At House of Coco if we aren’t on a flight heading to a far flung destination, or on a train heading across the UK, the chances are we are sipping coffee in a cool little cafe. Being able to focus in a world that is demanding our attention non-stop is not only a skill, but an art. What’s more, it’s an ability that it is worth investing time in cultivating, as it will give you a huge edge that will pay dividends in your career. Being able to focus anywhere is an even more esoteric expertise, and one you can certainly have fun practising! We teamed up with Paula Gardener to get some tips and advice…
My work with organisations around the world, together with a side-line as a travel blogger, has meant that I’ve become very good at getting things done, from anywhere. Here, I share some of what I’ve learned…
Working for Someone else
First define what you have to do, whether this is a one off project or an ongoing role. Knowing exactly what you need to get done, and by when, will give you a framework. Are you expected to be contactable by Skype or facetime for instance, or can you go off grid as long as you produce the work at the end of the day? If you’re working with someone else, can you use a platform like Podio.com or Google Docs to share work, or is there an existing system your organisation prefers? Think of this framework as a kind of official contract that you’ll need to stick to. It’s quite possible that your employer won’t even have thought of some of this, so you’ll get extra brownie points for taking it seriously.
Working for Yourself
Even if you’re self-employed, I’d suggest setting up the same type of framework: what do you need to do and by when. Also, as you’re not checking in with someone else, set dates and targets so you can checkmark whether you’re working at the right rate or need to speed it up a little.
Getting Technical…or not
There are a huge amount of Apps and programmes to help us work virtually: teleconferencing, webinars, Skype, facetime, WhatsApp, Podio, to name a few. It’s worth getting up to speed technically with any that you’re feeling unsure about, and get over any fears about appearing on camera, if you have them. Nowadays just about everyone (including recruitment agencies) uses a Skype or a cousin of, and getting and appearing comfortable is just part of normal working life.
If you’re at the point when you’re choosing a new lap top and you will be travelling with it, look for something small and light, but with a decent battery life. A charger that suits more than one device is clever (this is where Android wins over Apple), and perhaps even consider a solar charger too.
If you don’t already, start to work in the Cloud, so that you can access your work from anywhere, should the worse happen and your laptop disappear or die on you. A Dropbox folder is handy for storing photos and docs too, and you can choose what to share.
However, I caution against living and breathing the techie lifestyle. There are pieces of work that just cry out for old fashioned pen and paper (I find this is planning, for me, and anything creative). Here you can turn off your electrics and really concentrate on the job in hand, without being distracted by the internet or email notifications.
Smart phone notifications off. Check.
Email closed and checked only at certain points in the day. Check.
Freedom (https://freedom.to/) installed and on to stop meaningless browsing. Check.
If you’re really struggling there are ways to keep the distractions down. I prefer the carrot rather than stick approach and allow myself another cappuccino or game of Maj Jong after I’ve written x no of words or spent a certain amount of time on a project. Play around to see what works for you.
Coffee Shops and other places
Some people love them but not everyone can work well in a coffee shop. For a start you have to drink coffee, which means at some point you’ll need to use the loo and have to ask someone to look after all your gear, and we know stressful that can be, especially if there is a queue.
I find coffee shops quite stimulating myself, and love working in them. Cakes, rather than focus, is my downfall. I have yet to find a solution to this, apart from long walks in between to burn off calories.
Public libraries are often a better bet if you’ve got something very intense to get done. There is often an air of concentration that just seeps into your bones, and gets you over that last hump. The smell of books always works for me too, if I’m studying!
Travel on the road
If you can afford it, forking out for a passenger lounge sometimes makes sense, as you’ll often get more privacy, decent Wi-Fi and the newspapers, as well as free food and drink. Look for any special offers if you’re a frequent flier, or come straight out and ask your office to pay.
If you’re flying, an aisle seat means that you can move your elbows a little more, helpful if you’re not keen on poking the person next to you; but a window seat means that your neighbours won’t be crawling over your laptop every time they want out. Oh, and do make sure you keep your charger in your carry on rather than hold luggage. I find a notepad best for work en route. It’s more private (people can’t peak at your screen) and there’s something about a big sky, or view from a train window that just inspires big picture thinking…which I don’t then want to scale down onto a computer screen.
One last thing which works for me is a adopting a ritual to acknowledge that this is now work time and work space. For me, it’s playing certain playlists on Spotify that I know help me concentrate, and are my work play-lists. Baroque is very good for work that requires intense concentration apparently. John Hopkins University says “Baroque music, such as that composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, that is 50 to 80 beats per minute creates an atmosphere of focus that leads students into deep concentration in the alpha brain wave state.”
But your ritual could just as likely be a certain number of slow breaths to bring you to a working state, shutting everything down on your computer other than the thing you are working on, or just ordering one glass of rich, ruby red wine from room service in a hotel and sipping that as you ease yourself into the task in hand!
Paula Gardner of http://www.scarletthinking.com runs a boutique business consultancy that encourages organisations and individuals to become “scarlet thinkers” and add new blood to the way they think, plan and create.