In today’s world, with so many distractions, staying focused is a huge challenge. However, if you can understand how it works, you stand a chance to improve focus and become more productive again.
But first things first.
What is Focus?
If you check the dictionary, focus means:
It is a skill that allows people to concentrate their attention and energy on the task in-hand till that task is finished.
Which means, if you genuinely want to improve focus, you will have to concentrate your attention on one and only one task.
Distracted? Blame it on evolution
Our brain is hard-wired to lose focus if something is either rewarding or dangerous for us.
If your subconscious perceives the task at hand to be tedious or boring, then it will trigger the responses of a perceived danger.
Hence, your mind will go into a fight or flight mode and will make you lose focus.
The same happens if, the other task is far more rewarding than the one in hand. Like chatting with your friend over social media than finishing your sales report.
This is how we have evolved from our predecessors. The evolution is against us, what can we do? Moreover, there are so many other things that keep us distracted.
Reasons you are distracted:
1.Fear of Failing
Nobody wants to fail. We are conditioned from childhood that, failure is bad. We must not fail or the sky will shatter! Probably, not shatter, but you your self-esteem will definitely take a blow.
Feeling of failure is extremely uncomfortable for us and we want to avoid that with all our might. The signs are so subtle that many times we don’t even stop to think if that is actually true. Also, your brain plays the devil’s advocate agrees with you. Voila! you just lost your focus. This is a survival mechanism that we have been programmed with.
2. Fear of Success
Oh! Come On, who fears success? I thought the same thing when I heard it for the first time. But this is true. You might probably be more familiar with the term, Self-Sabotage.
Fear of success stems from past traumatic experiences surrounding success. It could be, you associate that kind of excitement with some trauma reaction. It can also stem from your deep rooted value system, which associates success with being evil or envious.
Also, you may have been abandoned as a child (emotionally or otherwise) and if you know, if you succeed, you will have to give up your current friends and family. Your deep-rooted need to belong, make you take all self-sabotaging actions. Or otherwise, you yourself set yourself up for failure.
The kids that we have in our lives are all special. But as parents, unknowingly, can do some serious damage to their psyche.
If you were always praised for your intelligence as a child, you may have internalized that praising too much. You may think, you can do anything in the world and become a success.
Which is actually true, provided you devote yourself to learn the necessary skill involved with that task.
But if its only thought without learning any skill, then it is overconfidence. You lose focus and in your foolishness make all the excellent mistakes to make you a failure.
Our bodies and minds are like machines. After an exhaustive day, you need to stop to repair and recharge yourself.
Otherwise, your own wear and tear will make it extremely difficult for you move ahead. This is the reason, why sleep is so important.
If we sleep 7-8 hours a day, our mind will be very fresh and to focus on tasks in hand will be less of a trouble.
But let’s say you are sleeping for ample amount of time. But still, you are not able to focus. You may be suffering from some kind of sleep disorder like sleep apnea where you frequently get up and not having a peaceful sleep.
Consult a doctor who will be able to help you out.
Depression is a serious mental health disorder. It can happen to anybody irrespective of their level of success.. Some of the famous celebrities, who seem to have everything in life, suffer from depression.
Remeber the interview of famous Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone on how she struggled and won over depression
One of the major but subtle signs of depression is your inability to stay focused. Many times you will not be able to complete the task in hand or will make a lot of mistakes.
If it has a pattern is repeating itself, consult a psychologist. There is no shame in that.
Depression is like any other disease (fever, cough, cold, etc.) and needs medical intervention to get cured.
According to this article in ReVital, there are mainly 3 deficiencies that make us lose focus.
Hypothyroidism – Low thyroid levels can cause a lot of problems in your body like fatigue, depression, bad digestion, losing focus.
Testosterone – This hormone as famous it is in the man community, also deals with direct brain activity. So, a lower level will make you lose focus
Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone Imbalance – For neurotransmission, Progesterone, estrogen and testosterone work directly on the brain cells. They also protect those nerve cells from neurotoxins and other free radicals. So when there is an imbalance, there can be a measurable drop in cognitive, mental focus and ability to concentrate.
Iron is an essential mineral required to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin transports oxygen to all the blood cells of our body.
Iron deficiency or anemia can cause lack of oxygen in the body cells which impairs the normal functioning of the body. It is one of the main reasons that iron deficiency leads us to have less focus.
Now comes the repeat offender, multitasking. Our brain cannot multitask. It is actually counterproductive.
To focus on multiple things at a time is a sure source of disaster.
Each time you take a break it takes more than 15 min for the brain to refocus. Imagine the amount of time you would have wasted playing the focus, refocus game, ultimately having very little to no progress.
If you are hooked to social media, then you have a focus of a gold fish. Why?
Because they are sooooo addictive, with everchanging messaging, new videos, photos, selfies, emoticon, and so much
If you are one of those, who keeps checking their social media to find out, how much the world has changed in the last 5 min, well, news for you…you are forever doomed to have a bad focus. Beak up with your Social Media BFF, and patch up with your Focus.
Still, the question remains,
How can we improve focus?
Recommended: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (New York Times Bestseller)
If you want to train a kid to adopt a new healthy habit, what do you do? You lure the child with some kind of reward at the end of the task.
If you repeat this a couple of times, the kid will get the cue and will perform the task faster and better. We are no different than kids. If we get some reward (of intrinsic value to us), we will obviously do it. It is kind of an ethical bribe, that we give ourselves to perform a certain task or develop a certain habit.
