How to Focus

NOTE: I wrote these notes down a year ago after reading an HBR article. I cannot locate the original article. Some of the ideas may be direct quotes from the article. My intention is not to plagiarize, so I give full credit to HBR.

There are three types of focus: inward, outward, and on others. To improve your focus, notice how you lose it. Time management problems might be focus problems. Your brain can only take so much focus.

You can use Emotional Intelligence to improve your focus

Use self-awareness to notice why you feel stressed or anxious, how you lose your ability to focus, how you feel when you can’t focus, and when you lose your ability to focus.

Make choices that keep you focused. These choices may include doing an occasional digital detox or practice mindfulness. You could also shift your focus away from your needs and toward the needs of others. “What am I currently doing that is preventing me from helping others?”

How to get your focus back

Use breathing techniques to break the immediate cycle of anxiety and frustration with being distracted. Stop for a minute or two and count your breath. Think about how you want to act as a friend, partner, parent or coworker and let that self-image guide your behaviour. Make sure your goals are constantly in sight and reflect on them regularly.

Set boundaries around when you’ll go on social media or check email. Don’t fool yourself into thinking distractions aren’t harmful to your focus—they cost you mental and emotional energy. This is energy that robs you of your ability to focus.

Avoid spending time with people who are constantly distracted—you’re likely to end up feeling the same way. Be intentional about spending time with people who are living the way you want to live.

Keep up with self-care—take breaks, eat healthily, and get the amount of sleep you know you need.

Get better at not putting things off

You need a strategy for defeating your procrastination tendencies. Figuring out which strategy to use will depend on understanding why you are procrastinating in the first place. If you are putting something off because you are afraid you will screw it up, adopt a prevention focus. Think about the bad outcomes that will happen if you keep delaying.

If you are putting something off because you don’t “feel” like doing it, recognize that nothing is stopping you. Just because you aren’t excited about doing something, that doesn’t mean you can’t make progress. Even a small step can give you a large amount of momentum.

If you are putting something off because it is boring or unpleasant use if-then planning. “If I complete the first task on my list, then I will spend 5 minutes checking sports updates.” If it helps, write down a sequence of events:

  • Review the project
  • Write down the action points
  • Decide which action point I need to take first
  • Take a break once the first task is done

I publish this today because I’m currently on vacation (at home) for two weeks. Vacations are always an important time of personal reflection and growth. For me, the ability to focus is one of my greatest struggles. I constantly need to be reminded that it is important and it actually isn’t all that difficult of an area in which I can experience growth.

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