Focus is the key to getting anything done in this life. When we can place our attention on the present, we make fewer mistakes, few less stressed and have greater satisfaction in life. But with all the background noise of texting and television and e-mails and social media, focus can be hard to find — unless we practice and cultivate our concentration. Here are some ways to do it.
1. Play to your strengths. Are you a person that works well with music playing in the background? Are you most motivated at 2 p.m. or are you an early riser ready to work at 6 a.m. For three days keep a log of your energy flow, motivation, and the moments when you feel most focused and attentive. Then, build your schedule around those times. Plan to do the tasks that require the most concentration at the times you are generally most attentive and create the environment that supports that.
If my house is really dirty or I have a ton of unanswered correspondence sitting in my inbox, I find it hard to focus on my work. So, I take care of that stuff first, have a cup of coffee, and find my focus around 10 a.m. This is usually when I take on the more complex writing structural tasks and revisions. I break the responsibilities into chunks and go piece by piece, with breaks in between. I am distracted by music, so I keep it quiet and I always work from the same spot. I tend to find a flow of new ideas mid-afternoon, so that’s when I make time for more abstract tasks. That’s when I do research or idea development, or spend time roughing out new articles.
Experiment. Play around with your time and tasks. Notice when your focus is piqued and which conditions foster your focus, then set up your schedule and environment to support you.
2. Stop the multitasking madness. Two-percent of the population are what psychologists call super taskers – able to effectively and efficiently juggle a bunch of responsibilities at one time. You, my friend, are probably not among them. Either am I. Sure, I like to think I am. And, I’ve been known to successfully put on a little make up while driving and talk on the phone while making spaghetti sauce, but too much multi-tasking ramps up stress, leads to a greater number of mistakes, and setbacks and an inability to focus later at the times when we really need to.
When we routinely take on a number of tasks at any one time, we are weakening our ability to concentrate on the important stuff. Focus on small chunks of the larger job. Take on one task and then the next, rather than multi-tasking. You’ll make fewer mistakes and you’ll be strengthening your ability to concentrate and focus.
3. Practice mindfulness. Alright I’m not expecting you to become a monk-like meditator although they’ve got the power of focus down, but it is worthwhile to stop throughout your day and strengthen your powers of concentration and perception. Stop what you are doing. Be still and simply become aware of the things around you. Then, pick a particular item, detail, or experience, and tune into that for a couple of minutes.
Keep your attention on that thing, and bring your mind back to it even when it wanders which it will roughly a zillion, billion times.
This is tough to do in the beginning because we are out of practice. You’ll probably want to quit and whine and make a bunch of excuses like I don’t have time, or I’ll do it after lunch, or I did it for 22 seconds and it didn’t help at all. But do it anyhow. In time, you will have greater control over your attention and it will be easier to focus when you must.