How to systematically develop your personal ability to do quality work.
The ability to produce quality work and the ability to quickly master hard things is an important requisite in today’s work environments. The process of using rapidly changing technologies requires that you hone the ability to learn increasingly complex set of relevant skills. To be able to transform these skills into valuable results, your attention needs to be focused without any distractions. But in today’s technologically advanced world, producing quality work at an optimal rate has become a difficult task as we embrace distractions at various levels and this decreases our ability to do high quality and meaningful work. The main culprit being the culture of connectivity where one is expected to respond quickly to a mail or to a message. Checking mail and social networking sites, surfing the web, and visual mediums have become major obstacles in cultivating a deep work habit.
Here are certain behaviours that distract you from quality work.
Trying to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously, your attention remains divided. There will be a residue of your attention that remains when you switch from one task to another. Those who experience attention residue after switching tasks are more prone to distractions.
Constant need for connectivity
Workplaces with trends like active presence on social media might create more opportunities to collaborate but they do so at the cost of many distractions. We increasingly becoming the victims of online distractions. They fragment our time and reduce our ability to concentrate. They tend to pull your attention thereby weaken your willpower to focus on important things.
Without any built-in goals, rules and challenges you cannot produce work of real value. When you lack planning and cannot figure out what you should be working on and for how long results in shallow work and short-term gains.
By sending and answering mails at all hours, scheduling and attending meetings constantly, instant messaging within seconds when someone poses a query —all these behaviours make you seem busy but do not always result in high value work.
Lack of priority
Our dependence on connectivity results in paying attention to irrelevant things. When you lose focus on really important things, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong instead of what’s right giving into frustration,stress and triviality. These shallow concerns take up most of your time thereby keeping you away from doing quality work.
Many of us assume that we can transform our working life from distracted to focused overnight and that we can switch between a state of distraction and one of concentration as needed, but once you are wired for distraction, you begin to crave it and it becomes difficult to bring your focus back with one time decision to think or work deeper. Your brain becomes accustomed to on-demand distraction and is hard to change the habit even when you want to concentrate. You will struggle to achieve higher levels of concentration unless you disconnect yourself from these distractions.
You have to make your deep work a priority to meet your personal and professional goals. By integrating the habit of doing high quality and meaningful work into your schedule and supporting it with routines and rituals, you will be able to achieve your concentration ability.
The following strategies can help you maximise your personal ability to produce quality work. By adapting to some personal work habits, you can take more effective action towards your goal of achieving real results.
Schedule your work
Scheduling eliminates shallow obligations by having a highly valued professional or personal goal. By dedicating some clearly defined stretches of time to vital tasks, you can leave the time for not so important ones. By developing routines, by making sure little bit gets done on a regular basis, you can fit deep work habit whenever you can into your schedule. To make most of your time, build rituals of the same level of strictness.
Focus on your ‘priorities’
Your work should be aimed at small number of important goals. Simplifying and focusing on priorities will improve your intensity to get valuable results. Identify a small number of outcomes to pursue with your quality work hours. Spending more time doing quality work may not generate lot of enthusiasm. Instead have a specific goal that would return tangible benefits.
Work on the ‘lead measures’
Lag measures describe the thing you are trying to improve and lead measures are the hours spent working on your important goals. Lag measures cannot immediately generate a noticeable change in your ability to reach your goal. You cannot change your behaviour as the performance that driven them is already in the past. Lead measures on the other hand, turn your attention to improving the behaviours you directly control in the near future and will have a positive impact on your long-term goals.
Keep a scoreboard
By recording and tracking the hours spent doing quality work or your lead measure, creates a sense of competence and drives you to focus on these measures even when there are distractions. Keeping track of quality work hours with simple tally of tick marks maximises your motivation. Your scoreboard can help you understand what leads to bad days of work and most important, to figure out how to ensure a good score for the days ahead. This way, you can disconnect with your distractions to keep a compelling scoreboard and can create a pattern of accountability.
