6 smart ways to build epic concentration skills

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Are you easily distracted when working? Do you always respond to social media and emails without thought? Are you nagged by the feeling to surf the internet when working?

Then you exhibit signs of poor concentration.

Poor concentration affects everybody, from top executives to middle school students, so don’t feel like you’re lesser because of it.

But if your concentration skills are lacking, then eventually it’s going to catch up to you. You need to fix it asap so that this doesn’t happen.

And luckily for you, you can find how to fix it here.

You’re concentration is ruined by distractions

Being distracted is okay as long as it doesn’t:

1. Eat up excess time
2. Ruin your ability to refocus on work

So basically distractions are okay (within reason of course) if you can get back to work promptly afterwards.

You don’t use focus enhancing tips

Here’s how I guess you do things – you sit down to work and then just start doing “something.” Then you work till break time, never evaluating how well your work session went.

Along the way you’re constantly distracted by notifications from emails and social media, and usually you take the time to interact with each one.

Sound familiar?

If you want to break free from these very sub-par work habits, then simply read the next section.

5 concentration improving tactics

These methods will sharpen your concentration skills and let you focus on what really matters. Just pick your favorite one and give it a shot, and eventually you’ll be a pro at concentrating on your work.

1. Use timed “productivity sprints”

A “productivity sprint” is just a fancy way of saying you should work with a time-limit that you can maintain a solid focus during.

 

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Some people can stay focused for only 10 minutes, while others can go for more than an hour. Regardless, all that matter is how long you can do it.

Next time you start working, time yourself and see how long you can go. Once your focus starts to weaken, stop the timer – that time is about as long as you can work optimally.

Start taking breaks when you reach that time limit, and make sure your break time is in good ratio to your work time. Shorter sprints require shorter breaks, while longer sprints require longer breaks.

Here’s some examples to help you out:

1. 10 minute sprints = 2 minute breaks
2. 30 minute sprints = 5 minute breaks
3. 60 minute sprints = 15 minute breaks

Stick around those ranges for maximum effect.

2. Create bite-sized tasks

The best way to get “in the zone (essentially having perfect focus),” is to make sure the difficulty of your work is about medium – not too hard, and not too easy.

 

Bite-sized

 

To achieve this, break up your work into bite-sized tasks. The more difficult something is, the more bite-sized pieces there’ll be. This makes the task feel less overwhelming since each piece is simpler to approach.

In addition, you should take more breaks with difficult tasks. You’re using more brainpower on harder tasks, so your brain needs more rest time as well. You want to maintain that medium mental expenditure for optimal concentration, and this will help with that.

3. Track your distraction times

Every time you get distracted, keep a tally of when it occurs. But more importantly, mark how long you stay distracted.

 

Track-distraction

 

Why? Getting distracted isn’t the main issue, it’s getting back on track that matters. So your goal with this method is to see if you can lower each distraction time and get it down to a non-significant amount (e.g. less than 5 seconds per distraction).

Integrate a reward system into this to enhance the experience as well. Maybe a piece of candy or some video game time for reducing – or at the very least, maintaining – your distraction times.

For those of you who respond well to seeing how much time you waste, this method might be worth trying.

4. Have a plan (no ambiguity allowed)

Every instant you spend thinking about what to do is a waste, and it should be handled at a designated “planning/organization” time instead.

 

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So before any work session, make sure you have a “complete” task list prepared. By complete, I mean that you need to know what absolutely needs to be done by the end of that work session or day.

Ideally, you have only one thing that HAS to be done that day, while everything else is something you’d like to have done. This creates a low-pressure plan that you should be able to stick to.

5. Use the “just 5 more…” method

If you feel like you’re struggling to focus yet feel like you should be able to go on, just say to yourself “just 5 more…”

 

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So for whatever you’re doing, you’ll do five more of it before quitting.

If you’re writing, then just write 5 more sentences. If you’re doing math problems, then just do 5 more problems. Or if you’re doing the dishes, just wash 5 more dishes.

Most likely you’ll be able to do more than just 5 and push on to complete your work session. If not, then you needed to take a break for sure.

6. Use the “in 5 minutes…” method

A similar method is to delay a reward by just 5 minutes, and use it as a “carrot on a stick” to keep you going.

 

In-5-minutes

 

All you do is say “in 5 minutes I can…,” and then tack on whatever reward you want. For example, “in 5 minutes I can surf the web.” Or “in 5 minutes I can have some chocolate.”

