Focus, Productivity, Leadership

10 Ways to Improve your Focus

Let’s face it, it’s getting harder & harder to maintain our focus on the things that really matter. An endless stream of distractions (hello social media, endless meetings and open plan offices) can get in the way of doing the important work.

Every time we’re pulled into an instagram scroll, another interruption at our desk, or a message on our phone, it can take us several minutes to regain focus on the work that really matters.

Sadly all this distraction means human beings increasingly have the attention span of a goldfish when it comes to focussed work.

Studies have shown that our age of distraction is impacting our critical thinking & cognitive function, leading us not only to make more mistakes, but also to feeling a lot less fulfilled in the work we do.

As Cal Newport writes in his book ‘Deep Work’, an ability to focus can be a superpower in our increasingly competitive economy.

Here are 10 ways to improve your focus:

  1. Turn off notifications – this goes for phone, email & IM apps like Whatsapp & Slack. Do I really need to spell out why this is important? Whilst I understand a lot of team communication is done through IM, turning it off for 90 minutes won’t be the end of the world.
  2. Take a break – chunk down your workload and work in 45-90 minute increments. Any longer than this and your brain starts to fatigue.
  3. Go for a walk – any exercise will do. Out of the office is preferable but if that’s not possible a few star jumps or pushups will get the blood flowing & send much needed oxygen to the brain. Personally I would feel ludicrous doing this at my desk but have no objection to a brisk 10 minute walk in the fresh air. Whatever works for you.
  4. Meditate – Just 3 minutes of concentrating on your breath (in/out) with your eyes closed can significantly build your ability to concentrate. It also reduces stress & fatigue. What’s not to love?
  5. Be aware – when you do realise you are scrolling or checking email for the 100th time, recognise you are doing it, drop it and return to your work.
  6. Tell people – let people know you are doing focussed work for the next hour and to respectfully hold off coming to you during that time.
  7. Work somewhere else – the modern workplace can be a nightmare for productivity. Work from home, the cafe next door or even the library (remember those?) Once you’re there turn off your phone & your laptop alerts.
  8. Drink your coffee slowlya steady low dose of caffeine can help you focus for prolonged periods of time. Too much at once and you can find your energy crashing. Too much coffee generally can lead to sleepless nights. Go easy Tiger.
  9. More protein, less carbs – we’ve all experienced the crushing fatigue of a post pasta lunch. Lean protein & lots of veges will give you more sustained energy throughout the day.
  10. Embrace boredom – it sounds counter-intuitive, but allowing our brains to wander without the need for constant distraction can help us be more creative & focussed when we need to be.

So next time you find yourself waiting in line for your morning coffee, don’t whip out your phone. Instead, smile at a stranger, look up at the clouds, feel the sun on your face and just BE. Your brain will thank you for it.


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