We all have to deal with distractions from time to time. To some of us, it is so easy to get distracted because we are addicted to distraction. If you have a hard time focusing, or you simply want to improve your productivity, this article is for you. Here, we will a summary of Focus On / Off by Mark Tigchelaar.
About the author Focus On / Off
Mark Tigchelaar is a neuropsychologist who developed a method to optimize your brain to be more productive. This method allows you to stay focused, processing information faster and remembering information for longer.
He is also the co-founder of Focus Academy, a company that offers training courses to fully master this productivity system. Some companies that hire them include Microsoft, RBS/ABN Amro, Heineken, Samsung, and FedEx.
Tigchelaar wrote five books about the method he developed, and he explains more about it at conferences, including TEDx Talks.
About the book Focus On / Off
Focus On / Off is one of the books that Tigchelaar wrote about his method. It is available in five languages: Dutch, English, Korean, Russian, and Chinese. The book is a nice complement to books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Great at Work. In this summary of Focus On / Off, we share the essentials. It may be beneficial to invest in this book for your personal development.
Here, he talks about four causes of distraction. The first part of the book explains the main four distraction leaks. The second part of the book talks about productivity, addiction to distraction, and distraction by managers.
The book is a combination of the latest insights from neuropsychology, combined with the experience Tigchelaar has in guiding top athletes, entrepreneurs, and knowledge workers.
The four concentration leaks
Tigchelaar explains four main causes of distraction and what we should do about it. The four concentration leaks are too few stimuli, too many internal stimuli, too little fuel, and too many external stimuli.
Too few stimuli
Your brain will search for distraction if you don't give it enough stimuli. That is why it is hard to make simple, boring tasks. Think of your brain as a supercomputer that needs more data.
The key here is to generate engagement.
When working on something exciting or challenging, engagement comes effortlessly, but it might be more difficult to generate it during tedious or undemanding tasks, such as a long conference call.
How do you prevent your thoughts from wandering in this situation? Through multitasking.
For this to work, you must make sure that your "side task" is incredibly easy. You may do some doodling or fold some laundry during your conference call.
Easy "side tasks" like this suppress internal stimuli and boost engagement by 29%. That makes them incredibly successful to generate engagement.
Don't confuse multitasking with multiswitching, they are two different things. In this chapter, Mark explains the difference.
Multitasking is very good and effective if you have too few stimuli. Doodling during a meeting, for instance, helps you to focus more on the content of the meeting.
However, doodling may not be too effective if you are drawing a new layout for the office.
On the other hand, multiswitching means you switch tasks too much. You do not complete tasks because you start doing something else (because you are interrupted).
Multiswitching makes you lose time and brain capacity to continue the original task.
In conclusion, avoid multiswitching as much as possible. Use multitasking when you have too few stimuli.
Too many internal stimuli
This distraction leak occurs when you have too many things to do but you are thinking about your to-dos instead of focusing on your current task. Our brain is very good at distracting, making t difficult for us to focus.
So, what Tigchelaar explains is that we should clear our minds before performing any tasks.
You can experience satisfaction when you write down everything you need to do and start crossing things off the list.
So, what to do? Do a brain dump regularly. Write down all your ideas and tasks. This ensures peace of mind. After all, it no longer costs brain capacity to remember something. This principle is the basis for David Allen's book Getting Things Done.
You can use your smartphone, or your computer or grab your old pen and paper. Whatever you like, just make sure you write down every idea that may interrupt you during your tasks.
Routines also work well for dealing with too many internal incentives. Mark recommends starting the day by asking yourself what you need to do that day to go home satisfied. Then create your top three most important tasks and do them first.
Too little fuel
Your focus determines the quality of your work and the amount you can produce. Nevertheless, it may be difficult to concentrate when you have too little fuel, in other words, you are tired from a lot of work and lack of sleep.
That's why it is essential to give your brain time to rest and recharge. You can do this by defocusing, or in simple words, taking a break.
You can do this every 25 minutes for simple tasks and every 90 minutes for deep focus tasks. That doesn't mean just watching videos on YouTube, listening to podcasts, exercising, etc. It means letting your brain rest.
The same as a car, your brain needs fuel. Consequently, you must regularly recharge your brain.
Your brain can only recharge when it is not processing any new information and is not required to focus. Therefore, there will be no recharging while you're browsing social media or listening to a podcast.
Try moving around, gazing out the window, or staying still as an alternative. That is the only true way to recharge.
Too many external stimuli
Now that working from home has become the norm, it is very easy to be distracted. You name it: WhatsApp, Skype, etc. We are constantly online. This implies that we switch tasks frequently, which causes a lot of distraction—not all of it is required
But social media is not the only way you can be distracted. Colleagues, emails, partners, and children are major concentration leaks. However, there are ways to deal with these external stimuli.
It's important to set aside time to immerse yourself in your work instead of being distracted.
Tigchelaar here says that you need to distinguish between easy and difficult tasks.
You can get the hard work done if you know when to do it. If you are doing difficult tasks, try to have no interruptions (with the door closed, during certain hours, or with headphones).
If you expect a lot of interruptions, then do simple things.
Conclusions of our Focus On / Off Summary
Your brain is like a computer, and you need to be careful about how much data you have. If you don't have the right amount of external or internal information, it won't be as productive as you may want it to be.
In this book, you will discover the four concentration leaks and how to avoid them. It allows you to turn your Focus ON, you can disconnect from all stimuli around you and get into the productive flow
However, the book also tells you how to turn your Focus OFF, so that you get rid of your to-do list. This way, you can truly recharge and therefore, be more productive.
This book is written so that you can apply what you learn immediately because it has many practical tips. It is also very easy to read and contains a lot of scientific evidence to back up what the author says. So in addition to this summary of Focus On / Off, it would be a nice book to buy or ask for as a gift.