Did you know that with an attention span of nine seconds, goldfish now concentrate longer than the average human who comes in at just eight seconds? Most of us take pride in our ability to multi-task. You may even be eating lunch, chatting to a friend and glancing at this article at the same time.
The ability to focus is a doorway into ‘flow’ and when we are in flow we achieve our best. Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept of being ‘in flow’ has been widely referenced across a variety of fields, though has existed for thousands of years under other guises.
Can you recall a time that flew by, when everything felt like it was working just as it should? When you were fully immersed, fully prepared and focused and felt that you were working at your very best? You were ‘in flow.’ Isn’t that a state that all leaders would want to be in? After all, the primary task of leadership is to direct attention. To do so, leaders must learn to focus their own attention.
Focus also provides clarity, I am short sighted, when I don’t wear my contact lenses, everything is blurred, unfocused and things take me longer to decipher. Yet when my eyes are corrected, I feel more able to achieve quickly and effectively. This clarity is important for you, your colleagues and your customers.
So, how do you make it happen? Here are my 13 top tips on how to stay focused:
1. Five More
If you’re in the middle of a task and tempted to give up, just do FIVE MORE.
Read five more pages, write five more sentences, work five more minutes.
Just as athletes build physical stamina by pushing past the point of exhaustion, you can build mental stamina by pushing past the point of frustration.
2. Write Lists and stick to them
If something new comes in to distract you, add it to the list instead of tackling it straight away. There are great apps like Asana to help you with this.
3. Incentivise Yourself
Build rewards into your schedule, for example, you might say: ‘if I focus on this for 30 minutes, or I complete this task by the end of the day, I’ll treat myself to a fancy new flavoured coffee on the way home.’
4. Set Deadlines
Many of us are pressure prompted, which means that we spring into action when we have little time left to achieve a task. If we don’t have a deadline or the deadline is a long way off, we can find it difficult to start. So I recommend that you break the task down into smaller tasks and set shorter-term deadlines that will provide the pressure that you need.
5. Important Versus Urgent
Consider what’s important versus what’s urgent. It’s so easy to be pulled to do the urgent tasks, and lose focus of what’s important. Get a sheet of paper, divide down the middle and write important on one side and urgent on the other, as you add to your do to list, consider where the task belongs and this will keep you focused.
6. Work Out What Helps You Get ‘In Flow’
One way to get in flow is to reduce distractions. You could turn off your phone, log out of social media and switch off your email notifications. If you’re constantly flipping back and forth between different tasks, you’ll never be able to achieve flow.
There’s a great app called for Freedom, which you can set to stop you accessing websites, the internet and email at certain times of the day; so you don’t need the willpower to do it on your own. I am sure there are many more technical solutions if you search.
7. Measure & Track
There is a great saying ‘what gets measured, gets done.’ I suggest that you measure how much time you spend on tasks, just for a week and you may be quite surprised. Or set yourself a target for what you’ll achieve by the end of the week and let others know, this will keep you focused. In our office we set key actions on a white board and review them weekly, it keeps us all on track.
Some people find that music really helps their focus, there’s lots of research on the topic, which isn’t conclusive as it depends on the music and the task being completed. My daughter likes to listen to background music to help her revise, but I think that this is to stop her from being distracted by other sounds in our home. You can find playlists on music streaming sites like spotify, specifically to help you focus.
9. The Right Environment
How’s your environment? Do you have a messy desk? Are you always being interrupted? We all thrive in different environments. Some people enjoy the background noise of a coffee shop, and others need the silence of the library, so work out what’s right for you. You might not be able to achieve it all of the time, but at least you’ll know what you need when the time to focus comes.
10. Meditation And Mindfulness Practice Are Both Great Ways Of Getting ‘In Flow’
People who regularly practice meditation may improve their mental focus by altering brain function. According to a study by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni, meditation not only changes brain patterns, but it also creates advantages in mental focus that may improve thinking performance. See the Calm and HeadSpace apps for 5 minute meditation and mindfulness exercises that you can easily fit into your day.
11. Don’t Forget The Physical
A 2012 study in The Journal of Nutrition, found that mild dehydration, which can be so slight that you don’t notice or feel thirsty, can lead to inattention and that physical activity can help improve your attention and focus, as it releases chemicals in the brain that affect learning and memory. So drink up and get moving!
12. Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique can transform both work and home life, splitting a day into short 30-minute ‘pomodoros’, which focuses your mind on what needs attention at that precise moment.
13. Don’t Do List
This is one of my favourite things to do to help me stay focused. We’re all familiar with creating a to-do list. Another list, which can improve our focus is the not-do list – things we shouldn’t do. By being conscious of what to avoid, it’ll automatically channel our energy into things that we want to do.
So try it this week. Try to get ‘in flow’ you’ll find yourself energised, motivated, and most importantly focused.
Here are some further resources that can help you get that focus:
EVENT: Retreats are the prefect place for focus. There is just one space left on the Renew and Reimagine One Day retreat taking place on the 9th June.
EVENT: Come along to our panel discussion & networking event on the 12th July – 6-8.30pm. The Art of Focus https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-art-of-focus-tickets-44975816879
EVENT: Creating Women in Business Super Conference – 9th July https://desoconnors.com/?ref=jennyg
Online: Look our for a special offer on our Online Professional and Self-Development Programmes, on the 11th June
https://www.udemy.com/the-happenista-project/ [10 mins per day]
https://www.udemy.com/happenista-project-step2/ [10 mins per day]
https://www.udemy.com/the-happenista-project-step-3/ [10 mins per day]
Book: The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle https://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Now-Guide-Spiritual-Enlightenment-ebook/dp/B002361MLA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1526210084&sr=8-1&keywords=eckhart+tolle+the+power+of+now
Article How to Train Your Brain to Focus https://hbr.org/2012/01/train-your-brain-to-focus [2 mins]
VIDEO: TED Talk – Flow, The Secret of Happiness https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow [18 mins]
WEBINAR: Overcoming Procrastination. Watch the replay free of charge, just enter your name and email addresshttps://events.genndi.com/login/169105139238457839/48485f1477/0/replay [35 mins]
This blog is part of a series of articles on leadership qualities. You can find links to others here.