Focus Better than a Goldfish, and Accomplish More!

By miltonfriesen | Miscellany

Sep 23

Studies suggest that the length of the North American’s attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. That puts us right behind the average 9 second attention span of your pet goldfish.

photo credit: protographer23 via photopin cc

Is there any chance of me getting some work done today then? Now to be fair, the study is about transient attention spans not intentional attention spans. But they are related.

Intentional attention might be as good as 20-40 minutes. Intentional attention is when you decide to focus on something. So in other words, if you go see a good movie with your friends and you choose to focus on it, that is intentional. Even then, you will choose to refocus on the movie between 3 to 6 times to take it all in. And no, the science or stats on mental habits are not concrete. But it is still a discouraging trend.

So how do I get something done then? Turns out that focusing on something isn’t that difficult. All you need to do is choose to focus on something. So when I choose to focus on writing this article, my brain immediately kicks into high gear, and zooms through the hundreds of other distractions and narrows down on writing this article. It then super-focuses on exactly what I need to do now. Amazing brain power! That is called being “in the zone”. When you are in the zone, you seem to be one with what you are doing and time seems to dissappear. Only one problem, as easy as it is to focus, it’s easier to be distracted.

Two types of Distractions. There are two types of distractions, external and internal. The primary external distractions are loud or sudden noises, and bright lights or colors. And then there are internal distractions: hunger, fatigue, spiritual, worry or loss of interest. I won’t address all of them here. Some solutions are obvious. Hungry? Go find something to eat! But here are some steps to help you improve your focus.

1. Eliminate Distractions! Turn off your cellphone alerts. Shut down your email client. The reason it’s so easy to get distracted is because it’s a built-in survival mechanism. If the fire alarm doesn’t distract you from your work, you are a dead man! Or if your baby screams, you are designed to respond for its survival. And that is what alerts are designed to do, grab your attention.

Now lets be honest, there are not that many emails, or text messages, you will receive that will kill you to ignore. So take the plunge! Disconnect digitally! And don’t worry, your business probably won’t die because you aren’t immediately reachable. In fact, there is a good chance your business will improve by doing so, because you become more productive.

2. Mentally Prioritize! The physical art of writing down your priorities for today, can help you mentally prioritize what needs to get done. And when you are mentally settled on the top priority item on your to do list, the other to-dos have less power to distract you.

If you don’t write them down, your survival instinct keeps wondering if there isn’t something important that you are forgetting. And if you are busy trying to remember, even unimportant things are life and death in their distraction power!

And don’t multi-task! Oh I know, you think you are the productivity ninja. And you think you can do what others can’t. But seriously, if you want to get still more done, don’t multi-task. That is the definition of self distraction!

3. Organize your Work Area! Okay, I’ll admit it. I am preaching to myself on this one. My work space has so many partial projects and uncompleted to-do items on it… I think I need to take a break and practice what I preach!

Okay, now I’m back… and well, now my work area reflects my focus. All those uncompleted items don’t yell: “I need to get done too!”

4. Take an Intentional Break! Fatigue will also distract you. Planning breaks into your day will help you keep focus longer and more consistently while you are in the zone. And the moment of break will rest your mind, and you’ll be fresh to focus again.

Now obviously, I shouldn’t even have to say this, get some zzz’s at night. You may be THE productivity ninja, but you won’t be that for long if you never get a good nights sleep!

5. Play Focus Music in the Background! White noise can filter out other noises that could distract you. And soft, calm music can help your emotional centre get in the mood for being in the zone. If you are emotionally there, you are less likely to distract yourself from the inside out! Calm music can eliminate or reduce stress and worry.

6. Play Sudoku or Read a Good Long Story! Okay, so you hate both, so find something else. But both of these are good at training your focus. Your focus is controlled by your elastic mind. And the elasticity of your brain is trainable. You can exercise it like a muscle. So work it, man!

And talking about working out, your brain tells your muscles what they need to do, so a good work-out may have some of the same brain training benefits of sudoku and reading a good long story. So maybe that is more your thing. But honestly, I’ll play sudoku and read good long stories all day long if I can avoid the work-out then! Don’t tell anyone I said that. I will so deny it!

7. Practice Meditation and practice being in the Moment! Lastly but definitely not least: practice meditation! There is a reason most religions teach some sort of meditation. It is incredibly effective. Now there are many different forms of meditation, and while they will teach some differences in focus, they mostly share some basic strategies.

It’s all about calming what you think and feel by default, and being intentional about what you are telling yourself. And that practice is about being in the moment. That is powerful stuff. Speaking from a Christian perspective, we are called to live in the moment, trusting God for tomorrow to take care of itself.

And again, speaking as a Christian, we are encouraged to meditate on how big God is, and tell ourselves the truths that He speaks to us. This is a very lost art in our world today! At some point I hope to write more on this subject.

Lastly, I always imagine Jesus being completely in the moment when He sees someone. That kind of attention speaks of love and is definitely worth practicing with your family and friends, and business colleagues. And it will also train you to focus. I am very much trying to get better at this.

Those seven things, my friend, will convert you into a productivity ninja if you practice them. Of course more could be said about this subject.

And I most certainly missed some strategies here that you find effective, so please leave a comment with what helps you!

But I gotta let you get back to your work! Thanks for making me a priority, not just a distraction. Well, at least I hope I was worth it! Now get back to work. Your boss is coming!


About the Author

Milton Friesen is a certified Life & Leadership Coach, and Entreprenuer, and blogs about success, positive psychology, spirituality, leadership, team synergy, and living the best life.