Why focus for productivity?

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Did you know that sticking to your task makes you happier? When you let your mind wander, even to a pleasant memory, studies show you’ll be unhappy.

I remember reading about this in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s terrific book Flow. In it, he writes about being in the flow, where you are totally engaged with your task, whatever it is. Being in the flow feels great. You’re completely present and time is suspended.

It seemed less intuitive to me that when your mind wanders, you’re less happy, but that’s what a 2010 Harvard study found.

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.” *

What does that mean for productivity? I say it means that staying focused on your present task will make you happy! That’s a pretty compelling reason to work on focus and say no to multi-tasking.

It’s also a good reason to limit your work time to the length of time you can successfully stay focused. You’ll be on task, and happier, working in half hour stretches and taking breaks than grinding away for hours.

Most of that grinding time will be spent either thinking of something else or trying to stop your mind from wandering.

See if you notice this in your life. Track your own happiness when you’re involved in doing something, versus idly wondering about something else.

* http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/