With so many avenues for interruptions and distractions, it can feel as if you are stuck in an ongoing mental traffic jam. Focusing deeply on a single task is becoming harder to achieve.
Imagine the things we could do with all the time we’ve wasted on reading and re-reading a single paragraph over and over again or the constant undeserving breaks we’ve allowed ourselves to take to text or chat with others.
The good news is we can learn to take back the control we’ve given away and learn to manage our attention.
To be able to focus deeply on a task, you must remove all types of distractions. Having your phone nearby, even if it’s faced down on the table or silenced, is distracting. Your attention will constantly shift in anticipation of new notifications popping up on your screen.
Sitting in a busy area (coffee shop, kitchen table, open office cubicle) or listening to music while working or studying are other sources of distraction, no matter how good of a ‘multi-tasker’ you think you are. Our brains are not wired to focus on multiple things at once, and putting ourselves in situations in which we are forced to multi-task can lead to a lower performance on those tasks.
Daily physical exercise helps us focus and stay on task. In a study, students were given a test following either a 20-minute resting time or a 20-minute walking period. The results concluded that students performed better after they had a chance to walk before taking the test. Exercise offers great benefits for our brains, improving our concentration, boosting our memory and creativity, and enhancing our overall mental health.
Eat and get enough sleep
When we are busy, we willingly sacrifice sleeping and eating regularly to gain more time in our day. Without providing the right amount of fuel and energy, we expect top-notch performance from our brains. Expecting too much from our brain can backfire and enable our monkey mind rather than tame it.
It’s almost as if we’ve become accustomed to partaking in multiple activities at a given time. Scenarios like talking on our cell phones through speakers while texting a friend and trying to study for a math test are more common than we think. So, training our brain to do one thing at a time may not be an easy task. It is completely alright to go slowly on your journey to creating focused attention.
Taking small strides rather than large ones will help you stay with your goal and achieve better concentration over time. A trick that may help is to divide up bigger tasks so that rather than trying to concentrate on one big project, you focus on one mini project at a time. Dividing tasks will not only make it easier to concentrate, but will also keep you motivated as you will be able to see your progress and check things off as you go.
Working on our focus and attention span, although frustrating and difficult at times, comes with great rewards. Not only do we become more productive and improve our performance, but we also gain a healthier work/life balance by being more efficient.