The ideal outcome is that your urge to stop working disappears before your 5 minutes are up, and you simply complete your work session. But if the urge is still there by the end of 5 minutes, then you certainly needed the break.

Over to you

Do you know any concentration building tips not mentioned here? What are they? Leave a comment below with your answer because I’d love to try them out :)

Image Credits: Liza, Robert S. Donovan, Birgerking, Stanley Park,  Bark, Ms.Akr and Pascal.

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5 ways to make super-fast decisions today

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Do you ever struggle with indecision?

Sometimes, right? And I’m betting it’s usually about something small too, like what to eat for dinner or if you should finish your work tomorrow when you feel more rested.

It’s really no surprise, life is nothing more than a bunch of small-scale decisions. But here’s the thing, all those decisions eventually add up.

And together, they can drastically alter your life, especially when it comes to productivity.

How so?

Decisions can occur before, during, and after work sessions. And a single decision alone can throw your productivity out the window if it’s handled inefficiently. All it takes is that you spend a few precious minutes weighing a decision, and before you know it you’ve wasted an hour doing nothing.

Luckily though, there are some simple tips that can prevent this from happening to you ever again.

You don’t make fast and effective decisions

Maybe you think it’s smarter to carefully weigh your options and scrutinize every single detail. Well, that “sort of” works, but ultimately it ends up costing you more time than the outcome warrants.

The truth is this – the majority of decisions you make only need to be “good enough.” If you make a string of “good enough” decisions, you still get great results out of it because you accomplished something, so long as you acted on those decisions.

But considering the time and energy it takes to go beyond making a good decision, and the fact that slow and thoughtful decision making doesn’t always lead to significantly better results, makes slow decision making the lesser choice in most situations.

You don’t know how or why to make more efficient decisions

Most people don’t drastically alter the way they make decisions in life. Some people don’t think their decisions through at all, leading to reckless behavior. Others though, can spend all day on a decision and still having nothing the next day.

You, of course, are the latter (or else why would you be reading this?). The question is – how do you fix it?

5 ways to make efficient decisions

Slow decision makers struggle because they don’t know how to leave the “information gathering” process of decision making.

These tips will help you push past that barrier so you can start making more efficient decisions today.

1. Limit decision making time

To the slow decision maker, extra time is useless. It’s just going to be spent gathering more information not really needed.

Instead, you should force efficiency by establishing a time limit. A time limit will urge you to restrict thinking to only the most important criteria (see tip #2 for more info), streamlining your decision making process.

The limit should be dependent on the importance of the decision, but in general 2-5 minutes should be adequate for 90% of decision making.

Limit-time

 

This time limit works because most decisions are small-scaled; try not to increase it if you can.

2. Establish the minimum criteria

If you’re a stickler for needing “more information,” then you should focus on the most basic, essential criteria needed to make a decision and no more.

Just say “I only need x,y, and z.” If one of your options has those essential characteristics, then that’s the correction option. Don’t see if something else is “a little better,” make the decision and move on with your life.

3. Keep a backup decision in mind

Some decisions we make on a regular basis (e.g. what should I have for dinner?). In these cases it’s best to have a backup decision in case you find yourself wasting more time than you should on a small-scale decision.

Example, don’t know where to eat? Mcdonald’s is your backup decision. Simple, right?

(That’s just an example, I don’t recommend making Mcdonald’s your backup decision for food).

This is a perfect tip if find yourself making the same decision on a regular basis, especially if it costs you time.

Backup-decision

4. Make many small decisions

The best decisions are the ones based on experience. If you can, make as many decisions as you can and learn all you can from each outcome.

This way you’ll build up a knowledge base that lets you naturally make quicker and faster decisions over time.

5. Favor action over perfection

Finally, be of the mindset that action is more powerful than a perfectly crafted decision.

Action-over-perfection

Sure, a well thought out decision can be a great thing. But here’s the thing, unless it’s a big-picture decision, it isn’t worth expending the energy.

Like I said, 90% of decisions are small-scale. Over time, though, they can add up and become something big. But if you aren’t constantly refining your decision-making through practice, those decisions won’t amount to anything great.

Over to you

Are you a fast or slow decision maker? Do you have any decision-making tips to teach me? Leave your answer below because I’d love to hear it :)

photo credits: JakeLiefer , Joiseyshowaa, Garrett Coakley

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Niko-niko and how feelings can be a very powerful indicator.

