habits

7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Focus

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One of the most common problems that working people face worldwide is the chronic lack of focus.

In a world where we are bombarded with stimuli from social media, apps, and our computers, it’s no wonder we suck at being efficient.

Research indicates that employees on average waste as much as 60 hours every month on various distractions. That’s a significant amount of wasted time.

According to various studies, once your brain is distracted, it takes between 5 and 15 minutes for the brain to recalibrate and get back on track.

In the interest of being focused, let’s jump in and talk about some common focus-killers and effective strategies to tackle this elephant – one bite at a time.

Common Workplace Distractions

  • Phones - Since accessing your social media profiles is a couple of clicks away, it's easy to fall into the temptation to glance at your iPhone every couple of minutes.
  • E-mails - Another time waster is constantly checking emails.
  • Hunger - This one may sound like a no-brainer, but hunger is one of the primary culprits for lack of concentration in the workplace.
  • Multitasking - Often seen as valuable skill, multitasking is actually a nasty vice that's bound to drain your energy and leave you disoriented and disorganized.
  • Idle Chatter - Even though having regular conversations with your colleagues are vital to a healthy corporate culture, too many random interruptions are detrimental to productivity.

Who’s the culprit?

The part of your brain that is the most responsible for managing focus, is the prefrontal cortex.

It is closely connected to key functions such as decision so it’s calling the shots when it comes to managing your thoughts and actions. It also plays a major part in regulating our attention span. Essentially – the part of the brain that is responsible for concentrating on a task, is also the most susceptible to getting distracted.

The good news is that neuroscience research has revealed that our brains are plastic, and they can be trained to become more focused.

So, how do you train your brain? I’ve listed seven ways to do this.

Seven Ways to Improve Your Focus

1. Be Mindful – Mindfulness comes in two forms but I’ll focus on just one of them here – informal mindfulness. This involves paying close attention to the little things we do every day – something we often miss because of the busyness of our work days.

Cultivating it fair fairly simple, but it requires consistency. It also requires you to have an open mind because this stuff may seem a little bizarre. I work with engineers and technical leaders who think initially think this these techniques are silly – until they try it!  

A couple daily practices where you can apply this:

  • The next time you wash your hands, pay close attention to the temperature of the water, watch how your hands interact with the water and soap, Watch closely and be fully immersed in the experience.
  • When you drink your next cup of coffee or tea, observe the smell, taste and even the sound of you sipping that beverage. Again, be in the moment and avoid gulping it down with a phone in one hand and the computer in front of you.

2. Switch It Off – Way too many people check their phones every few minutes. Research indicates that employees tend to spend an average of 56 minutes on their cellphones every day (and that’s just while they’re at work).

We live in a world, where people feel deprived if they don’t have their phones on them. Resisting this device is perhaps one of the most challenging battles of the 21st century. Discipline will help you train your brain to focus on what matters.

Turn your phone off when you’re working on specific projects. And don’t stop there. Put it away -in a drawer or some place you can’t easily access. Seeing it infront of you is enough of a temptation.

Remind yourself that the only time you can take a look at it, is once you’ve completed the piece of work that you were focused on. Sometimes that means putting it away for 30 minutes, sometimes it means 5 hours.

3. Stop The Dinging - If you’re notorious for turning on notifications on your phone or computer, know this - you’re feeding your brain crack. Not literally but close. Research has proven that we get a high from being notified that someone liked our post or sent us a message. Turn those notifications off if it causes you to check your phone every time it findings.

4. Breathe - Engage in the practice of steady breathing by setting aside two minutes each day to notice your breath. Find a comfy spot with little distraction. Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth. When you breathe in, feel the air enter your lungs, expand into your chest, and then into your stomach. When you exhale, feel the tension being released.

5. Walk -  If you’re feeling unfocused and overwhelmed, stop. Get out of your office or workstation. If possible, get outside and into the fresh air. Walk for about 5 minutes and when you’re back at your desk, the next 55 minutes will be the most productive they’ve been.

6. Create Flow - In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, the renown psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that happiness and joy in life can be achieved through creating a personal raison d’être for ourselves.

Rather than resorting to  external quick-reward mechanisms, having a sort of ‘unifying theme’ in life helps us achieve serenity and joy regardless of the surrounding circumstances and distractions. If you’re interested in human nature and what makes humans move forward, you should definitely check out this book!

7. Meditation - Meditation can do wonders for concentration. Successful entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and even UFC’s tough guy Joe Rogan are known to practice meditation on a daily basis.

Meditating relaxes your tensed up body, clears brain fog, and helps you reset your thoughts in a relatively short period of time. Anyone can do it, and you don’t need a meditation room and a special calming setting to do this. 10 minutes in your office or car might end up being just fine, if that’s all you have.

If you’re unsure how to get started, there’s help, and it’s in the form of an app called Headspace. My clients swear by it.

Now that you know these 7 strategies, you should be less likely to be distracted by cat videos and the dinging of your phone.

Even Tibetan monks are bound to divert their attention from their tasks every now and again, but giving in to various distractions on a regular basis can hamper your productivity and waste tons of time for no good reason.

That being said, the art of focus isn’t rocket science. All you need is a little bit of effort and intention.

Science says that our brains are only as effective as we train them to be so reading this article is step 1. It’s time to put theory into practice.

P.S. If you’re a neuroscience geek like I am, here are some additional techniques to exercise your prefrontal cortex (focus center) and getting it moving like a well-oiled engine.

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Simone Brown is a performance coach who helps leaders and teams increase productivity. Her approach is grounded in  behavioural and brain-based strategies. She believes success isn’t just about talents and smarts, it’s about the development of emotional intelligence. Simone is also a speaker, and talks about topics such as emotional intelligence, millennials, and the importance of purpose.