In our age of endless distraction, with buzzing smartphones and whirring laptops; strong focus and efficient productivity have never been harder to come by.
At the root of our always-on culture is a growing human desire to perform many tasks at once, or to have continuous micro-distractions breaking our concentration i.e. checking our Twitter timeline every few minutes, or habitually flashing up Instagram.
A negligible effect on our attention span, leading to more frequent breaks in focus, a decline in our productivity and ultimately impacting the satisfaction of sticking to, and completing a task.
Research shows increasingly that multitasking is utterly detrimental to productivity and that in reality, it can’t actually be done — it’s not a real thing.
We can either focus on one task, or focus wholly on nothing at all. There is no middle ground.
The following is pretty compelling:
In the brain, multi-tasking is managed by mental executive functions. These executive functions control and manage other cognitive processes and determine how, when and in what order certain tasks are performed.
According to researchers Meyer, Evans, and Rubinstein, there are two stages to the executive control process:
The first stage is known as “goal shifting” (deciding to do one thing instead of another).
The second is known as “role activation” (changing from the rules for the previous task to rules for the new task).
Switching between these may only add a time cost of just a few tenths of a second, but this can start to add up when people begin switching back and forth repeatedly.
Read more here
No matter your level of focus, even if you’re reading this and you feel like your focus levels are healthy, there is always room for improvement, there is always room to decrease our goal shifting and role activating.
In the book Ikigai, by Hector Garcia and Francesc Mirallas; the two authors spend significant time in Okinawa, Japan, a tiny island situated off the mainland; marooned in the East China Sea.
See, really tiny.
During their time on Okinawa the authors live amongst, and research, the island residents, a people who have the longest life expectancy in the world.
Many of the residents live beyond 100 years old.
It’s on Okinawa that they know the true secret to Ikigai and practice the pursuit of it through their lifestyles, communities and hobbies.
So what exactly is Ikigai?
Well, Ikigai is essentially finding a purpose but more importantly your purpose. That can mean on a deeper level in life but also finding Ikigai on a micro-level, the purpose of your business or the purpose of landing a particular client, or finishing a particular task.
When Ikigai is achieved, we enter a state of flow.
Here on Medium, as a community of readers, writers and business professionals, we will all have experienced the ‘flow’ but not understood that there are tangible steps we can take to increase the likelihood of it happening.
To be clear, the flow is a form of focus when we’re deep in task, where the objective is clear and tools are readily available to us. Here, nothing can penetrate our focus and nothing can distract us; because the flow is rooted in clear purpose — or in Ikigai.
In their book, Garcia and Mirallas touch on every aspect of Ikigai and how it can span our entire lifestyle but what was of most interest is their learnings on how we can discover our Ikigai and enter the flow.
These thought starters can be applied to our productivity in the working space and change the way we engage with business and business tasks.
To enter a state of flow, clearly set out the objective of any given task; analyse the tools and information you have to hand and determine if the tools are sufficient to complete the task to the necessary standard; if not, do the groundwork beforehand before undertaking the task.
Next, turn off any distractions; if the task involves writing an email or working directly into a browser, be sure to shut off any other distracting tabs or hit the do not disturb on your smartphone. The key to achieving Ikigai is understanding and appreciating that currently there is nothing more important than the task in hand; this should drive how you deal with all priorities moving forward.
Read and respond to emails during designated chunks, context switching can contribute heavily to breaks in focus; so times to read and reply to messages should be rigorously segmented.
The Japanese are also strong believers in mindfullness and treating the thoughts and distractions that enter our mind with a lighter touch.
Should you find yourself being torn away from a piece of coding, or the completing of a spreadsheet by another, more urgent thought; retrain your mind and focus to centre back on the task in hand.
Try to work in a space where distractions are limited, especially for deep work that requires acute attention to detail and laser like concentration. This could mean escaping the office or home-office to a quiet coffee shop corner, where the only distracting is the background hum of a barista preparing cappuccinos.
Finally, consider truncating your tasks; firstly into easy actionable tasks that can be quickly and efficiently completed and ticked off (consider finishing the day on this type of task to drive up satisfaction). Secondly, group like-minded or contextually relevant tasks to ensure a further reduction in context switching and a closer affiliation with your Ikigai.
As we enter 2020 and the dawn of a new decade, we’ll all be looking to lofty and ambitious goal setting to ensure we maximise the year ahead.
Start with the here and now by discovering your Ikigai and achieving a flow of success.
You can read more about Ikigai in the book titled IKIGAI by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles.