1) The biggest key is to schedule your day with ‘office time’ and ‘me time’. Most of us have no problems starting early in the morning because we have co-workers and teams to respond to, so the issue tends to be on the second half of the day when work is piling up and we struggle to disconnect. Stop telling yourself ‘just 20 more minutes’ and clock off at the same time you would if you were sitting in an office. Take lunch and small breaks at the same time you would too – and even limit your use of social media to the same you would while in an office. The longer you spend glued to your work, the more stressed your brain will feel, and the less productive you will actually be. Always remember that 6 hours of productive work is far better than 12 hours of non-stop work.
2) Set up an ‘office’ space that’s away from your bed and feels as close to a desk at an office as possible. If possible, keep it away from your bedroom altogether because you want your mind and body to be able to differentiate what’s work time and what’s ‘me time’. The brain is powerful and picks up on habit — it knows your bed is for resting, so doing emails while sitting comfy and cosy in bed will have you feeling relaxed and ready to zone out.
Are there key tricks and strategies to maintaining focus?
1) Always start by creating a plan which includes actionable steps. When you don’t have a plan, you don’t have an end goal. And if you don’t have an end goal, the chances of you maintaining focus is pretty slim because you don’t know what you’re working towards.
2) I recommend breaking your to-do list into 3 main priority tasks which need to be done ASAP in the day, and a maximum of 3-5 other tasks depending on how long each will take. Don’t make the list unrealistically long because it can leave you feeling unmotivated and deflated when the work day is over, you’ve been working non-stop and still see 20 unchecked boxes on your long list. There’s always tomorrow.
3) If the task requires more effort than other tasks, such as writing a 3000-word article due tomorrow or creating a whole sales pitch due in the afternoon, give yourself a 10 minute break after each mini milestone you hit. For example, for every 500 words you complete.
How important are start and stop times?
Start and stop times are incredibly important, especially in today’s world of constant distractions between the internet, emails and social media. If you know you have to stop in 20 mins, you’re not going to spend the next 15 minutes refreshing your Twitter and Instagram feeds. If you don’t give yourself that ‘stop time’, you could probably spend the next 4 hours between social media and online shopping, only to end the day with having not finished the task that would have been completed in an hour. Think of it like an exam where you sit under timed conditions. If you only have 10 minutes left, you’re not going to spend those 10 minutes double-checking previous answers instead of finishing the two you have left.
The pomodoro method is well documented. Are there any other similarly efficient techniques to maximise our concentration power?
This one is a rule I stick by because it’s seen me pass exams with flying colours and write a whole 370+ A4-sized e-book. Allow yourself to do the things you love to do no matter how busy the week/day/month is. Do not compromise on your usual leisure time under any circumstances. All that 20-hour non-stop work life is toxic and unhealthy – plus it leaves you far less productive than people think. I whole-heartedly believe overworking or over-revising has the reverse effect on results. I didn’t cut a single second of watching my favourite daily soap shows and reality TV (my guilty pleasure) during my most stressful times in life. I could have 5 exams the next day and still wouldn’t dismiss it from my routine. Everyday at 7.30pm, I would turn my TV on and enjoy 30mins to 1hour of guilt-free TV.
People used to be amazed at how I had nothing to catch up on once the exam period was over or once the big project (such as writing a book) was over and I still succeeded to the highest standards. It’s not that I’m a genius, and I definitely do work hard in the hours I do work, it’s more of the fact that my brain and mind is constantly ready to work because I constantly treat it with breaks and feed it less stress.
How important are flexible working hours?
Flexible working hours are crucial for any productive workforce, be it your own empire or via an employer. Everyone should be able to do what they need to do away from work on the same day they’re working. As long as the tasks are completed and no major deadlines are within the next second, the hours in which they are done should make no difference whatsoever. The other side of flexible working hours is that it also allows you to disconnect and refresh your brain.
Is there a particular time of the day when it is best to attack work?
I know every mega-entrepreneur is dead-set on waking up at 5am because ‘mornings are the best’, but I honestly believe it’s each to their own. Mentally, it’s good to wake up early and meditate to have you geared for the day head, but in terms of ‘attacking’ work — it’s whenever you feel the most motivated and excited to dig into it. If someone’s on my case at 9am, I’m not into it. I want to spend the first couple of hours catching up on emails, reading on work-related topics and planning my day ahead so I know what I need to achieve. I hit my peak at around 5pm, while others might be zoning out by then. I will never schedule a meeting with my team for 9:30am — but I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had other CEOs schedule those into my diary!
Once you’ve personally worked out what time that ‘motivational burst’ hits you, you’ll need to stick it into a routine because it’ll also affect what times you eat, and clock in and out of work.
Is it smarter to think about goals and targets rather than hours spent?
Absolutely. I don’t care if it takes me 100 hours longer than I anticipated. As long as I know I’m making progress towards that goal, it’s fine by me. People have this thing of either constantly being in rush for no reason other than impatience, or giving up because they think they’ve spent too much time on it. The worst is that they give up when they’ve made 80% progress and the finish line would have been in sight if they persevered just a tiny bit longer.
Plus, goals and targets are what give you the vision. No vision equals to no success because you don’t know what you’re looking for.
How important a consideration is what we eat/drink while we work?
Far more important than you know it! Over consuming junk food makes you feel like junk. You’re tired quicker, you lose focus and by the end of the work day, you want to run home and crawl onto your sofa or bed instead of working out or attending social meetings. Consuming a healthy and well-balanced diet, on the other hand, puts a spring in your feet from the get-go — and you’ll notice how well your energy level can be maintained until it’s actually time to crawl into bed.