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First of all let’s start explaining the origin of Niko-niko calendars and the concept behind this technique…

The first mention of a Niko-Niko Calendar is arguably in Norm Kerth’s paper “Project Retrospectives”, the “Energy Seismograph”, nevertheless the first real description as we know today is described by Akinori Sakata in geocities.

In a few words, what is a Niko-niko calendar? The name comes from the Japanese word niko – Smily and as such is based on the agile practice of pasting a mood sticker on a calendar at the end of each day.

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Feelings:

Did you ever work in a project where something went terribly wrong and all the team had to work extra hours for days just to get to the previous starting point? There is always a team member that says:

”I had this funny feeling about this and that… but I didn’t say anything because I thought it was just me”
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Let me tell you I wouldn’t trust someone that never follows his gut feelings. Your team’s mood or general feeling is probably the best leading indicator of a projects performance and success. Just as employees happiness would be a leading indicator for customer satisfaction in a services provider company.

Let me evolve the concept further to explain its countless applications…

One of the main fundamentals of Niko-niko calendars has to be simplicity.  The team’s general mood has to be visible at a glance. Therefore, a lean design is very important: In TeamColony we keep down mood states to three #happy, #neutral and #sad.

 

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For instance, this screenshoot is a real situation we lived in TeamColony while testing the Niko-niko beta. The first day we were all really excited of launching a new functionality, but it soon became clear that there were many bugs yet to be fixed. Our CTO and testing guys where clearly having the worse of it, as the rest of the team reported issues. Nevertheless, after a few days of hard work the situation clearly reverted naturally following a smooth up and down curve.

The niko-niko didn’t reveal any anomalies in the mood of any of team members but the information is invaluable when tracking the daily mood of the team and most importantly when analyzing in retrospective the project implementation.

Now, let me show a situation where a Niko-niko calendar could show early warning signs:

 

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Tomás’ mood indicator is clearly diverging from the rest of the team. Probably until the third or fourth day the trend is not evident but after it is clear that something is really off. This is what makes the Niko-niko calendar really awesome, this early warning can be discussed during the sprint planification (if you use SCRUM as agile working schema) to detect the problem before it becomes an “elephant in the room”.

Niko-niko is also a perfect for tracking the mood of one individual. Similar to a to-do list the niko-niko provides a quick view of the days when all planned goals have been achieved. Feelings are very often underestimated and they can become a very powerful tool!

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Photo credits: Jon McGovern,

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4 systems for managing and mastering your productivity

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Do you struggle to organize and complete your daily tasks?

Think about it, how often do you still have a ton of tasks left on your to-do list at the end of each day? Is this a recurring problem of yours?

If so, then you need to know that the problem isn’t having too many tasks, nor is it having too little time.

The truth?

You don’t have an effective productivity system in place

Why is it that we all share the same 24 hour periods yet only some of us can maintain a productive lifestyle?

It’s all about the system we put in place, because for every task you fail to complete there’s somebody out there who’s system lets them do two tasks for your every one.

You never developed a strong productivity system

Maybe your system use to work, but today’s reality is different.  If you struggle with basic task organization and completion, then you need to find something more effective to work with.

The question is – what?

4 productivity systems guaranteed to improve your task management

Luckily for you, I’ve found 4 well-established systems that have already given thousands of people success in regards to productivity.

These systems are designed to give you great results. They take the guesswork out of managing your tasks, which is the exact problem you’re having.

To make it easy, I’ve labeled which ones might work best for certain people, so feel free to skip around till you find one that works best for you.

1. Getting Things Done (GTD)

Do you have a ton of small tasks that you’d like done? Do you frequently work in different locations (a.k.a. contexts)? Do you want to use a system with immense flexibility?

Then GTD is for you.

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GTD can be one of the most complicated productivity systems out there. Luckily, I don’t think it’s necessary to read the entire book to put the lessons into practice (though many hardcore GTD fans may disagree).

I’lll do my best to break down the important aspects of GTD for you.

