Six ways to sharpen your focus - Michelle Gibbings

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve just come back from an amazing holiday in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. For most of the time, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

During the trip we did long walks most days. Some were easier than others, and many involved lots of rock hopping, climbing and scrambling in the midst of blistering heat.

It required a lot of concentration. One day, I was about 5 minutes from the end of the bushwalk and I almost fell face first into the dirt and rocks.

Why? Because in those last 5 minutes I became complacent as my mind wandered and started to think about other things; rather than concentrating on where I needed to place my feet.

It was a stark reminder of why we need to focus right up until we finish.

It’s easy to lose focus and to get distracted. Particularly at work when there is so much vying for your attention.

As well, attention spans are getting shorter. Microsoft research found that the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.

And yet, being able to pay attention is critical to making progress and securing success. When you don’t focus well you are far more likely to:

  • Have accidents and miss things that need to be noticed
  • Waste time and take longer to complete work
  • Damage relationships as people will see your distraction as disinterest in them

All of which impacts work performance, your reputation and overall well-being.

Why is it so easy to lose focus?

As neuroscientist, David Rock explains, “Every time you focus your attention you use a measurable amount of glucose and other metabolic resources. Studies show that each task you do tends to make you less effective at the next task, and this is especially true for high-energy tasks like self-control or decision making.”

This means that every time we do something and make a decision we are using up precious brain energy, and that energy depletes during the day.

The good news is there are things you can do to help use that energy wisely, conserve it and nourish it.

Here’s six tips to get you started:

  1. Train your brain – Focusing isn’t easy, and like everything in life it’s a practice. The more you do it, the more effort and energy you put into it, the easier it becomes over time. Your brain is like a muscle and it can be trained to work more effectively
  2. Exercise, sleep and meditate – these three activities will help your brain feel rested and therefore more alert. In this state, it is easier for your brain to maintain concentration and to deliberately decide how and when to use your brain’s decision making capacity
  3. Do one thing at a time – your brain simply isn’t wired to multi-task effectively (as I’ve written about many times before). As the Zen proverb said: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”
  4. Tell yourself it matters – when something matters to you and when you decide it is critical to your success, it is far easier for you to pay attention and to see it through to completion
  5. Turn off digital distractions – social media apps and digital devices are designed to be addictive. Turn off the beeps, alerts and dings so you don’t get the Pavlovian response, where your brain is in high alert and anxious if you don’t check your phone
  6. Use the Pomodoro technique – with this approach you focus on a task – just one task – for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. After four 30 minute blocks of time you take a longer 15 – 30 minute break.

Focus matters. So what else would you add to this list?