Set expected time of completion for your important tasks on your priority list. You can motivate yourself by setting a countdown and can work with greater intensity and with no distractions. You can plan on taking occasional break from focus to give into distractions. By providing interval training for the attention centres of brain, you can minimise the number of times you give into distractions.
Apply the ‘law of vital few’
Many different activities can contribute to you achieving your goals. According to the law of vital few, only twenty percent of theses activities provide the bulk of the benefit. By listing some of your distinct and beneficial activities for each of your life goals, the top two or three such activities only make most of the difference in whether or not you succeed. Try to list only those which are specific to your goal.
Structure your ‘leisure time’
Don’t use networking tools for entertainment when it comes relaxation as they weaken your mind’s general ability to resist distraction thereby making it difficult for you to concentrate later when you really want to. Structure your leisure time by filling your free time with something of more quality than instead of allowing your mind to be lost in unstructured web surfing and other distractions. If you give your mind a quality alternative, you’ll end the day more fulfilled and can begin the next day more relaxed.
strengthen your distraction-resistant muscle by practicing productive meditation. You can do this when you are occupied physically but not mentally by focusing on a single well-defined professional or personal problem or a hard task. When faced with hard tasks, your mind will attempt to avoid them by looping over and over again on what you already know. By structuring your thinking, you will be able to redirect your attention to the next step and will be able to set a specific target for your attention. This way, you can strengthen your distraction-resistance and sharpen your concentration.
Distraction remains a destroyer of deep and meaningful work. Try and optimise your efforts and keep them structured by following above mentioned strategies.
Take back the control of your time and attention from the many distractions that attempt to steal them by making your deep goal a mental priority.
Acceptance of present moment is the center of anything being done well.
“We need to focus on the present moment, the only one we can really live in, to be truly effective.”
Ability to manage our attention is an important determinant of our success. But we are continuously bombarded by external events in our daily life and experience various distractions and information overload all the time. Most of us never go beyond a narrow, personalised sense of self that is conditioned by past and an anticipated future which is far from present. As a result, our ability to pay attention at will comes under control by external factors and by our past conditioning. We constantly attach thoughts and feelings to external factors, events from past and imaginary future. Because of this, the world around and people in particular come to be perceived as threatening. We begin to judge and the need to compete and dominate arises. Our perceptions and interpretations change and we take actions based on anger, despair, fear and frustration. The actions thus taken generate an automated cycle of negative behaviour where we tend to react to everything automatically without any present moment awareness and attention.
Performing right actions comes down to making right choices and this requires the ability to pay attention to the present moment. Giving full attention to whatever the moment present is possible only through complete acceptance, because you cannot give your full attention to something at the same time resist it.
Importance of acceptance
Accepting yourself unconditionally fosters your efforts to attain your highest potential and encourages you to live up to the highest in you. The non-evaluative observation of ‘what is’ without distortion through mindful acceptance and attention allows you to break the automatic response to the external events by disrupting the unconscious progression of thoughts and emotions. You can bring peace by connecting to your true self. This helps in promoting physical and emotional well-being by removing stress and inner conflict.
Acceptance means positive action
To some people, acceptance may have negative connotations, implying defeat, giving up, lethargy and so on. They might think by always accepting the way things are, they are not going to make any efforts to improve them. True acceptance does not mean to passively put up with whatever situation you find yourself in and to do nothing about it. Nor does it mean to cease initiating positive action. Accepting the present moment unconditionally is to let go inner resistance to ‘what is’. Inner resistance is to say ‘no’ to ‘what is’ through mental judgment and emotional negativity. Acceptance of what is does not mean that you cannot take action and change the situation. You don’t need to accept undesirable life situation, but just narrow your attention to the present moment without mentally labelling it in any way. Action with no resistance, no judgment, and no emotional negativity results in positive action and is far more effective than negative action, which arises out of anger, despair or frustration.