  1. Create a master list of every commitment you can think of (all of them!)
  2. Go through that list and put non-actionable commitments in either:
    1. A filing system (might need later)
    2. A garbage (won’t need later)
  3. Break down “projects” (i.e. multiple step commitments) into several concrete actions
  4. Separate each task into different “contexts” (i.e. the environments you work in such as work, home, and computer).
  5. Focus on doing tasks only when in the proper context (e.g. do work tasks when at work, do computer tasks when at the computer, etc.)
  6. Perform a weekly review of the entire process, adding and removing tasks as necessary

As you can see, the focus of GTD is to free the mind of lingering tasks and commitments. Once their out your head, you only go back to them when you’re in the proper context.

So when you’re at work, you focus on work tasks. When you’re at your computer, you focus on computer tasks. And when you’re at home, you focus on at-home tasks.

You’re free to use any method and tools you want to accomplish this, so long as you follow this “mind like water” philosophy.

Now, there are many, MANY, ways to implement GTD. So here are a few links to help you develop your own GTD workflow:

GTD is good for people who don’t work in one place or need to be in multiple places throughout the week. That’s precisely why the context aspect is utilized at all. It really lets you go with the flow in terms of task completion, so if that sounds good to you then give this method a try.

(If a more structured version of this is something you’d like to try out, then skip ahead to the last productivity system listed).

2. Personal Kanban (PK)

Do you want a simple, no non-sense task management system to work with? Do you want a way to easily visualize all the tasks you need to do?

Then the personal kanban method is for you.

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Unlike with the GTD system, the PK method can almost be explained with the image above alone.

Here’s the basic format:

  1. Create a 3 part group
  2. Put all tasks in the first group
  3. Transfer in-progress tasks to the 2nd group
  4. Transfer completed tasks to the 3rd group

That’s it.

It’s simple enough to implement right away and can done both electronically and with pen and paper (or it’s equivalent, e.g. whiteboard).

If you wanted to get more fancy with it, it might look like this:

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This one implements an urgency category, this helps you decide which tasks to do while maintaining the simplicity of the PK.

If ease and simplicity is your aim, then give this productivity system a shot.

3. Seven Habits Method (Franklin Planner)

Is it important that your tasks are aligned with the important roles and values you have? Do you want a system that makes sure you focus on the important (i.e. long term) goals you have?

Then this is for you.

The Seven Habits Method works by starting with your “mission statement.” The mission statement is a set of principles that guide your actions.

From there, you decide on the important roles you have in life (e.g. parent, spouse, blogger, runner, personal-development enthusiast). And then for each role, you assign the specific tasks that maintain those roles, which you then add to your weekly planner.

In this way, your highest principles trickle down into your daily to-do list.

Here’s a weekly template you can use for this.

This approach is good if you aren’t swimming in tasks and want to focus on the important roles in your life. It’s also good if you have a somewhat unstructured day, which lets you focus on the daily priorities you have.

4. Time Buckets

Do you want a system that combines your major life areas with the many tasks you’d like done? Is the idea of GTD interesting to you but have no use for the “context” aspect or simply dislike its lack of structure?

Then this is for you.

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Here’s where I got the idea. It’s basically a more structured version of the GTD process, but uses “major life areas” instead of “contexts,” let me explain:

  1. Create a master list of all your tasks
  2. Create a list of 5-10 major life areas (e.g. friends, drawing, work, etc.)
  3. Assign each task to a major life area (which serve as our “buckets”)
  4. Schedule out the major life areas (buckets) so they have their own blocks of time throughout the week
  5. Fill up each “bucket” of time with its relevant tasks (e.g. work tasks are done during work buckets, drawing tasks are done during drawing buckets)

 

You can also make an entire day focus on a single bucket as well.

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So days might look like this:

  • Mondays – “Creative” bucket (e.g. drawing, writing, etc.)
  • Wednesdays-  “Friends” bucket (e.g. hang out, call on phone, etc.)
  • Fridays – “Spouse” bucket (e.g. romantic dinner, watch a movie, etc.)

And so on. You just focus on the specific tasks that “fill” that bucket up to manage your productivity. Not every day needs a bucket of course, this is simply a variation you might like.

So, if you like the idea of having theme based days or are looking for a semi-structured productivity system, give this one a try.

Over to you

What kind of system do you use? How does it work? Leave your answer below because I’d love to see what makes you so productive :)

Photo Credits:  Rintakumpuorcmid, stargadenerJeffrey Simms Photography and dclmeyer.

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Gamification: the fun way to mastering productivity

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Gamification

You hunker down to get some work done, with everything prepped for a productive session.

You pick up your pen, put it to paper, and then…

“I don’t want to do this.”

