Health, Wellbeing & medcine

How to be more focused

My favourite newspaper feature this week: Peta Bee’s interview with Chris Bailey in The Times, Thursday 30th August.

Bailey is the 29 year old Canadian behind Hyperfocus: How to Work Less and Achieve More (Pan Macmillan, £12.99). He also wrote The Productivity Project, which was published two years ago and became a bestseller.

I need to come clean here – I haven’t actually read either book. And, fair to add, The Productivity Project is not a title that would have lured me. Sounds far too much like hard work…

But, How to Work Less and Achieve More… What’s not to love?!

The article’s head: Why we can’t concentrate – and how to fix it was intriguing. But it was the first cross-head, Set yourself no more than three daily tasks that really pulled me in.

Why three achievements a day are good for your brain

Combined, these messages gave me insight into a problem I’ve had. I have been feeling as if I’m not getting enough done. But it seems that in fact I have been trying to do too much – and trying to do too much is tantamount to setting oneself up for failure.

In the past five months I have moved house, designed a building project for it, and seen it through. I have been a slave to the tape measure, drawing and re-drawing the new kitchen-diner. I have chosen and re-chosen kitchen units, appliances, work surfaces, floors and paint colours, I have had to think about plumbing, electrics, heating, lighting, and budgets… I have done all this while expecting to carry on with my day job at full throttle.

I love a to-do list and take delight in crossing tasks off. But recently the to-do list has been carried over, some tasks forgotten. So I am enlightened to read that Bailey’s advice is to whittle the to-do list down to just three things you want to have accomplished by the end of the day. And, guess what? These three tasks do not even have to be major. You do not have to write a chapter of a book, write to 10 editors, and come up with five new feature ideas. No – according to Bailey, going to the gym and getting home from work at a reasonable time are two worthy tasks for three of your to-dos.  Getting home at a reasonable hour is very important in Bailey’s book – and here’s why…

Calm down and be more productive…

Bailey quotes research that finds that taking time for meditation can expand working memory by 30 per cents after just a few weeks of practice. He also recommends – I am appeased to read – a messy desk for creativity, while a clean one will aid focus. It comes naturally to me to write at a messy desk, but gravitate to a clean one if I need to edit something complex. I also always take my first coffee of the day to my desk – another thing I’m pleased to see in Bailey’s list of recommendations. For, he says, our first coffee boosts mental energy. Bailey even gives the thumbs up to my naturally mindful shower. Loving the sound and sensation of the water trains the brain to focus on the present, he says.

And, finally – anyone for a glass of wine? It is apparently great for helping you to be more creative and productive… but only when it is used appropriately – just the one, in the evening, will help ideas to flow more freely. “I see it as borrowing energy from the next day,” Bailey says. Lovely – point me to the fridge, mine’s a Viognier please.