When we watch our favorite Football team play, read a thrilling book, listen to an interesting person talk or do something that we enjoy, we do not have to force ourselves to pay attention to the task. We can effortlessly maintain 100% focus over a long period of time. But there are other times when no matter how hard we try, we just cannot seem to keep it together.
I, for instance, regularly forget my cell phone at home (which really upsets my friends and family members). But I am sure I am not the only one guilty of day-dreaming and mind-wandering.
I am going to take a guess that you too have been in a situation when a person was talking to you while your thoughts were wandering somewhere else. Or when you really needed to learn new material, and yet you were reading the words without really understanding the main idea. Or when you planned on starting a new workout routine, but could not make yourself stay committed to your goal.
All these experiences have one thing in common – lack of focus.
Many people believe that poor concentration is an almost irresolvable problem. I can tell you from my own experience that it isn’t. In fact, there are many great little tips and exercises that you can do to noticeably improve your focus and expand your attention span in just 3 days.
Here are the first 10 (10 more are coming in the next post. I did not write them all together for one simple reason – it would be really hard to read and memorize all 20 suggestions at once):
1. Identify your objective. The concept of focus put simply is about not losing the thread of what you are trying to do. Usually if you do not have a clear objective before you start working on a certain task, half of your time and effort will be simply wasted. Therefore, before beginning anything, ask yourself “What is my objective for doing it?” It does not matter if you are working on a project, making pancakes, talking to a friend or trimming the lawn. Some of your actions should be directed to achieve a concrete goal. When you define clearly what it is that you want to accomplish, you cut your chances of getting distracted by half.
2. Concentrate on one task at a time. When we have ten + tasks on our to-do list, multitasking seems like the only logical solution to get them all done. We multitask, because we believe that it boosts our efficiency and productivity. However, true productivity is not about how many things you can do at once. It is about how many tasks you complete. If you want to get more done a lot faster and with fewer errors, focus your attention on just one task at a time.
3. Choose important over urgent. Not all of the important tasks are urgent. Quite the opposite, all long-term goals that have the biggest positive impact on our life are way ahead in the future. Similar, most tasks that seem highly urgent will not matter in a month. Make sure that you do not let yourself be distracted by apparent priorities and keep your focus on tasks that are truly important for your career, personal life, health and spiritual growth. Everything else can wait!
4. Set up a success environment. It has been proven that visual clutter impedes our focus and productivity. If you want to improve your focus, clear your desk and close all the unnecessary tabs on your desktop. Leave only those materials or things that you need to successfully complete the task.
5. Block out distractions. Because we are programmed biologically to stay alert to changes in our environment, it is natural for us to react to every interruption in our environment. In order to stay focused, we must keep our distractions at bay. Close the door and ask your coworkers or family members not to disturb you for 45-50 minutes. Turn off your e-mail notifications, Twitter, Facebook, messenger, and Skype. Switch off your cell phone. Turn off the TV, internet or your mp3 player. If you absolutely must have background “noise” to stay concentrated (like I do), choose classical music, mantra chanting or nature sounds CDs. This type of relaxation music has been proven to boost focus and creativity.
6. Take care of your body. It is close to impossible to keep your concentration levels high, if you are tired, hungry, thirsty or anxious. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating well and getting regular exercise. This will increase your physical energy, improve oxygen levels in the bloodstream and as a result will keep your mind more alert.
7. Study your energy patterns. All of us have different times of the day when we feel energized and motivated and times of day when we feel lazy and less productive. Plan your daily routine by taking your energy patterns into consideration and scheduling your most important tasks when your attention is highest.
8. Work in blocks. Our concentration is highest during the first 50 minutes of work. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Break down your tasks into 45-50 minute sessions, which are followed by a 10-15 minute focus shift. This means that after your focus session is over, you immediately stop whatever you have been doing, get up from your desk and do something completely different (for example, make yourself a cup of coffee, chat with colleague, do a 10-minute workout, call your spouse to see how they have been doing).
9. Do it wholeheartedly. If you do not feel like doing something, you will actively look for excuses to get distracted, which only prolongs the torture. Whatever you are doing, try to find some aspects that interest and motivate you. Why is it important to get this task done well? What benefits will it bring you?
10. Give yourself a break! With our busy work schedule, most of us use our break time to make phone calls, browse the internet or do some more work (which keeps us “glued” to our desk for hours). Doing this basically means killing your productivity. When your body gets tired, your brain cells get exhausted, your concentration level decreases and your performance suffers. Therefore, if you want to surprise yourself and others with your laser-like focus and improved productivity, make sure to take 10-25 minute breaks every hour or so. And do not forget weekends are when all work ends, otherwise they would be called working days.