Sorry, what did you just say?
You never told me that!
I just want to check this one little thing…
Where did the time go?
How often do you find yourself saying these things? It’s a fact: we’re all getting more distracted. There’s more and more to do, read, and watch, yet we still only get allocated 24 small hours in a day. What’s a girl to do?
You gotta focus! As Christmas looms, more advertising, more parties, more holiday preparations, more sick-of-work-just-one-more-week moments, are all combining to pull our focus away from what we’re meant to be doing. How do you stay focussed?
Well today is a two-parter (yep, I’m breaking it down for you to make focussing easier!)
Firstly, check out my suggestions in Australian Women’s Health magazine here. I’m featured in their special report on distraction and focus! (Yes, I’m pretty proud and happy about this).
Then, check out my tips below. With all these new ideas, you’ll soon be concentrating like it’s the first week of school, not the last day of term.
The best thing you can do is to practise a form of mindfulness
(Yes, this was in the article, but it’s so important I wanted to repeat it, and add some more info for you.)
Mindfulness means paying full attention to the present moment. It’s the very definition of focus! So if you want to focus, you’ll need to become mindful. The simplicity of the definition means it’s something you can do anywhere, at any time. However, although ‘pay attention’ sounds simple, it’s not easy. It’s often best to learn how to be mindful by being taken through a series of exercises to get a feel for it and to realise how difficult it actually is! You can get a free app for your phone called ‘Smiling Mind’, google ‘free mindfulness exercises’ or enrol in a short course (I did one this year called ‘Mindful in May’ that was pretty helpful).
Doing these types of practices will increase your ability to focus in the present. Once you get used to being mindful, you tend to fall in love with it: connecting with the present moment means you drop anxiety about the future and regret about the past for that time and that freedom is a wonderful feeling.
Read until the very end
Technology has definitely caused issues with attention span. It’s too easy to click away to something else, so we don’t use our patience and concentration muscles very regularly. Ever commented TLDR (too long, didn’t read)? Not anymore. Commit to finish reading what you start (begin with this blog post!). Doing this will improve your concentration. It will also improve focus: do you really want to agree to read every last word on the 46 hot new holiday destinations? Maybe not. Then back to doing what you’re actually meant to be doing!
Get enough sleep
The better rested you are, the less distracted you’ll be. This will make you more productive: so you can leave work earlier or complete it in a more relaxed way, giving you the best chance to be well rested again. It becomes a positive cycle and can really improve your output and your feelings of being in control of your life. Prioritise getting enough sleep for a week and watch what it does to your focus, your energy, and your mood. You’ll be amazed at how much more motivated and productive you can be.
Take care of your physical health
Being dehydrated or hungry will mean you can’t focus well. It interferes with your blood sugar levels and our brains use about 20% of the total energy our body requires each day. If you’re hungry or thirsty, your focus will be compromised. Take the time to eat regularly and drink some water every hour. Bonus tip: if you set a timer to remind you to drink water every hour, it will focus you back in the present moment - dragging you away from any distractions you’ve been caught up in!
'Batch' your tasks
Work on something start to finish in one go if possible. Consider activities like writing a whole first draft, rather than just one paragraph and then editing it, or dedicating one day to cleaning instead of doing little bits each day. It’s known as ‘batching’ and it means you use the benefits of momentum and singular focus, leading to a great sense of achievement at the end of the day (and relief you don’t have to do it again for a while!).
Batching is the opposite of multi-tasking, which has now been shown to make us less productive because of the constant shifting of our focus. Multi-tasking = distracting, Batching = focussed.
Let yourself get bored
‘I’m bored… ‘ Our parents used to roll our eyes when we said this as kids, but nowadays it’s just as likely to be an adult complaining! Technology, and the effects of increasingly quicker access to (fast) food, streamed live news, instant updates about our friend’s lives and 24/7 entertainment on whatever you like, is ruining our ability to concentrate and our ability to pursue hobbies that take time and patience in order to see a reward. We expect immediate fulfilment and when we don’t get it, we feel stressed or down.
But just because the internet is fast, doesn’t mean the real world moves any quicker. Getting better at something still takes time and lots of (often boring) practise. Being bored isn’t necessarily a sign to stop what you’re doing. It might just be a nudge that what you’re doing is actually worthwhile. Often, truly great things take a lot of time (think home-cooked vs take-away, hand-made vs factory produced, long-term intimacy vs quick hook-ups).
Talk to people face to face
Nothing like someone staring right at you to force you to pay attention to what they’re saying! Making eye-contact and really listening to someone else is a great way to improve your focus. Plus, they’ll love you for it! How good does it feel when someone actually reflects back to you that they’ve really been listening to what you’ve said instead of saying ‘uh-huh’ while looking at their phone? You get to be that person who’ll be called a good listener, and that leads to better friendships and relationships (both intimate and business).
Well, if you’ve read all the way down to here then I feel like your focus is improving already (bonus points if you didn’t click away to look at something else half-way through)!
Have you got an interesting way to improve your focus that I haven’t covered? I’d love to hear it – just write me a note in the comments below. And if you'd like a bit more personalised help in how to stay focussed (especially if you've got some goals you really want to reach in 2016), get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out my contribution to the Australian Women’s Health article this month on distraction and focus, where you can learn even more great tips on how to stay focussed.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.