Staying focused can be tough with a constant stream of employees, clients, emails, and phone calls demanding your attention. Amid the noise, understanding your brain’s limitations and working around them can improve your focus and increase your productivity.
Here’s my take…
The first step to getting focused is to reduce or eliminate distractions. If you imagine your focus as bucketful of water, every distraction is a little hole in your bucket. The more distractions you have, the more holes you have, the more water is going to leak out, and eventually your bucket is going to be empty.
It is the same way with your focus. If you’re concentrated on your work, but your phone is beeping, somebody’s knocking on your door, people are talking, there’s all this noise around you, it makes it much harder to focus. It makes it much harder to concentrate, because every single time, you’re faced with a decision: do you pay attention to your phone vibrating, or do you stay focused on the task at hand?
The ability to concentrate is like a muscle. The more you exercise, the more you go to the gym, the better developed your muscles are going to be. It’s the same way with your focus. If you’re somebody who’s constantly distracted, you’re used to multitasking, 40 minutes of focus time might be too much for you. So start with 5. Get comfortable with 5 minutes of paying attention to only one task. Then make it 10, make it 15, make it 20. Slowly build your way up to about 40 to 50 minutes of focus time. Train your focus.
Next, train your focus the same way you’re going to train your muscles. You don’t go to the gym, go on the bench press and start benching hundreds of pounds. You start slowly, you allow your muscles to develop, and you build your way up. Same way with your focus and your concentration. Train it. Start slow; gradually build your way up. Learn how to schedule your time the right way, so it supports maximum focus throughout the entire day, not just in the morning. This strategy allows you to renew your focus over and over again, so you can use it for every single task.
We live in a society where taking breaks and relaxation is not “cool”, because you’re supposed to be on 24/7, but taking breaks is going to allow your focus to renew. Your energy follows a very predictable pattern every single day: it goes up, and it takes about 2 ½ hours to go down. And when your energy starts going down, so does your focus, your concentration, your willpower and even your mood.
But people don’t like that… at all. When our energy goes down, we start going for coffee, we start going for energy drinks, for sugary stuff, just to pump our energy up. But instead, if you take a break, your focus is going to renew because your energy is going to be elevated.
Do this: work for 50 minutes. Concentrate all your attention for 50 minutes. Then take a 10 minute break. Follow it up with another 50 minutes of focus time, then take another 30 minute break. During your breaks, get up. If you’re sitting at a desk, get up, walk around, shake it off.
Don’t think about what you were doing before or what you’re going to be doing next. Take a break physically, but take a break mentally as well.
This is going to help bring your energy up, which is going to bring your focus up, your willpower, your mood, your creativity, and everything else up. Always take breaks. Even if you don’t feel like you need them, take a break. When you get exhausted, when you’re wiped out and it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, no amount of sugar, no amount of productivity apps, nothing is going to change your focus, but taking a break.
Eliminate distractions, or at least reduce them as much as you can; train your focus slowly, gradually, build your way up; do it and then take regular breaks. May the force of better focus be with you.
Check out my related post: Is multitasking really possible?