You have an attention span of just 8 seconds. That’s one second shorter to goldfishes.
Out of all the human abilities that have diminished during the decades, focus is the most problematic.
You have faced it too, haven’t you? You stared at the screen for five minutes without blinking, went through the page thrice, but you couldn’t grasp what was written.
You noticed your mind is wandering.
You aren’t alone. All of us have troubles focusing. We all have been distracted.
And sadly, distractions feel great. However, there is no such thing as free lunch. No matter how amazing distractions feel, they lead to failure and regret.
Focus is the key to get things done. It’s how successful people have fulfilled their goals and become extraordinary.
It is more important than effort. Infinite amounts of effort is useless with your attention being split.
Challenging times are a piece of cake with the human ability to concentrate. Most of your tasks could be accomplished in a fraction of your normal time with complete focus.
But with the current economy selling your scarce attention, focus seems like an expensive choice.
In this article, I share with you some straightforward and easy-to-follow procedures to improve your ability to focus:
(Just don’t loose your attention in between)
1. Prioritize Your Energy
Have you ever felt that there are not enough hours in a day to get things done?
In the book, The Power Of Full Engagement, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, explain why we don’t get things done even with enough time:
It’s not time that we lack, it’s energy. Human energy drains with each hour of the day. The book defies the law of “time management” and focuses on “energy management” instead.
Managing your energy (not your time) efficiently and productively, is the secret mantra to higher performance and faster growth.
Also, make your to-do lists according to your priorities. When our mind sees the top item in the list, it automatically assumes it to be the most urgent.
The priority action needs to be taken on the task that is:
Urgent + Important + Hard
Set the list according to this technique and go on checking things off.
2. Have Only One Goal At A Time
This is the easiest to get and hardest to implement strategy: Stop having so many goals.
All of us have tried to check off all the items in a long to-do list and feel good about ourselves.
However, accomplishing quantity isn’t accomplishing quality. Choices frustrate us. When there are too many things to do at the same time, we end up doing nothing.
Or we end up trying to do everything.
We all know how that works out. The secret is not to work harder to achieve more, it is to work smarter and achieve greater.
- When we get too much to choose from, we find it hard to choose at all.
One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation.
2. Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.
“The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.”
3. Choices escalates our expectations. And expectations ruin you.
“Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be.”
You might think that getting more done would fasten your progress. But it’s the opposite. Humans suck at multitasking. It makes you less efficient and hinders your creativity.
Set your mind only on one task at a time. Decide a time limit to your goal. Finish it. And then, focus on the next goal.
However, don’t become a workaholic…
3. Schedule Boring Breaks
Studies have found that people who take 15-minute breaks every couple of hours end up being more productive.
Scott Young, was able to put 8+ hours of focus per day during the MIT challenge. He mentions in his blog that he never studied in the evening or on weekends. And he is guilt-free for that.
He highlights that if you don’t schedule your off hours, your mind will do it for you: by procrastinating and losing focus.
Decide first when you are not going to work. Yes, that’s right. Schedule your distractions as precisely as you schedule your working hours.
If breaks are taken correctly, they could enhance your focus.
They help you restore your energy. Amazingly, breaks also help you in problem-solving. Ever left a problem and found the solution out of nowhere in a while or two?
That, my friend, was the power of breaks. Detaching from the problem you are stuck on for a while could help you regain your focus. Relaxing is as important as focus.
But, do you know what good breaks are?
Good breaks are boring. Breaks are tricky business. If not applied with intelligence, they could make you fall in the pit of procrastination.
Here’s the trick: A break shouldn’t be fun. It should be relaxing. Do a boring break than the work you’re supposed to do (take a walk, sit quietly doing nothing for some time). This will make you itch to do something.
That’s when you get back at work.
But, what if your work environment is uncomfortable, or distracting?
4. Create The Right Environment
Motivation is often overvalued. Environment matters more than you think.
If you want to focus on grasping a subject matter by self-study, a noisy, distracted environment doesn’t allow you to.
Your motivation, willpower, focus, ability- all of this matters. But in the long run, your environment overpowers them.
If you are trying to concentrate with tabs of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram open, you are not focusing. You are just creating an unhealthy work environment for yourself.
Distraction could make you feel guilty. You wanted to complete the task today but then you started surfing over YouTube.
Cut off all distractions. Use softwares to block social media sites when you work. Set your phone on pilot mode. Hang a “Do not disturb” sign at your door so that your colleagues or family don’t interrupt you. Unplug from technology when you work.
Keep yourself in a quiet surrounding if it works better for you. Use music to re-energize yourself in a distracted environment.
Dehydration could also reduce your concentration. Drink water frequently even if you don’t feel thirsty. Don’t sit on uncomfortable chairs to work. Have the right breakfast. Get proper sleep. Walk regularly.
Create an environment that favors you. Environment could make winning easier.
But even the perfect environment cannot make you get shit done if you let your thoughts overpower you…
5. Be Here Now
When you’re working, you’re working. When you’re relaxing, you’re relaxing.
Don’t think of relaxing when you are finishing your task and don’t think about working when you’re chilling on your weekend.
If you think about the upcoming party at your house while making a presentation, it’s not going to be your 100%.
Be aware. Be present. Thinking is continuous. Once you start thinking about something else in the middle of your work, it’s hard to come back and regain that flow and focus.
Don’t feel guilty when your mind wanders. It happens to literally everyone. Instead, identify your distraction. It’s the first step to gain awareness.
When you realize that your mind has wandered, slowly bring your attention back to the task you were doing.
If you worry too much, schedule a “Worry Time”. This a psychological trick to stop worrying amidst your work. Set aside some 15-30 minutes for the day for just, worrying.
In this time, you could list all the things that trouble you or stress you out. Don’t think about how to solve them. But if your mind goes there, it’s fine.
And interestingly, this could lead to a significant reduction in anxiety and stress during work. You could do the same if you overthink.
With having an attention span of just 8 seconds, it’s hard to attain focus and get things done. I have shared some simple and straightforward methods to throw away your distractions and improve your focus.
First, you have to prioritize your energy. It’s not time that you lack, it’s energy that drains out. Do the most important tasks when you’re the most energetic.
Second, have only one goal at a time. The more you try to get done at the same time, the less efficiently will you be able to do it.
Third, schedule breaks accordingly but make sure they’re boring. When you do something less interesting than the task at hand, it makes you itch to go back and continue.
Fourth, create the right environment. It matters more than you think. Working in a distraction free, favorable environment enhances focus.
Fifth, be in the present. Do what you’re doing. Stop thinking about something else. Identify when your mind wanders, and slowly go back to focus on the task you were actually doing.
What are the problems you faced in focusing? How did you deal with them? I’d love to know in the comments below.