June 14, 2010
Sharpening Your Focus to Increase Productivity
The world likes to throw a million things at us everyday. It’s our task to sort them out by importance and deal with them accordingly but that’s not always as easy to do as it sounds. Take a minute and think about all of the activities we are involved in every week. Spending time with our family, household chores, errands that need to be ran, emails, phone calls, instant messages, Facebook statuses, TV, Internet, radio, iPods, YouTube, bosses, assistants, coworkers and friends all seem to be in an epic struggle for our attention.
It’s not surprising then we easily lose our focus with so much going on. While people love to claim that they are great multitasking machines or that everyone else should be, in reality the human mind is only meant to do one task at a time. You can walk and chew gum or other simple things in unison but if you’re talking about work that demands serious brainpower then you need to train yourself to focus on demand.
What Causes us to Lose Focus?
To defeat our enemy we must first understand it; in this case knowing what steals your focus from you can help you get over that hump and concentrate when you really need to.
- Lack of Sleep: When you’re tired and low on rest your brain is not able to get enough oxygen. Without enough of its favorite power supply the brain can’t produce the right amount of dopamine and adrenaline that the prefrontal cortex needs to create true focus.
- Stress: One of the holdovers from our hunting-gathering days is how the brain reacts to stress. When we’re upset, stressed out or angry our brains get flushed with chemicals like cortisol, which assign an inappropriate amount of worry and brain function on something that isn’t really life threatening.
- Multitasking: I am sure you highlighted your abilities to do many things at once on your resume, but in the real world that means you’re great at doing many things somewhat mediocre at the same time. If you focused on just one main task at a time you could perform one single thing at optimal levels and then move on.
How to Regain Your Focus
If the world is mopping the floor with your concentration then use these simple steps to get control back.
- Put Blinders On: If you’ve got too much going on around you then you won’t be able to focus correctly. You need to eliminate all distractions around you and use your mind like a laser beam to hone in on the one important task that has been thwarting you. This means turning off your phone, closing email windows, ignoring voicemails, not engaging or allowing coworkers to engage you (politely of course), closing all non-essential computer programs and anything else that might be stealing your focus. If it helps, you can literally cup your hands around your eyes and form blinders to give you tunnel vision – whatever works. There are also simple programs that make it so the only thing on your computer screen is a black background and green type set.
- Get Some Rest: If you’re tired the gray matter upstairs isn’t going to be firing on all cylinders. Get more sleep at night or even take a nap during the day to help get things back in order. Cutting out large amounts of caffeine will do wonders for you too, by the way.
- Exercise: Not only does physical activity tire you out and make it easier to sleep but it also reduces stress. Even mild exercise will release the needed chemicals in your brain to help you get over that hump and get the job done.
- Grab a Quick Bite: Restoring your blood sugar can go a long way to making it easier to focus. Drink some water, have a well-balanced snack and you’ll be good to go in a few minutes.
- Live in the Now: Not to get all zen on you or anything but just focusing on the moment and task at hand is a great way to beat the focus stealing elements in your life. The stock market, in-laws, traffic and taxes will always be there. Just sit back and take joy in the simple fact that you are alive and working; just go from there.
Hopefully this information can help you to focus better on getting what you need to do done. Any tips out there that maybe we have forgotten?