3 Ways to Increase Your Focus
When you decide your goal, usually the first problem is not being able to focus on anything specific. We are living in a world that is full of distractions but lack of focus is a broader topic.
According to the book “Ultralearning”, people struggle with focus in three ways. These struggles are related to starting your work, sustaining through the task, and optimizing your focus.
1. The Struggle at the Start:
I struggle quite a bit when it comes to focusing. I usually end up doing a long session of work if I start but starting is a struggle.
I end up wanting to make a cup of coffee or cleaning my desk instead of writing my blog post or researching for it. I have noticed my procrastination is usually related to these two things or exercise. I am able to start other stuff on time. So, what’s most important to me is giving me the most resistance.
What stops me from writing the blog is the fact that I know that I will need to work hard and toil with it. The thought of toil kicks in the anxiety.
Catch the Pattern
So, the first step is to recognize this behavior. At times you are so busy in your life that you do not observe your behavior. You might be telling yourself that you needed a well-deserved break or everyone else does the same too.
The idea to pamper yourself or having some relaxed time is not bad but you need to observe whether you are using this excuse to hide a productivity issue. Unrealized, this pattern can effect you all your life and you can jump from not achieving one goal to another and blame others for it.
When you start recognizing this behavior, check if you do this because the actual task you should be doing is intimidating or what you want to do instead is more tempting. You tend to not focus on anything if you are pulled towards many different things.
In my case, the thing pulling me away from the goal is not usually tempting but I do get intimidated by the research for my writing.
Start the Task Anyway:
Whether you are avoiding the task because it would be difficult or you are tempted to go for an alternative activity like watching TV, the solution is to push yourself to spend five minutes on the task anyway. This approach would get yourself into the groove and then chances are that you will spend a much longer time on it with a solid focus.
This is what I have experienced with exercise too. There are days when I do not feel like focusing on anything, especially on working out. I still try to push myself and still lay down the yoga mat. I tell myself that I will try for five minutes and if I still do not feel like it, I will quit. I have noticed that every day when I have pushed myself to start working out, I have had the best results. I have achieved goals like doing longer planks or the overall intensity was higher.
Once you get used to this five-minute rule, you can start increasing your time. This is where the Pomodoro technique comes in handy. The twenty-five-minute chunks of productivity and five-minute breaks have proven to help.
If you struggle with the twenty-five-minute timeline and want to quit then have some rule like doing one more minute. This would help you with cementing the habit for longer productive spells too. This technique can help you from not being able to focus on anything to being a productive person.
2. Failure to Continue with the Task
The second major struggle with focus is the failure to keep working on the task for a longer time.
How Long to Work For
A long time does not mean eight-hour stints. One hour work on your goal every day and then a fifteen-minute break works well. If you are in a situation where you only have one day a week to work then still the breaks need to happen.
This is a better way to learn. Eight-hour study windows are not as effective as one-hour stints and even with that, it is advisable to work on a variety of tasks needed to achieve the goal. For my blog, I can research for an hour and take a break and then write for an hour. If I keep researching throughout the day, it is not as effective.
Even with all of these suggestions, you might find that working for three hours at a time is more effective for you. You need to choose what works best for you.
These things can stop you from having a long, productive session:
Some people say that they can multitask really well but it is usually not the case. If you text friends during the productive times then it may be making you inefficient. Try to turn off your mobile and check if you end up being more productive.
If you want to read more about distractions and how to deal with them, read my blog post: 4 ways to manage distractions.
Similarly, you might listen to music when working on a certain task because you think it helps you focus. If you feel that music has helped you in the past then it’s fine but do notice your productivity levels without music too. You may find out that just focusing on one task helps you more.
Distractions During Some Tasks
When I am writing, I do not get distracted much as I am in my zone. When I am researching a topic, there are multiple windows open and I would end up opening Facebook or Whatsapp on my laptop. This would then kick me out of focus and I would have to restart my research process.
To tackle this, I now keep a notebook with me and start writing the points that I am researching. This helps me keep my focus on the research and the notes also help with the blog post.
3. Optimize Your Focus
Focus is related to the mind and if you are feeling negative or have anxiety, it is very difficult to focus. In that case, it is important to acknowledge your feelings too and work on them.
But there are times like exams or deadlines where you have to go through with the work regardless of what you are feeling. In those cases, it is important to realize that though you are down, you can keep working on the task and it will help you have a better focus for any future situations too.
I personally think that meditation can help with focus. I have been doing different meditations but one that Tim Ferris also recommends is called the “smile meditation” by Tara Brach which is available for free online.
Meditation is touted as a calmness exercise but it can train you to catch your thought patterns. When you only focus on your breathing and then you keep catching new thoughts coming in, it will help you accept the thoughts and still focus on your task at hand.
Eventually, focus and persistence will decide how close you get to achieving your goals. It will always pay off to work on increasing your focus. Any worthwhile effort requires you to sit down and work on the task. Robert Greene talks about changing your idea of “fun”, working on your goal can be a fun activity too and it requires you to let go of some of your pastimes. That can mean attending fewer parties than before or watching fewer movies but the purpose of your life is more important than these activities.
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