“This is going to be boring.”

“I wish I could be playing video games or something.”

Instant thoughts of loathing come into play, and it’s so fast that you don’t even realize your procrastinating.

You wish you were doing something else, something fun… Like television, internet, or best yet – video games. Well what if I told you there was a way to combine the allure of video gaming with the productivity of working?

 

You dread doing your work

It’s easy to fall off the productive path well before even doing a single task, and it’s because you know it’s going to be “work”, in other words boring or hard.

What does this cause you to do? Procrastinate.

 

You treat work like work

Your problem is the perspective you take when it comes to work. You see it as a hassle, a chore, a bore, anything but something you’d like to do. This is causing you procrastinate way before any work even needs to be done.

 

You need to “gamify” things

There’s a neat solution if you like gaming, and it’s called gamification. What’s gamification? It’s where you treat your work sessions like a video game.

In videogames, progress is always explicitly shown. When you get stronger, you “level up,” which shows you’ve progressed. Video games reward you with level ups after winning several small battles, and it’s these small battles that prepare you for the “boss” battles.

With gamification, you treat your small accomplishments (e.g. completing a task) as if you just won a battle. You then give yourself points until you “level up” in real life. Once that happens you can reward yourself, maybe with candy or a movie trip – whatever works for you.

There are different methods and tools online that make gamification easy, We’ve got some of them listed here for your viewing pleasure.

 

How to gamify your productivity

If you’re interested in gamification but don’t know where to start, try out these tips. They’ll give you the feeling of gaming without the hassle of trying out some new app.

 

1. Set up a point/reward system

 

Point Rewards

 

The basis of gamification lies in the point/reward system. You go from battle to battle earning experience, and once you get enough experience you earn a level.

It’s not that different from real life: you go from task to task earning experience. But with gamification, once you do enough tasks you get a reward.

First you need to set up a point system, for example:

    • 3 points for every task completed
    • 10 points for completing every task for the day
    • 50 points for completing every task assigned during a week

Not too complicated, right? That’s just an example, set up your own numbers for best results.

Next you need rewards as well, some examples:

    • 10 points for a piece of chocolate
    • 30 points to watch a movie
    • 100 points to eat out at a restaurant.

Of course it’s best to assign rewards that would motivate you personally. Afterwards, you just combine the two for a little gamification.

 

2. Track your progress

 

Track Progress

 

In a video game, you know exactly you’ve progressed since the beginning of the game. It’s explicitly displayed, usually as a level (e.g. level 12) or perhaps with statistics.

You can do this by simply marking down every task you complete and compare it to tasks that you don’t complete. You’ll know how productive you are and it’ll motivate you to work more when you see the incomplete tasks building up.

A fun way to do this is by using star stickers and placing them wherever you want to keep track. And when you fail to complete a task, you can use an X to mark it instead.

This is similar to the seinfeld’s Don’t Break The Chain method of productivity, which might work for you as well.

 

3. Race against the clock

 

Race Clock

 

A lot of games use time to pressure you to stay on the proper path. This keeps you focused on the goal at hand, as you don’t want to fail because you weren’t able to stay in time.

This tip is already popular actually, and can be done with the Pomodoro or any other basic timing technique. But when combined with the other tips, it can elevate the experience of gamification far more.

 

Tools for gamification

 

Tools Gamification

 

If you’re interested in an app that automatically gamifies things for you, then here’s some you might be interested in.

 

1. HabitRPG – Desktop, iPhone, Android

One of the most popular apps is HabitRPG. It takes the core aspects of RPG’s (Role Playing Games) such as leveling up, defeating monsters (tasks), and earning rewards. You can even team up with other people, increasing your accountability and improving productivity in the process.

 

2. Life RPG – Android

Life RPG is similar to HabitRPG, so it’d come down to preference if you had to choose between the two.

 

3. EpicWin – iPhone

EpicWin is a simple, streamlined app so you can get gamified without any hassle. You can choose one of three avatars (two more available on purchase), and earn loot and other prizes as you overcome your tasks.

 

4. TaskHammer – Android

TaskHammer is even more simple than EpicWin. You still get that great RPG element, but you can dive into it fast and without complication.

 

Over to you

What do you think of gamification? Does it work for you? Please leave your answer below, because we’d love to hear it :)

Photo credits: Rob Boudon, Hub, Titanas, John Christian Fjellestad & meddygarnet via Flickr

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