When you are self employed, it’s a constant challenge to stay motivated and maintain the level of focus and discipline required to complete an often mammoth list of tasks.
There are so many distractions and interruptions that can break your concentration and quickly result in your planned six hour day quickly turning into something far less desirable.
In this post, I’ll be looking at ways in which you can improve your concentration levels. I’ll also examine why taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your business.
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
As entrepreneurs and business people, our biggest assets are our minds and bodies. If we get sick, we can’t work. If we’re tired, we can’t concentrate or work as effectively. Despite this, many self employed people put their health and wellbeing second.
This is compounded if you work from home where you have fewer reasons and opportunities to be active. Research has shown that doing a job where you are sitting for the majority of the day can actually put you at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Diet and exercise play a vital role in keeping you focused and mentally alert. We all know that eating right can help keep your energy levels up and make you feel better. But can maintaining a healthy lifestyle really give your business a boost? Recent studies say yes.
One UK university found that on the days they exercised, 33% of people felt they were more motivated, 72% had better time management, and 79% demonstrated improved mental concentration and performance.
While I’m not suggesting that you hit the gym at 6am every morning, a simple walk round the block or thirty minutes of yoga could be enough to energize your mind and body for the day ahead. Structure in plenty of breaks to your day and where you can include some activity. Keeping active is proven to reduce stress levels and help combat frustration and anxiety — all the negative things that reduce your concentration and productivity.
When you work for yourself, especially if you work from home, managing your diet can be tough. It seems natural to reach for another coffee or something sweet to pick us up when we feel that dip in energy and concentration. However, caffeine and sugar only provide a false, short-term boost and can result in a vicious circle where an energy rush is followed by an even worse energy crash.
I’m not here to offer diet advice, but it makes sense to keep hydrated and get your recommended daily quota of fruit and vegetables. Dietitians have long advised that a hearty (but healthy) breakfast is vital as it kick starts your metabolism and helps keep your brain from becoming sluggish.
Hunched over your PC snacking on junk food isn’t good for anyone. Keep the treats for your down time – you’ll enjoy them much more when you feel like you’ve earned them at the end of a busy week.
Rest and Relaxation
As well as maintaining a healthy diet, your body and mind also need adequate sleep in order to rest and rejuvenate. How much sleep you need varies from person to person, but recent research concluded that, “People who sleep between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night live the longest, are happier and most productive.”
Entrepreneurs like Arianna Huffington attribute their success to sleep and reject the notion that the more we work, the more productive we are.
Numerous productivity studies have shown that as humans we can function at an optimum productivity level for up to forty hours per week. After that we become less reliable and more prone to making errors and mistakes. So working twelve hours a day, seven days a week probably may not make you any more productive than someone who works eight hours a day, five days a week.
Sometimes it’s not always possible to get a good night’s sleep and this can impact hugely on your concentration levels the next day. This is where daytime napping could help. Research has discovered that a twenty minute nap restores the alertness levels in your brain and boosts your concentration and productivity by 100%.
Big companies like Google, Zappos, and Nike all allow nap breaks and provide their employees with dedicated napping spaces. Of course, if you work from home it’s much easier to schedule in breaks where you can take a nap, meditate or just chill out.
However you approach it, having a good sleep routine is vital. Going to bed around the same time each night and waking up around the same time each morning is the ideal routine to have. Where this is not possible experiment with napping or taking extended breaks to help boost your concentration.
All Work and No Play…
Part of the reason many people become self-employed is to enjoy a better work-life balance. However, it is an all too common occurrence for people to become so focused on their goals and building up their business that they forget to enjoy the downtime. Working flat out seven days a week will not only become exhausting and unmanageable — it will eventually effect your quality of work.
Remember that you control your schedule and have the freedom to pencil in a few early finishes or to keep your weekend free to spend quality time doing things you enjoy.
Personally, if I take a long weekend off and challenge myself not to check emails or take work-related calls, I feel more energized and motivated than usual by the time Monday morning arrives. By taking time out to relax I guarantee you’ll find your motivation and concentration levels increase.
Similarly to down time, taking regular breaks throughout your working day are key to optimizing your concentration levels. Sitting in front of a screen for six hours straight is not good for anyone and will end up being counter-productive as you become increasingly tired, irritable and mistake-prone.
Working long hours may make you feel more productive, but short bursts of intense activity usually yield better results as your concentration is focused on one specific task. Targeted, effective work beats generalized, hard work every time.
Peace and Quiet
Finally, take time to assess your working environment. Nothing kills concentration like interruptions, distractions and noise, but unfortunately this comes with the territory when you work from home.
To combat this, make sure you have a dedicated work space that is located in the quietest spot in the house. Ideally this should not be your bedroom or in the lounge in front of the television as you need to be in a more formal work mind set to keep your concentration levels up.
You can’t be productive in an environment that makes you tense, so experiment and decide which location works best for you. If you do live in a particularly noisy neighborhood you could also consider the option of working at your local library or hiring a desk at a coworking space.
Whatever type of business you run, self-employment will give you the chance to shape your own working reality. One of the greatest freedoms of being self-employed is being able to set your own rules of how and when you work. This also means that you decide when to rest and when to have down time.
When it comes to being productive and focusing your energy, remember that it is quality not quantity and shorter bursts of activity are the best way to capitalize on your concentration levels.
Always ensure that your mental and physical health is a priority. By taking care of yourself, the effects in terms of concentration, motivation and energy will be felt positively across the whole of your business.
So now it’s over to you! Do you have any tips for improving concentration? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!