Here the key is, the reward has to hold value to you. Otherwise, this technique will not work
I can write an entire post on the benefits of meditation. However, rather than boring you with another piece of lecture, here is a step by step guide, for you to start meditation. It will hardly take you 10 min/day, but the benefits are sky high.
Oh wait, I hear you…what was the question again? How does it help you to improve focus right?
Meditation, rewires your brain, training it to calm down and not to behave like a monkey…ever heard the term, Monkey Mind? It helps to focus on the task at hand despite of being surrounded by distractions.
Let’s say you have 10 tasks to finish tomorrow. You don’t know which one is important or which one can take more time.
Imagine, you randomly start working on some task. Suddenly you remember you have a deadline for task#3 for that afternoon. You immediately rush to the task only to remember, the passport office will close by 4:00 PM and you need to submit it for renewal. Now what? Rush to the passport office or finish task#3. What about the first task you have actually started earlier this morning?
This can be easily averted if you have taken 10-15 mins to plan out the tasks based on priorities or deadlines and then work based on the set priorities. You could have focused better rather than haphazardly running around trying complete the tasks. In general, planning can help you massively to improve focus.
4.Good Night Sleep
As much as work is important, so is sleep. A good night’s sleep helps us to rejuvenate, heal and have full energy to take on whatever comes our way.
If we don’t properly rest, our body will become fatigued and eventually, we will not be able to focus just because of tiredness. So, to improve focus a minimum of 6-7 hours of sleep is necessary
This is a very simple technique which has helped me tremendously to focus. It was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. This technique breaks down time into chunks of 25 min and 5 min.
In each 25 min, you will focus on a task at hand. Once the time is up, you will take a break for 5 min. In this way, you will complete 4 cycles. Then take a long break for 15-30 min.
You can use any kind of timer to get the job done. If you prefer to use something online, you can use this tomato timer.
6. 52/17 Principle
Every individual is different. For some, working in bursts works better. However, for others working for long intervals works better.
Here is another technique which works very well. Most productive people take effective breaks. To be specific, most of them work for 52 min and then take a break for 17 min. But in that 52 min, they work so intensely that they get much more done that the workers who are working for more than 8 hours.
A battalion cannot fight on an empty stomach. A soldier knows that very well. However, the more common people like you and me, think that we are superhumans and can continue to work fiercely with the flames of hunger scorching our stomach. Oops! that’s too dramatic.
What I mean to say is, many times, we cannot focus on our tasks is for the simple reason that we are hungry. So, get up now and eat something.
8.Say no to the time wasters
Family and friends are a very important part of our lives. However, they are the ones who take up a lot of our time also. I used to spend a lot of time with my friends. We used to chat for long hours, eat a snack, drink tea and gossip.
Oh! that used to feel so good.
But then I used to look at my goal and sigh! I’m yet to achieve so much.
So, ultimately, I had to choose. Decide whether I want to have a short-term gain, like feeling good chatting with friends or focus on my goals to have a life that I’ve always dreamt off.
I chose the 2nd option. It was extremely hard. I lost some of my friends, however, the others were supportive of me and made the choice easier for me.
Same goes for family.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to be all selfish and focus on only what you want. I’m asking you to strike a balance.
9. 5-Second Rule
This is a tool that I learned from Mel Robbins’s article The 5 Second Rule
If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea – Mel Robbins
What this means is, once you want to do something, don’t sit around meditating on that idea. Just do it.
Here what you can do step by step:
- Let’s say you want to take out the trash.
- You have a choice of either doing it now or later
- You count 5, 1..2..3..4..5
- Then just take out the trash. You cannot delay it further once you have completed counting 5
Now I can hear all you cheaters, who will not start counting for the fear of doing the task. And I’m coming after you…
10. 80/20 Rule
Recommended: The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less By Richard Koch
This is one of the best rules that I’ve ever learned and implemented. This one single rule can change your life completely
Also, known as the Pareto Principle, the crux of the rule is “80% of results come from 20% of your efforts”.
This rule is present everywhere,
80% of the money is held by only 20%
80% of your problems are caused by only 20% of people in your life
80% of accidents happen because of only 20% drivers so on and so forth….
But, how can we apply this to improve focus?
Figure out what are the handful things that cause you to get distracted 80% the time. Then plan how to eliminate them and execute the plan. You will be spot on, in your focus
When we multitask, we try to focus our attention on multiple things, like emails in our inbox or that new ding from our twitter account. It gets extremely hard to stay focused let alone improve focus.
The result is we commit more mistakes and the tasks take more time to complete than necessary. In fact, a study from Stanford shows people who multitask, literally pay the mental price.
Also, I’ve found that, if I try to focus on too many things at a time, it takes at least 15-20 min to refocus completely
12. Focus on diet
Nutrition plays an important role to improve focus.
Researchers report in the journal Annals of Neurology that women who ate berries more frequently over a period of years showed slower decline in brain functions such as memory and attention when they got older than women who ate them less often – Alice Park, Brain Food: Berries Can Slow Cognitive Decline
In general, berries are extremely good for health especially strawberries and blueberries. If you have half a cup blueberry or a cup of strawberry once a week, you will be able to provide optimum protection to your brain.
Focusing is like any other skill. To improve it, you need to practice. The more you practice, the better you get at it. But before you start, know thyself. Do you like to work continuously or want to work in short bursts of time? How will you plan your meals? What strategies will you use to avoid distractions?
Don’t panic, don’t give up. A small step at a time can lead to big successes. So, keep Going
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