How to work without being overwhelmed - Be smart about dealing with “sudden work requests.”
Updated: Feb 19
The theme of this article is a common work problem for both those who have recently started teleworking and those who have been freelancing for a long time. Like many of us, you probably have a hard time focusing on your work because the unexpected is constantly coming at you.
There are many things in the world that can interfere with our work focus, whether it's a sudden request from a client, an email or chat that needs an immediate response, a crying child, or an unexpected phone call. Some of the factors mentioned above are external, while others come from within us, such as fears about the future, worries about dinner menus and family health, or the irresistible temptation to check social media.
Modern people's ability to concentrate is measured in seconds!
According to preventive medicine researcher Yoshiki Ishikawa, the average businessperson checks email 30 times an hour. With this assumption, a modern person can concentrate for only eight seconds, less than a goldfish's concentration (nine seconds). This sounds like a bit of an overstatement. (How do you measure the concentration of a goldfish in the first place?!) If it is difficult to concentrate, it is also difficult to derive pleasure and fulfillment from your work because you cannot attain a "flow state" where you can find the ultimate sense of immersion.
However, if you think about it the other way around, there's nothing wrong with being objectively bombarded with a constant stream of noise that "interferes with work concentration," as long as you can subjectively feel a deep sense of satisfaction: "I worked hard today.” This raises a question: Is that really possible?
To paraphrase Marketing expert Rory Sutherland said in his TED talk, ‘Things are not what they are. They are in the form we understand them to be. Changing the perceived value can give us the same satisfaction as what we think of as 'actual value.’
What this shows us is that while we may need to use techniques to cut off what we perceive as disturbances in our work focus (turning off our phones for a certain amount of time, asking our colleagues not to talk to us for a while, etc.), it's more important to have the correct mindset.
There have been many times in my own life when I've been so excited about the prospect of working from morning to night and shutting out all the outside world, only to be disappointed at the end of the evening by how much I actually got done.
This is an example of a situation that was objectively good for us, but we failed because we didn't focus on our mindset.
Establish a focused mindset
So, how do you create your own mindset? The first thing we have to admit is that our ability to concentrate has a limit. For example, according to Professor Yuji Ikeya of the University of Tokyo, human beings can only concentrate for about 40 minutes. Therefore, it may be more effective to work for three sets of 15 minutes with short breaks rather than for 60 minutes straight.
If our brains themselves are limited, the key is to find time to work in an environment without disturbances, even if it's only for a short period of time, such as early in the morning, and to make the best use of those resources to work at a high level of concentration. If you do this well, even if you're busy running various errands during the day, you'll still be able to say, "Oh, I wish I could focus!” and the gap between desire and reality should no longer be frustrating.
How can you make the most of your limited time? Your mindset is still important here. For example, let's say you wake up at 6:00 a.m. and set aside an hour when no one will interrupt you. However, if you're only looking for "results" in that hour, you may feel a sense of urgency that won't allow you to get things done. If you only want results in that hour, you can feel frustrated if things don't go as planned, or if you don't finish the work you planned to do.
In other words, if you only seek results, your brain will be constantly spinning, and you won't achieve any real satisfaction.
In this regard, Dr. George Plansky, psychologist and author, says that ‘change happens like dominoes. Thoughts create emotions, and emotions motivate action,’ emphasizing the importance of getting our thoughts in order first, rather than our actions.
Interestingly, the ancient Greeks had two words for time. The first was kronos, which is represented by the movement of a clock's hand, and kairos, which means "this moment in time." We might say that the former is objective (e.g., 60 minutes, an absolute unit of time) and the latter is subjective (the length of an hour that we perceive).
If we only see a given hour as a "chronos," all we can do is worry about the passage of time and the progress of our work, and in the end, it may be difficult to focus deeply. However, if you set your mindset to kairos and focus on how meaningfully you can spend a given amount of time, in the moment, in the now, you will ultimately be able to immerse yourself in your work.
As time management techniques, such as the Pomodoro Technique, show, the logic that short intervals, rather than long periods of idle work, can make you more efficient in your work is very valid.
There is a passage in the historical book, Night and Fog, by Viktor Frankl, that reads as follows:
“Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued...Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
The more you desire to focus on your work and produce results, the more it slips out of your hands in your daily life. Let's shift our perspective away from that idea and focus on fulfilling the "now, this moment" that we can secure. That's where a deeper focus will come from, and it will lead to more success as a result.
Born in Japan and moved to China in 2008. After studying the Chinese language in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Kawai deepened his learning in Hunan and Jiangsu provinces through close interaction with locals. Currently staying in Ghana and making his endeavor to English and local Twi languages.