If you find your life situation unsatisfactory or even intolerable, it is only through acceptance that you can break the unconscious resistance pattern that perpetuates the situation. Acceptance is the starting point. Unless there is complete acceptance, we will never develop the willingness to change ourselves. This is true for every experience, addiction and weakness. Accepting your true self and of ‘what is’, you can begin to take action, initiate change or achieve goals.
Practice accepting ‘what is’
Focusing on the present moment through conscious acceptance allows you to improve your attention by breaking the automatic feeling-thought-action cycle. Acceptance allows you to take wiser decisions and enables you to cultivate a more balanced relationships. Here is how you can practice acceptance.
• Do not be concerned with the fruit of your action. Give attention to the ‘doing’ than the result that you want to achieve and in time you will be freed from what now seems impossible.
• Accumulation of past in your psyche reinforces false sense of ‘self’ by denying the present moment. You don’t need the past moment, refer to it only when it is relevant to present.
• Don’t be a ‘habitual waiter’, waiting to achieve your goals — with every kind of waiting, you reduce the present moment to a means to an end leading to non fulfilment and dissatisfaction. Strive to achieve your goals but don’t use them to substitute for the feeling of being, whole and complete.
• Watch your thoughts as well as your reactions in various situations. Notice how often your attention is in the past or future. Make it your practice to withdraw attention from past and future when they are not needed.
• Practice meditation to rediscover your unconditional self. Notice your breathing patterns and observe your thoughts and emotions. Accepting your situation through being mindful helps you gain focus and clarity about what triggers certain feelings and emotions.
• Practice focusing your attention in the present moment while eating, drinking, working and while communicating. This reduces stress and anxiety, as well as increases your emotional intelligence. Giving your complete attention to what you do results in empowered action.
• Avoid labelling every perception and experience. When you mentally name or label a situation in some way as undesirable or bad, you tend to personalise the resentment which in turn brings a reactive “me.” Break this habit by practicing “not naming.” Don’t name an experience as “bad” and instead bring an inner “yes” to it.
• When you are unhappy, stay totally with what is. Do not unconsciously designate your deficient sense of self through being ‘right’ and making something ‘wrong’. This leads to reactivity and creates conflict between your external circumstances at that moment. Instead of complaining about the circumstances, accept. This will allow you to make peace and you will be able to turn to present.
• Patiently work with your difficulties. Acceptance builds trust into the current situation and you can focus on underlying opportunities.
Notice how total are you in what you do or in your daily activities.
Watch how it feels like when you don’t want to be where you are — the traffic, work place, the people you are with, dealing with the countless things that make up your daily life — accept the ‘isness’ of the moments in your life. Whatever your life situation is,
practice completely accepting it as it is — where you are, who you are with, or what you are doing. This improves your full attention to the moment and your doing becomes more effective, fulfilling and joyful.
“Pause and remember— When you fight reality, you will lose every time. Once you accept the situation for what it truly is, not what you want it to be, you are then free to move forward.” — Jenni Young
“Stress is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there’.”– Eckhart Tolle
“Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organisation, preparation, and action.” – David Kekich
Goals are vital part of life, both personal and professional. Goals are different for different people and so is stress in achieving them. To a mountaineer, stress is the challenge of pushing physical resources to the limit of striving to achieve a demanding goal. To a student, it is the challenge to perform well in examination and to executives it is to withstand the competition and ambition of climbing up the ladder. To others it may be addressing different situations from managing work, to family and children.
Because everyone is driven by their goals, stress becomes a major and inevitable problem for many. Being exposed to stress over longer periods of time and without the necessary coping mechanisms can result in burnout and a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. This further leads to feeling tired all the time, failure to meet the deadlines, inability to stick to your goals and experiences of phantom aches and pains. Your personal productivity can be affected if this stress is poorly managed.
