Focus is simultaneously becoming more rare and more valuable.
But it’s never been harder to focus on one thing for more than a few minutes at a time.
Texts. Calls. Social media. Busy offices. Overwhelming workloads. Phones filled with entertaining apps. The new season of that new show (The Boys is my favorite).
Oh, and that’s not to mention our family, friends, pets, hobbies, self-care, and countless other things that also need our focus.
We often turn to multitasking in an attempt to get more done in less time. But we still find ourselves overwhelmed and underperforming. We’ll talk about why multitasking doesn’t work a little later, but for now, here’s 5 ways you can start focusing better today:
A big reason why you can’t focus is not knowing what to focus on when you sit down to work.
But when everything is a priority… nothing is a priority.
Use this system to figure out what to focus on:
• Write down all of the tasks, to-dos, and thoughts on your mind (this is your long list)
• Categorize them in a logical way (business, personal, and other is a good start)
• Pick out 2 to 5 priorities (the most urgent and most important things)
• Write those priorities on a separate piece of paper (this is your short list)
• Put time blocks on your calendar throughout the week to work on your short list of priorities
This serves to::
• Clear your mind since you’ve written down the stuff that was clogging it up
• Organize your to-dos in a way that’s easier to manage than keeping them in your head
• Narrow your focus to a few important things instead of many things of varying importance
You’re constantly plagued by distractions that eat away at your focus.
Common external distractions:
• Your phone
• An uncomfortable workspace
• The 17 programs and 68 tabs open on your computer
• Noisy people (or things) around you
• …such as that damn bird that chirps nonstop for 4 hours EVERY MORNING
Examples of how to reduce external distractions:
• Put your phone on silent and in another room
• Adjust your desk, chair, and monitor so you’re comfortable
• Close unnecessary programs and bookmark + close unnecessary tabs
• Use noise-canceling headphones or move to a different area
• Ask the bird politely to shut the hell up then give up and use headphones because birds can’t speak English yet
Common internal distractions:
• Interesting ideas
• Fears, anxieties, worries
• All the other stuff you have to work on
• Questions about life, the universe, and everything
• The perfect thing to say to that troll who “actually”-ed you on Twitter earlier
The best way to deal with internal distractions is by using my favorite tool:
Grab a pen and paper. Take 5 minutes to write down everything on your mind. Your mind will be clearer, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be able to focus easier.
Music is a great way to shut out distractions and help yourself get into flow. It can also improve your mood, motivation, and memory.
But not all music helps your focus. Music with vocals can distract you. So keep your focused work playlist to instrumental tracks such as:
• EDM (trance is my favorite, but my friend Dan Koe loves dubstep)
• Film scores (the Interstellar soundtrack is the GOAT)
• Video game soundtracks (they’re written to keep you immersed in the game)
You can also find “deep focus”, “studying”, or “calm” playlists on YouTube or Spotify. Or you can sign up for a service like Brain.fm or Focus@will.
Personally, I put on the Interstellar soundtrack when it’s time for some serious deep focus.
The brain can’t productively focus on more than one thing at a time.
Sure, you can walk and chew gum, or sing and play guitar, or listen to a podcast while walking at the same time.
But you can’t productively focus on two or more things at a time. So get in the habit of focusing on one thing at a time.
Using the task and time management system from tip #1 helps you narrow your focus down to one task at one time.
I promise you – you will get more done if you focus on one thing at a time.
Okay, I’ve now said “at a time” enough for a whole year’s worth of posts.
Meditation is one of the best ways to strengthen your focus muscle.
Regular meditation causes physical changes in your brain. Those changes make you better at focusing, controlling impulses, and long-term planning.
To start meditating, all you do is:
• Sit down somewhere quiet (use headphones or earplugs if you can’t find a quiet place)
• Set a timer for 2 to 5 minutes
• Close your eyes
• Breathe slowly through your nose
• Focus on the feeling of your breath passing through your nose
• Do this until the timer goes off
Don’t worry if this feels uncomfortable. You’re not alone. Many people do when they first start meditating.
To make getting into the meditation habit easier, you can find guided meditations on YouTube, or use an app like Headspace, Calm, or Waking Up. Headspace is my favorite to start with because it’s the most beginner-friendly.
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