Start with #1 and build from there
On a dark Wednesday afternoon, I had a break-down while working from home. I had a deadline to meet and, despite having sat at my desk for 5 hours, I had accomplished… nothing.
But that wasn’t new. In the weeks before, the pattern had repeated itself. I had a list of tasks to do, I had the time to do them, but by the end of the day, very little would get done.
I couldn’t focus. I simply couldn’t. And the worse part is that the more you fail to focus, the worse you feel about it, and the worse your focus becomes. It’s a cycle that becomes hard to break. But not impossible.
As the situation was reaching critical levels, I had to do something about it. The first step was a retreat day at home, which served me as a new beginning. After that, I gained some mental clarity to effectively start implementing other tips.
I can’t focus 100% of the time now — who can? — but there is a world of difference from a few weeks ago. Here is what I did, and what you can do too if you are struggling with your focus.
1. Have a Retreat Day
Or weekend. At home, without spending any money or without the need for any fancy gadgets. In fact, get rid of all the gadgets, all the distractions, everything around you.
Turn off your phone and computer, and focus on simply being. You can spend your time with activities like meditation, yoga, or journaling. Or you can do nothing, all day. You will see from the next day onwards that the apparent idle time was the best thing you could have done for your productivity.
A mini home retreat has the immense power of rebalancing you. Think about it: when was the last time that you focused on the present, without a list of todo’s, for 24 hours in a row? Have you ever, at all?
As I said, this was my first step to reconquering my focus. It was magic! The next Monday, as I turned on my laptop to start working, I immediately felt it was going to be different.
If an alien came to the Earth and you had to teach him one thing, what would that be? I got asked this question at an HR interview and this was my answer: meditation.
Meditation is the most powerful tool you have. Your brain controls your life, and meditation is the key to tame it. Regular meditation practice will sharply increase your focus. It will better equip you to handle the moments where you feel unfocused and unproductive.
Multiple studies, including this one from Columbia University, show that meditation helps you increase focus and learning concentration, as well as improving memory and attention span.
The good news is that meditation is the easiest thing to do in the world. All it requires is for you to sit down, breathe, and pay attention to your thoughts.
3. Get Rid of Distractions — For Real
You have heard this one plenty of times. Put your phone away while you are working, log off from social media accounts, use tools that block certain websites, for example.
I tried all these and failed miserably. The thing is: it’s as easy to log back into your Facebook account as it was to log off in the first place. Putting your phone away will not save you time if you keep getting up and going to the other room to check it.
If you don’t put in place serious measures, these shallow tricks will only waste even more of your time. Deleting your social media accounts can be a solution — if you dare to do it. Or putting your phone in a locked box that opens only after a certain time.
You need extrinsic forces controlling these measures, not just your will power. If you rely only on yourself, you will fail. That was the source of your problem, remember? You just can’t control your mind.
4. Take Care of Your Body
If you work out regularly, you know the importance of sports in your overall well-being. If you don’t work out regularly, you should.
At a time when so many of us sit at a desk for most of our days, moving our bodies and getting the juices flowing is critical. You don’t have to start running marathons to feel the difference. Even a 30-minute yoga session in the morning does wonders to your body.
Studies show that regular physical activity helps fighting stress, depression, and anxiety. All these have a detrimental impact on your ability to focus. Get rid of them to regain your concentration.
5. Eat and Don’t Drink
Eat healthily, and don’t drink alcohol, that is.
A healthy, balanced diet is important to your body but to your mind as well. Make sure you are feeding your brain with all the right nutrients that allow it to function properly. And don’t forget to hydrate your body at all times.
Alcohol. Ah, the sweet poison! It impacts each person differently but, as a general rule, more than a glass per day is detrimental to your health.
Most times I drink, the next day my anxiety levels go up. High anxiety levels mean more trouble focusing. And that is exactly what we are trying to tackle here. This doesn’t mean you can’t drink, it means you should be mindful about it.
6. Listen to Binaural Beats
You might be the type of person who works better listening to music, or be quite the opposite. But not all music is created equally.
Binaural beats are a type of sound that induces your brain into a state similar to that of meditation. Listening to binaural beats has health benefits that can help you focus. It increases focus capacity, reduces stress and anxiety, and promotes creativity, for example.
All you need are your headphones and a binaural audio track, that you can easily find on Youtube or Spotify, for example.
When you listen to it, it’s like you enter a bubble, a parallel universe where only the present exists. You, and your work, that’s all. And that’s all you need.
7. Pay Attention to Little Things
How many times have you had to adjust your chair today while working from home? Is your second monitor set up in a good spot or is your neck hurting from being twisted all day? Do you have enough natural light in the room where you work or does it feel dark and somber all the time?
These are seemingly little things but have a major impact on your focus and concentration. Make sure your environment is properly set up to maximize your comfort. This doesn’t have to mean a big investment. As Sinem Gunel explains in this article, you can do install little changes that will have a great impact. Think on a long-term basis: a small investment now means more focus and productivity in the months to come.
As with most things in life, changing your ability to focus starts with wanting to change it. Once you define it as a priority in your life, you can start introducing little changes and observing their effect. Not all these tips will work for you. But it is only through experimentation that you will realize which ones serve you and which ones don’t.
An improved focus capacity is fundamental for a healthy, happy life. One where you can control your mind and your time. Remember, these are the steps you can take to regain control over your focus:
- Have a retreat day
- Get rid of distractions
- Take care of your body
- Eat healthily and avoid alcohol
- Listen to binaural beats
- Pay attention to the little things
Start slowly, but start today.