Stress & goal-striving
Stress is the inability to cope with a real or imagined threat to your mental, physical and emotional well-being which results in a series of psychological responses and manifests into health issues. Stress occurs when one is driven by compulsion to achieve what you are expected to or want to achieve. In striving for your goals you compete with yourself or with others to compensate for what you believe is lacking. At some point, we become caricatures of who we think we should be as our lifestyles become more external and we are driven by others rather than by our judgement of what we truly need.
Stress and work pressure becomes inevitable and solution lies in active management of stress.
Stress-management & Being “in the zone”
It is important to realise that everything is not just about goal-striving. Doing your tasks in a good state of mind and with good health is more important. This can be achieved by being “ in the zone” with your tasks. In many aspects, managing your tasks to attain your goals is more concerned with fundamental issues of doing meaningful work, mindful living and psychological well-being. Being “in the zone” with your goals helps you organise, do outcome thinking, provides clarity, and thereby reduces stress.
Being “ in the zone”
If you are ‘in the zone’ with your goal, you get intrinsically motivated and perform your tasks without being stressed about an external reward. Those who all in zone experience less stress as they are clear about what to pay attention to and have a complete picture of their commitments.
Checking whether you are being ‘in the zone’ is a simple and systematic process and the process involves comprehended check of your present direction with reference to what you truly want. Willingness to introspect lets you rediscover yourself. This can help you in making choices which are in alignment with your goals. This can help you distinguish between those things that dissipate your energies and those that add up to help you build the life you want.
Take little time to ask yourself following:
What to achieve?
Majority of times, stress is caused by the following situations:
• You know what you want, and you don’t know how to get it; and/or
• You don’t know what you want.
Most of the times, we create and identify with things that aren’t yet real on all the levels we experience; and when we do, we recognise how to restructure our current efforts to that particular outcome. Once you know what to achieve, you begin to be ‘in the zone’ and will more or less do your task automatically. If you trust that something you will more or less do automatically will provide direction and reduces stress. Having clear goals help you make better decisions about what to pay attention to.
What’s your next line of action?
Plan your work. Creating a cause-&-effect link in your mind about your next action will result in clarity, productivity and empowerment. You can really define the right action when you know the outcome you are after. When you organise and make plans ahead of time and decide what actions will be carried out in which context, you will be able to bring your attention to the appropriate things at the right time. Identifying those things that need focused attention and planning your next action keeps your mind relaxed and in the zone.
Are you in flow ?
Flow is the state of optimal performance and engaging your attention in what you are doing. Focused attention intrinsically motivates you. It is necessary that your skills match the challenge at hand. If the challenge exceeds your requisite skill level, you will experience anxiety and if your skills exceed the challenge, you likely feel bored and your flow gets affected. Flow is the complete concentration on the given task. When you have clear goals in sight with the right skill set and concentration, your action merges with your awareness and will allow you to engage more fully in the task at hand and ensures forward engagement in your plan.
How to be “ in the zone”
• Focus on what is important. Break down your complex goals into smaller and manageable ones. Once you achieve the little, you can set your eyes on the whole. Always commit to realistic goals.
• Do not expect fast results and easy outcomes. This makes you stressed and irritable. Take a break if you feel like you are on the verge of losing your calm.
• Discipline yourself not to put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Accumulation of undone jobs take up room in the mind and limits your clarity and focus.
• Don’t compare. Remember to calibrate your goals based on your own skill set, intellect and aptitude.
• Do not look for external validation as it can cause discontentment. Your performance depends on your skill set and efficiency.
• Be organised and review your direction of what you are doing and check whether what you are achieving is what you truly want.
• Monitor your mental and emotional state through self-observation and meditation.
Little time spent on getting to know your authentic self and bringing yourself ‘in the zone’ with what you want to achieve helps you lessen your emotional baggage of fears, anxieties and limitations. Make a list of possible sources of stress and attend to the issues that are a source of stress at the current time and work towards managing it.
“Doing something that is productive is a great way to alleviate emotional stress. Get your mind doing something that is productive.”
– Ziggy Marley