Productivity: How To Focus Your Attention On Your Intention

6 min read

Productivity is a trainable activity, just like building muscle. You can build it brick by brick till you reach your goal. But how?

What is productivity?

Is it brushing your teeth while in the shower? Is it a comparative measure of the amount of goods and services produced in relation to the number of inputs used to produce them? Or is it merely a scam –a toxic term that Youtubers are profiting off of?

The meaning

Productivity, defined in a general sense, is the ability to efficiently accomplish the tasks you’ve intended to do. Notice how it’s not just “the ability to do things efficiently.” That is probably a definition of simple machines in physics rather than productivity. Intention is what sets real productivity apart from simply performing tasks. Most of us have probably spent hours doing random things just to avoid a specific task. Suddenly the dirty closet seems even dirtier, you’ll have the urge to clean the entire house, or you might even find yourself on YouTube watching a tutorial on how to break into your own house. You’ll then realize that you have merely tricked yourself. 

Any type of productive work must be intentional. It is not about how much you have done or the time it took. It is about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. We all have our own goals and purposes, and productivity is an essential skill in this quest. And it is a trainable activity, just like building muscle. You can build it brick by brick till you reach your goal.

The workout

After understanding the idea that productivity is not just about doing more, but about doing what’s meaningful with utmost focus, we arrive at the next logical question: how exactly do we do that? Here are 3 basic but concrete guidelines. 

1. Identify your intention

Most of our daily activities are habitual; one doesn’t really pause to question the value of the 2nd meal of the day. We wake up and proceed onto mindless tasks of the day only to come to our senses a couple of hours or even days later and wonder why we can’t “really focus.” But attention follows intention. That is the missing piece in most of our puzzles. Before committing to any kind of task, you must have a clear and concise intent that will serve as fuel. 

2. Deep work and the theory of flow

Deep work is a term coined by author and professor Cal Newport to express the type of work done without any distractions. It is a state of concentration that has been scientifically verified to last up to 4 hours. Deep work will assist you in tackling cognitively hard tasks and learning complex concepts. This idea works well in tandem with the theory of flow, an idea originated by Hungarian- American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It is the balance between skill, challenge, and active engagement that results in a state of “flow.” This state allows you to get absorbed in your work and maximize your focus. 

You can train yourself to “do” deep work by using a technique called “interval training.” Set your clock to 40 minutes and put your phone out of sight and reach; you will lose focus after about 40 seconds, but you can’t do a quick Instagram check or anything. Sit through your craving for stimuli and focus on only the task at hand for those 40 minutes. Tell your brain that you can spend the rest of the day consuming random content if you survive this. You’ll feel a little embarrassed at this point and commit. 

This exercise helps you slowly build up to that 4hr span of deep work, but it must be done consistently and intentionally.

3. Be consciously “unproductive”

Although it may appear to be paradoxical, this is the best thing you can do to improve your capacity to focus and be more productive. Boredom has no place in today's world; we can always rely on our cell phones to provide a continual supply of amusement. This sounds like a great deal until we realize that it is actually the root cause of most of our problems concerning our ability to focus. Discerning the value of boredom allows us to see why it’s actually okay to just sit by ourselves sometimes; the shower doesn’t have to be the only place we allow ourselves to just think nowadays. If you teach yourself that it is okay to be bored, and consciously refrain from seeking stimuli, your brain will learn to do the same thing when you’re trying to focus. You’ll feel less inclined to chase those stimuli, and actually concentrate on the task at hand because it’s simply better than doing absolutely nothing. So, next time you’re bored, don’t do anything about it.

Bonus tip: compound interest

Compounding, the 8th wonder of the world according to Einstein, is essential in one’s journey of aligning intention with attention. Every effort will add up to an exponential result, and most, if not all, aspects of your life will benefit from your growth in one area. Compounding not only works in efforts made every day; it also spreads into your environment.

The journey to becoming more productive might seem intimidating, but once you understand the importance of intentionality in any given task, you will progress toward growth. In addition to the three guidelines mentioned above, physical exercise and adequate sleep must always be considered. A healthy body normally functions better. Furthermore, it is key to experiment to see what works for you as an individual when it comes to specific “productivity routines.” Although the idea of wearing a hoodie while studying in order to limit your field of vision is a practical advice, don’t buy into the frenzy of fake productivity and the romanticization of working until you burn out.

The Formula

True Productivity = Intention + Attention + Energy

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