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How our startup team gets focus back

Lost focus header

So there you are: hours of work behind you, hours of work to go, and not a scrap of productivity left in sight. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average american attention span is less than that of a goldfish. Theirs is 9 seconds, ours is 8. Over the last 10 years our ability to focus has continued to drop as we become more prone to the distractions that continually dance around us on the internet.

So how can you keep your goldfish moments from zapping your productivity?

We can’t claim to be productive every minute of every day, but here’s how we at Tab for a Cause know we’ve lost focus and what we do to get it back:

Ti (software engineer):

A: How do you know you’ve lost focus?

I know I’ve lost focus when I start idly scrolling through Reddit or my Facebook newsfeed. Before I know it, an hour has passed, and I’m scrolling through the same things over and over.

B: And what do you do once you’ve noticed?

I put my phone (or computer) away and go for a walk (generally to a nearby cafe) with a notebook in hand. I intentionally leave my phone behind and take just the pen and paper with me. At the cafe, I’ll make a list of things I would like to be working on instead, and rank them from least to most effort to complete, and tackle them in that order. I find it incredibly helpful when I’ve lost focus to finish one small task and say “that was easy!”, which restores my enthusiasm to move on to tackling bigger things.

Kevin (engineer and co-founder):

A: At work, I know I’ve lost focus when I start trying to do 5 different things at once. I find myself flipping through windows: I go from Sublime Text to Android Studio to Gmail to Slack to Asana to my calendar within the span of a minute, all while writing no code or emails or messages. This has the lovely side effect of making me feel like I have an unreasonable amount of work.

B: At that point, I’ll often call my family or walk the dog to clear my head. I’ll also often eat some food (yum). Then, I set focus on a single priority for a block of 2-3 hours—no multitasking allowed—which gets me back into the flow of getting things done.

Alex (CEO and co-founder)

A: I notice my loss of focus when I start seeking out off-topic conversations or find myself on the 3rd fruitless trip to stare at the fridge. But in all honesty, I try to embrace these moments more than find a way to eliminate them. To me, they are a natural (and maybe necessary) part of the daily ebb and flow, and often, can be some of the most fruitful minutes of my day.

B: In general, I find it much easier to focus on tasks that are going smoothly and producing results. When I lose focus, it is usually because something is tedious, or seems less important or urgent. Sometimes, stepping away for a few minutes and thinking about whether to eat some chocolate chips, is enough to approach the task with new eyes and find a more efficient solution. Worst case, I’ll be in the same place I left, but a little happier from the added sugar :)

Joey (marketing manager, and writer of this post):

A: The simple answer is that whenever I have the thought “what was I doing again?” I know it is time to evaluate whether I need to take action against a potential productivity slump. For example, this can happen when I navigate to a website and then forget why I went there in the first place. I like that I have a very simple trigger that often lets me know that I’m losing focus long before it becomes obvious.

B: If I still feel like I have some fuel in the tank, I’ll take a step back and pick a task that is more active than passive, like writing a post or meeting with a teammate.

Often, it is clear that I simply need to refuel. For me, that means going on a run. I frequently come up with better ideas during my 30 minute jog than I do in the rest of the day. Plus I always find that I have more energy after exercise.

What works for you?

We are amazingly lucky to work in such an easygoing and flexible environment but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve the way we do things. Charles Darwin’s strategy involved a long walk down his “thinking path” every day plus usually only 4-5 hours of “critical” work. Not a bad life for a guy who still managed to publish a dozen books (you might have heard of one of them).

The bottom line is that you have to find what works for you. Don’t expect to be doing your best work all day, every day. Know how to do the most important tasks when you’ve got your best stuff, and when it’s time to give your noggin a breather. And maybe, if we do these things, we will be able to make fun of goldfish again.

So tell us what lets you know you’ve lost focus and what you do to get it back, in the comment section below!

Written by Joey DeBruin, Marketing Manager, @Joey_Gladly