Focus and concentration can be difficult to master. Sure, most people want to learn how to improve focus and boost concentration. But actually doing it? We live in a noisy world and constant distractions can make focus difficult.
Focus: What It Is and How it Works
Why can’t we focus?
Most people don’t have trouble with focusing. They have trouble with deciding.
What I mean is that most healthy humans have a brain that is capable of focusing if we get the distractions out of the way. Have you ever had a task that you absolutely had to get done? What happened? You got it done because the deadline made the decision for you. Maybe you procrastinated beforehand, but once things became urgent and you were forced to make a decision, you took action.
Instead of doing the difficult work of choosing one thing to focus on, we often convince ourselves that multitasking is a better option. This is ineffective.
Technically, we are capable of doing two things at the same time. It is possible, for example, to watch TV while cooking dinner or to answer an email while talking on the phone.
What is impossible, however, is concentrating on two tasks at once. You’re either listening to the TV and the overflowing pot of pasta is background noise, or you’re tending to the pot of pasta and the TV is background noise. During any single instant, you are concentrating on one or the other.
Effect of Multitasking
forces your brain to switch your focus back and forth very quickly from one task to another. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the human brain could transition seamlessly from one job to the next, but it can’t.
Have you ever been in the middle of writing an email when someone interrupts you? When the conversation is over and you get back to the message, it takes you a few minutes to get your bearings, remember what you were writing, and get back on track. Something similar happens when you multitask. Multitasking forces you to pay a mental price each time you interrupt one task and jump to another. In psychology terms, this mental price is called the switching cost.
How to Focus and Increase Your Attention Span
Focus on the Process, Not the Event
The second thing you can do to maintain long-term focus is to concentrate on processes, not events. All too often, we see success as an event that can be achieved and completed.
Here are some common examples:
- Many people see health as an event: “If I just lose 20 pounds, then I’ll be in shape.”
- Many people see entrepreneurship as an event: “If we could get our business featured in the New York Times, then we’d be set.”
- Many people see art as an event: “If I could just get my work featured in a bigger gallery, then I’d have the credibility I need.”
Those are just a few of the many ways that we categorize success as a single event. But if you look at the people who stay focused on their goals, you start to realize that it’s not the events or the results that make them different. It’s the commitment to the process. They fall in love with the daily practice, not the individual event.
Concentration and Focus Mind-Hacks
Even after you’ve learned to love the process and know how to stay focused on your goals, the day-to-day implementation of those goals can still be messy. Let’s talk about some additional ways to improve concentration and make sure you’re giving each task your focused attention.
How to Improve Concentration
If a task requires your full attention, then schedule it for a time of day when you have the energy needed to focus. For example, I have noticed that my creative energy is highest in the morning. That’s when I’m fresh. That’s when I do my best writing. That’s when I make the best strategic decisions about my business. So, what do I do? I schedule creative tasks for the morning. All other business tasks are taken care of in the afternoon. This includes doing interviews, responding to emails, phone calls and Skype chats, data analysis and number crunching. Nearly every productivity strategy obsesses over managing your time better, but time is useless if you don’t have the energy you need to complete the task you are working on.
Leave your phone in another room
I usually don’t see my phone for the first few hours of the day. It is much easier to do focused work when you don’t have any text messages, phone calls, or alerts interrupting your focus.
One of my favorite methods for focusing your attention on what matters and eliminating what doesn’t comes from the famous investor Warren Buffett.
Buffett uses a simple 3-step productivity strategy to help his employees determine their priorities and actions. You may find this method useful for making decisions and getting yourself to commit to doing one thing right away. Here’s how it works…
The first thing you can do is to measure your progress.
Focus often fades because of a lack of feedback. Your brain has a natural desire to know whether or not you are making progress toward your goals, and it is impossible to know that without getting feedback. From a practical standpoint, this means that we need to measure our results.
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