Are you able to focus on your work? 7 methods for a deep state of focus.
The last couple of articles I have written have focused on getting things done, and the theme has been to focus and just do. However, I realized how can you get things done when there are so many distractions all around us?
I don’t know how much of this study is true, but I guess the essence of what I am trying to get at is what is essential. I am sure most of you have heard that the average attention span of a Goldfish is nine seconds. Human beings have an attention span of eight seconds. So a goldfish can focus longer than we can, even if it’s just for a second more. True or not, we know that we have so many things trying to grab our attention. We get sucked into everything from cat videos to your friend’s latest pictures on Instagram.
If focusing is such a problem, how can we get work done? Today I will show you seven ways I found that help me get things done, and I want to share the same with you.
The 7 Ways to improve focus that work for me are:
1. Single Task: Focusing on one task at a time has helped me tremendously. Unfortunately, I started working in the late 90s. This was a time when companies hired people who were good at Multitasking. I entered the workforce with the mindset that Multitasking is good, and I worked really hard at becoming good at it. Little did I know that scientists would turn around and say that Multitasking is more of a disadvantage than an advantage a decade later. Which meant I had to unlearn what I had learned. Not an easy task, but I believe I have gotten it out of my system. In fact, I have made it a habit of targeting the most important task of the day first thing in the morning. I have learned this from Brian Tracy and his book “Eat that Frog!” Mr Tracy always suggests targeting the most demanding and most important task first thing in the morning. As a habit, we tend to do the easy things first on our to-do list and keep the tough ones for later. Mr Tracy says this is counterproductive. Instead, he suggests that we should focus on the challenging tasks first. Mr Tracy states that our concentration and motivation are like muscles. The more we put off the important task and the more unimportant task we complete, the more tired our concentration and motivation get. It’s like working out with weights at the gym. Hence, by the time you reach the tough task at hand, you have no more energy and just want to give up for the day, and the crucial tasks get carried forward into the next day. At times these important tasks keep getting carried forward day after day until one day you give up on the task altogether. Has that ever happened to you? Oh! And by the way, did I mention that these demanding tasks are the most important ones that could change our lives. However, we hold off on them and ultimately never achieve them.
2. 5-minute rule: Whenever you get stuck and keep procrastinating on a task, use the 5- minute rule. Tell yourself that I will do the task for only 5 minutes and If I don’t like what I am doing I can stop. It has been seen that the chance of a person stopping the task are extremely low, the reason being is once the task has been started the individual will continue working on it until completion. This works for small task. As a rule, always break your bigger task into smaller ones. It is just human nature because you end up realizing that there was no evident reason for not starting the task in the first place. It’s always the first step that is the most difficult. Just telling yourself I will do this for 5 minutes, stops your brain from thinking and makes you start.
3. Meditation: This isn’t a onetime thing but an ongoing one. Your focus level increases with time if you meditate on a consistent basis. Meditation has helped me tremendously in so many areas of my life. It has made me extremely calm. It even took care of my road rage. Once I started meditation that all changed. But my greatest change came in the form of focus. I used to be pulled in so many directions previously. Meditation taught me how to take that step back and look at life through a different lens.
4. Go offline / turn off notifications: Our phones are a blessing and a curse. Have you ever noted how a slight buzz from our phone grabs our attention away from everything that we do? Sometimes, especially if you work in a high stressed job, a message will also mess with your breathing which ultimately effects the heart as well. This has been phrased Email Apnea. A survey conducted on interruptions caused by phones showed that we lose a whopping 6 hours in total from messages, beeps and phone calls.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found after careful observation that the typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes, and five seconds. And it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds just to get back to where they left off.
Can you imagine the amount that could have been achieved had these interruptions not occurred? There are two ways to resolve this. The first is place your phone on silent and turn it facedown so you cannot see the screen if it lights up. The second, is going offline if you do not require the internet. This applies to all your devices, including your computer. Many of you will say that neither options can work for you as your job won’t allow it. But let me ask you this; can you take out 25 minutes to focus on a task. More about this later.
Going offline for a short period of time has really helped me especially when it comes to writing. In fact, many writers including Game of Thrones writer George R. R. Martin, works on an old computer that is not connected to the internet and uses an old word processor to write his books. Can you imagine no social media, no emails, no unnecessary googling etc.
Even Maya Angelou, the famous author and poet, would take a room at a hotel and lock herself away from all distractions to write. This is how seriously they took distractions.
5. Pomodoro Technique: Francesco Cirillo, invented this technique by mistake back in the late 1980s. Back then he was a University student and like all University students, he was playing catch up on his course work but couldn’t focus no matter what he did. He made a commitment there and then that he would focus for just 10 minutes. He went in search of a timer and came across a little tomato-shaped baking timer in the kitchen. Hence the name Pomodoro Technique was born. Pomodoro is a tomato in Italian.
He later went on to play around with durations and breaks and found the one that worked for him. According to him one Pomodoro should be for 25 mins followed which is then later followed by a 5 min break. After Four Pomodoro’s the next break will be a longer one lasting from 15–30 mins. I have found that the Pomodoro Technique and David Allen’s Getting things done work hand in hand and I have been using both these techniques together.
More about the Pomodoro Technique can be read in Francesco’s Book “The Pomodoro Technique”
Now even though Francesco states that 25 minutes focus time followed by a 5-minute break is ideal. You be your own judge and play around with the time. Others who do more creative work have found that 25 minutes is not enough. They feel that a 52 minute focus period followed by a 17-minute break is perfect. Others prefer the 90 / 20 Model which I mention next.
6. 90/ 20 model: The 90/20 Model is pretty similar to the Pomodoro Method except the durations for focus and break are much longer. This method is used mostly by writers, painters, or other individuals who need to remain focused for a longer period. It’s straight forward. 90 minutes of focus followed by a 20–30 minute break. People swear that they get more work done using this method. Chase Jarvis, the founder of Creative Live uses the 90–20 model and says that he has gotten more done using this method that any other process he has used before.
7. Go to Nature: Whenever I am unable to focus, I take walks. The best place to walk is with trees, plants, and nature. I usually take a walk in the park where there are loads of tress or take a stroll into the woods. There is just something, when you are one with nature that not only calms you from all the stresses of life but connects you with nature and brings peace, harmony, and focus. It has helped me drastically in so many ways.
These are 7 ways that have helped me improve my focus. Do you have some techniques that you use and could suggest? It will not only help me but others who read this article.
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