December 16, 2016
At Saent, we believe every person deserves (and needs!) at least half an hour per day without interruptions to escape from our over-connected and hyper busy modern world. We call it the “30 Minutes of Focus Challenge.” In this three part series we explain you the why, the how, and the what. In parts I and II of this series on "The 30 Minutes of Focus Challenge" we covered the why and the how. But now that you have that half hour of uninterrupted time per day, what can you do with it? You might already have some ideas about what to use this time for, but this article will give you some inspiration. I’ve broken these ideas into two distinct categories: work and personal.
The point of the 30 Minutes of Focus Challenge is to create a small piece of your day with zero distractions from the outside world. One way you can use that time is to get important work done. You could use this time to work on a key project, of course, but here are some other ideas for using your 30 minutes at work.
Plan and prioritize I always like to say: “time spent planning and prioritizing is never wasted.” There are limits to this, but since most people hardly spend any time doing it, it’s usually true. Even though this can seem like “prep work” that shouldn’t require deep concentration, the planning process does cost mental energy. I find that it’s actually best done when you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Spend your half hour figuring out what’s important and what’s not, organizing a complex project into deliverables and milestones, or simply prioritizing your todo list and planning your meetings for the day.
Eat the frog This concept is derived from an old quote that’s often attributed to Mark Twain. It basically means that if you do the thing you dread most (eating a frog) first thing in the morning, the day can only get better. This is a great way to approach your todo list: identify your frog (the thing you’re most likely to procrastinate on) and do it first in your half hour of uninterrupted time (more details here).
Writing Writing (e.g., for your company blog) can be a great way to learn from the past and develop ideas. When you put thoughts to paper, you’re forced to truly understand a concept. You’ll do research and think about it more deeply than you would have otherwise. Don’t know what to write about? Start by writing a blog post about something you’ve been asked about more than once (by a colleague or customer), then next time you can refer people to your blog.
Decision making Making (difficult) decisions is another activity that can benefit greatly from uninterrupted time. While most of us think about making decisions as something we do casually or easily, improving your decision making can have enormous benefits. Making them during your uninterrupted half hour will surely improve the quality of your decisions. For added effect, try using a decision journal.
Having half an hour of uninterrupted time does not mean it has to be used for work. You can also spend this time on leisure activities. I've tried to look at things that have a catalyzing effect on the rest of your day and will bring you benefits beyond just the half hour you spend on them. Of course you're free to watch television for half an hour if that’s what you want, but I bet that won’t bring you as much fulfillment as the activities listed below.
Go for a walk Few things are as simple as going for a walk. Yet research now shows walking calms us down, re-energizes us, and sparks creativity. For even greater effect, go for a walk in nature. Just remember to leave your phone at home!
Meditate While many people still regard meditation with skepticism, this is another pure, simple, and ancient practice that is now backed by science: meditation reduces stress, improves focus, and enhances creativity and well-being. You can use guided meditation apps like Headspace or Calm.com, though just sitting by yourself, noticing your breath, and observing your own thoughts is also fine (and what it's all about, really). Listen to music When is the last time you sat down on your couch (or danced in the living room) and all you did was listen to music? I bet it was quite a while ago. But being fully present with an album or your favorite songs can be enormously motivating, relaxing, and/or energizing.
Read Most of us read a lot: emails, articles, and Word documents scroll through our screens all day. But how often do you actually learn something new? Get inspired? Decide to change your behavior? For me, it's usually either because of another person, or something I read in a book. Reading should be one of the highest priorities for almost everyone; spending your daily focus half hour on reading is one of the best uses of that time.
Spend time with loved ones This one should be obvious, but it can't be emphasized enough: being fully present while spending time with your loved ones is always a good way to spend your uninterrupted half hour. Whether it's for their good (research shows that parents who are constantly on their phones end up with children who have shorter attention spans) or your own (it's the best way to take your mind off a problem at work, for example), this is time well spent.
Exercise Another often neglected activity is exercise. Working out is good for your physical health, but it’s also good for your mind. There is some scientific inquiry that shows a link between aerobic exercise and increased creativity. Yet, even those who do manage to get their bodies moving are often still glued to their screens -- running on treadmills at the gym while watching TV or YouTube clips on their phones. I put my phone in airplane-mode and completely disconnect from the outside world when running or at the gym and I tend to come up with my best ideas during those workouts.
Sleep or eat It seems strange we need to be reminded about the importance of these primal activities. Yet many of us cut back on sleep when we’re busy, or let our devices take over our attention when we’re eating. Try using your 30 minutes of focus time to take a nap (you’ll feel refreshed!) or enjoy your food without any interruptions (it will taste better, promise!).
Journaling Science has proven that keeping a journal is beneficial for your health. It reduces stress, helps you learn from mistakes, and encourages mindfulness (among other things; here is a full list). However, it’s hard to get started, so why not use your new half hour of uninterrupted time to give this a go?
These are just some ideas for the types of activities you can engage in during your half hour of focus. This is by no means a list of commandments. Instead, the intention is to inspire. Feel free to add your own and don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below. Whatever you do, enjoy your daily 30 minutes of focus! You've earned it.
Take the 30 Minutes of Focus Challenge: