type of action is programming our subconscious mind with the instructions that it is okay for us to not follow through with the things we intended to do."

Our attention works similarly. Which means it comes down to taking back control of our time and our attention. We need to recreate our habits and use our technology to our advantage instead of being in its control. It’s a process, but I guarantee you, well worth the effort.

“Always remember that who you’re becoming is far more important than what you’re doing, and yet it is what you’re doing that is determining who you’re becoming”. – Hal Elrod

It’s no secret that attention is the new currency. It’s everywhere, every marketer, every influencer, every TED speaker is constantly reminding us of this. However, the majority relate this only to our social media feeds.

The real secret? It applies to every aspect of life.

So how can we take back control of our time and attention?
Consciously addressing the issue at hand and recognizing what our habits are and where we need help in addressing them. And it really isn’t complicated, it’s just about discipline, about designing the optimal conditions for ourselves in which we can create.

Design Your Time

clock face

So now we have allowed for blank space, acknowledged our areas of weakness and distraction, and determined what we want to achieve.

Ok, great, but that’s not going to differ us from the average joe. Not yet.

The way you design the time you do structure has a major influence on your success. Directly influencing your output, creative or otherwise.

It’s time to take action, to deliberately design your time to set yourself up for success!
There are a few practical ways to take back control of your time, attention and output:

  • Too much input hinders output.
    If you really want to optimize your productive time, then muting the amount of input is vital:
    – Turning your phone to do not disturb or airplane mode for blocks at a time makes all the difference.
    – Another great way to minimize unnecessary input is to close down all the apps on your computer that aren’t absolutely necessary for what you’re working on.
    – For many, FB and youtube aren’t just social channels. If you have to be on Social Media for work, applying a newsfeed eradicator which blocks out the input you don’t need for work, minimizes the temptation to get distracted by your feed.
  • Do a brain-dump.
    Trying to remember your to-do list might seem like a great way to train your memory, but in reality, it’s actually taking away from your ability to fully focus and be productive.
    Here at the Superhero Academy one of the first things we teach is the art of brain-dumping.
    Doing a brain-dump first thing in the morning and jotting down every single to-do that comes to mind helps create clarity and remove the background stress of “I can’t forget to x, y, z”.
    Literally writing anything from turning off the light to the yearly financials, and from texting your friend Garrett to creating a presentation for work to making some form of art.
    Jotting it all down will help free your attention to create. You won’t be worried about forgetting about ‘that other thing you had to do’, and this will allow you to better focus on the task at hand.

Which leads me to my next tip:

  • Monotasking is the new Multitasking
    More and more studies are being done whereby the “art of multitasking” is being disproven. For 98% of the population multitasking is a myth, it "effectively reducing productivity by up to 40%".
    Assigning a specific focus for each day, and/or time to complete specific tasks help create better concentration and higher productivity. Here at the office we call them "power hours": 60 minute blocks in which we dedicate our attention to a single task, only moving on to another if we've finished the first one.
  • Create a routine.
    This doesn’t even have to be doing the same thing at the same time every day or week (although could be if that’s what works for you).
    However creating a routine (/ritual) you do each time you sit to start creating content will help your body and brain get into the right space.
    It’s like muscle memory, every time you start your routine your brain will know what’s going on and what’s expected.
    This routine can vary from a short meditation, to setting up your workspace in the exact same way -no matter the location-, listening to the same playlist every time you sit to work, to doing 10 jumping jacks and making yourself a cup of tea while you hum your national anthem.
    Whatever it is that will help you get in "the zone", and focus on the tasks at hand.

Essentially it's about removing distraction and finding your flow.
Yes, Everyone's unique in how they best operate. However time has shown that the above tips are a perfect starting point in figuring out how to be your most productive self with the time you have set aside to work and create.

I invite you to give it a try, and reach out and let us know how it's worked for you!!

Jara Dekker

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