Boost Your Focus
Do you ever feel like like your day is one big interruption? A steady stream of questions, last-minute requests, and texts that just won’t quit? How are you supposed to focus on what you need to do when a million other things keep popping up? And how long can you keep this up? The ability to focus (and stay focused) on what is in front of us is like a muscle that needs to be trained; the more we focus, the stronger our focus ability becomes thereby making it easier to flex our self-control and block out distractions.
While we certainly can’t control how often some interruptions occur during the day, we have a great deal of control over those distractions we impose on ourselves (multi-tasking, I’m looking at you). Below are my top 7 tips for strengthening your focus and helping you feel less distracted:
At the start of each day, write down the most important things you need get done (NB: not everything is the “most important”). Then, place a 1, 2, or 3 next to each item; 1 = most pressing, 2 = somewhat pressing, 3 = can wait. This is your touchstone to refer to throughout the day. If it’s creeping on 3pm and your #1’s and #2’s remain unattended to, it’s time to shut the door, turn off the phone, and refocus.
Get rid of physical clutter
Ask the person who shares my closet about my love of stuff, and he will tell you that I love it. But too much stuff lying about can sidetrack you, causing you to waste valuable time sorting through piles of old mail to find an important letter or looking through 10 white shirts to locate one you like best. Your ability to focus will go up exponentially with each stack of papers, cluttered drawer, and concert T-shirt you get rid of.
Find a groove
When you have a set routine, you do things automatically, avoid decision fatigue, and have energy left over for the bigger issues of your life. Set up a routine for your morning activities (exercising, showering, eating breakfast, etc.) and evening ones (doing laundry, laying out your clothes for the next day, meal prepping, etc.). As a result you’ll probably notice more ideas and solutions popping into your head.
Since you began reading this, did you open another tab to Google “Thai food near me,” get up for a snack, and answer a text about your fantasy football league? You may feel like you’re getting more done when you multitask, but research shows that it almost always takes longer than when you focus on doing one thing at a time — most people need several minutes to regain their focus after even a brief pause to check email or Instagram.
5. Exercise and sleep
Practiced regularly, these two tactics are a panacea, including mental acuity. Just 30 minutes a day of exercise will help increase the connections between brain cells and relieve stress, both of which help improve concentration. As for sleep, being overtired negatively affects your attention span and other brain functions. Seven or eight hours a night come easier with regular exercise.
6. Savor more
In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert pokes fun at a friend who’s always saying, “It’s so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!” Instead of fixating on future pleasures, savor whatever you’re experiencing in the present tense, whether it’s sipping a latte or listening to a coworker’s idea. Similarly, when you videotape a concert or take pictures of your food at a restaurant, you’re thinking ahead instead of focusing on the moment. Put the camera down and enjoy the thing that’s in front of you.
7. Go outside
Nature walks worked for the Buddha, St. John the Baptist, and Thoreau, and they can also help today’s harried individual. Studies have shown that strolling in nature — whether it’s a forest, a desert, or just a small green space with a few trees or some grass — calms the mind and allows us to reconnect to ourselves. If you are a 9-5er, your lunch break is the perfect opportunity to get outside. If your work hours vary, pencil some “outside time” into your daily schedule.