Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them. —Jack Canfield
To achieve your goals and be successful you must be able to focus and stay on track. Easier said than done. We all have days where we can’t seem to concentrate. It’s not completely our fault. Our frantic world has rewired our brains making us less able to focus for long periods of time. Researchers argue that the average American adult can only pay attention for 20 minutes at the most. According to Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death modern technologies like television and the Internet are decreasing our attention span.
Whether your trouble concentrating is due to technology, fatigue, overwhelm, distraction, lack of motivation or something else you can learn to focus. Doing so will improve your productivity and increase success and wellbeing. Here are 12 tips to get you started.
Remember a time when you could focus. Think about the conditions that allowed you to avoid overwhelm and stay on track. What are the circumstances under which you focus well? What times of day are best for you? Where do you feel most focused? What lifestyle factors (diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction) help improve your focus?
Set an intention
When you sit down to work tell yourself, “Right now I will focus and learn this skill or complete this task.” Setting an intention to stay on track will help you to become more deliberate and mindful.
Write out a detailed to-do list either the night before or when you start work in the morning. Determine your three top priorities for the day. What must you accomplish? To help you prioritize divide your to-do’s into four categories: Urgent/important, urgent/not important, not urgent/important, not urgent/not important. Do the urgent/important tasks first. For more on prioritizing click HERE.
Determine exactly when you are going to accomplish the three tasks you prioritized on your to-do list. Research shows that creating a specific plan (when, where, with whom…) boosts focus and follow-through.
Keeping your desk area and your brain free of clutter will help to keep you clear and focused. To learn how to clear you mind mediate. Not only will meditation improve your ability to let thoughts, it will also improve your ability to concentrate and may even improve cognitive performance.
When you start to feel unfocused or overwhelmed, figure out what you can do to get centered. It might be as simple as taking a few deep breaths, going for a short walk, listening to music for a few minutes, stretching or resetting your intention to refocus.
Avoid interruptions and distractions such as checking e-mail or answering the phone. If it’s difficult for you to avoid those ding and pings turn off your phone and shut off your Internet browser.
Despite what many people think multi-tasking decreases productivity. Rather than doing three things at once, focus on one specific task at a time. Set a timer and a goal to focus on one task for 5 minutes. Or tell yourself I won’t get up from my desk until I complete this task.
When you cross something off your to-do list give yourself a reward.
Be easy with yourself and let go of the need to be perfect.
Just say no
If you feel swamped and overwhelmed decline requests to do more. Saying no to something or someone is saying yes to your self.
Nourish your brain
Just like your body needs a balance of macronutrients (i.e. carbs, protein and fats) and macronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to function properly, your brain needs a variety of activities to optimize brain matter.
According to David Rock and Daniel Siegel, creators of The Healthy Mind Platter you need 7 different brain “nutrients” or activities each day to optimize your brain health. These brain nutrients are: sleep time, physical time, focus time, time-in, downtime, playtime and connecting time. (As a nutritionist, I’d like to add food time because your brain runs on glucose and needs healthy meals and snacks instead of calorie deprivation and dieting to run optimally.)
As Rock and Siegel explain:
Since the mind is both embodied and embedded in our connections with others and our environment—both natural and cultural—these seven essential times help strengthen our internal and relational connections. And since the brain is continually changing in response to how we focus attention, we can use our awareness in ways that involve the body and our connections to create a healthy mind across the lifespan!
Determine which of the seven brain nutrients you are missing and add them to your plate.
Just like you go to the gym to get in shape and build your biceps, you can train your brain to be stronger and more focused. Start small. Chose one or two of these tips and notice how staying focused improves your mind, mentality and life.
Focus on what matters most to you and what you can control and you will navigate life with grace, beauty and ease.
It really helps me to remember to focus on things I can control. Thanks for the great tips Dr. Ellen!
My pleasure, Wendy. I’m glad you found the post useful.