5 Tips for a Better Focus
In this noisy and interesting world, we are living in, it is sometimes difficult to commit our focus to one activity, one task, one person.
Even if we manage, the siren voice of all the neglected options is still there to chase us. As the British psychotherapist Adam Phillips says: “Nothing I know matters more than what never happened”.
Though it is not easy to abandon the feeling that we are missing out on something, we would still need to learn the art of dedicated focus. (That is if we want to achieve anything of value).
Here is how:
1. Know your priorities
The real measure of our progress is when we manage to advance in the direction that is meaningful to us. Accomplishing a long and complicated to-do list is not a real sign of success if the tasks included do not contribute to the achievement of our most important goals. According to Harvard researchers:
“Nothing contributed more to a positive inner work life … than making progress in meaningful work. If a person is motivated and happy at the end of the workday, it’s a good bet that he or she achieved something, however small... And the work doesn’t need to involve curing cancer in order to be meaningful. It simply must matter to the person doing it. The actions that set in motion the positive feedback loop between progress and inner work life may sound like Management 101, but it takes discipline to establish new habits.”
2. Deal with the clutter
Clutter is a green-eyed monster with many faces. It might be physical, psychological or technological but all of its manifestations are focus killers.
Physical clutter is when your desk is overflowing with papers, pens, and pictures of family members. You lose time (and focus) to find what you need then you forget why you actually needed it. Ok, maybe that’s not you, it’s me, but anyway, cleaning up your space regularly is a good idea, according to research. It boosts your mood, gives you a sense of control and energizes you to the point of feeling ready to deal with whatever the world has to offer today.
Psychological clutter is trickier. We all have personal issues, anxious thoughts, and a feeling of inadequacy in different spheres of our life. They often tend to creep in whenever we decide to focus on a task. One particularly unhelpful mistake we all make sometimes is to confuse doing a job with testing our self-worth as people. As the expert on procrastination, Neil Fiore, says:
“The fear of failure, the fear of being imperfect (perfectionism), and the fear of impossible expectations (being overwhelmed) prevent us from acting on and attaining humanly possible goals and relationships.”
Try to let go of perfectionism and help your mind relax through meditation and mindful breathing. Taking good care of your body also has an effect on your mental state and the quality of your focus.
The technological clutter is here to stay but let’s not allow it to invade every single minute of our days (and nights). Take a break from your phone, set limits on how often to check your email, work in full-screen mode in order to avoid visual distractions. Your productivity rises when you are not interrupted by the tweeting and blinking signals of the technologies around you.
3. Start small
There is irresistible beauty in the art of Kaizen – dedicating your full attention to a task for just one minute. The human animal is known for its short attention span so be realistic about what you can do and how long you can do it before you get distracted. Accomplishing one small thing may give you the inspiration to go on with one bigger thing and then another.
4. Have a break
Whenever I have a big project on my mind or a deadline that’s hard to meet, I tend to postpone living. It’s a kind of punishment like when I was a kid and my grandmother wouldn’t give me the pancakes until I finished my homework. The result of this technique is that you either start to hate homework or your grandmother (or both, in my case). So if you don’t want to experience a growing resentment towards your daily tasks, you’d better schedule regular breaks for pleasurable activities. It might be a cup of coffee in the morning, reading a magazine at noon, going for a walk in the park in the afternoon or calling a friend – whatever works best for you. Being productive does not have to bе at the expense of being happy.
5. Notice your accomplishments
To improve your focus and motivation you need feedback. It might be as easy as putting a tick in your to-do list or seeing how organized your desk looks now that you’ve decluttered it. Don’t rush to your next task before basking in the glory of your previous accomplishment. Spend some time at the end of each day to appreciate your progress. You may have done three little things but it still counts. Congratulate yourself for doing them. That really helps to sustain your focus in the long run.