How to Increase Your Focus

How to Increase Your Focus

We all could use help increasing our focus.

In our busy, modern world, every little thing is competing for our attention. Text message notifications, a new like on your social media post, a new app to download. It’s no wonder that so many of us struggle to stay focused on our work, if even for a few minutes.

But if we want to accomplish our work and make headway on our goals, we need to be able to sustain our focus over a period of time. 

Fortunately, there are little changes you can make to your everyday routine to help you improve your focus. 

Below are some practical and creative tips to increase your focus and get down to work.

Start with a light warm-up

Musicians practice the scales. Athletes do stretches and a light workout. Authors write in their journal. A warm-up helps these professionals ease into their work and harness their focus. 

Why not do the same? After all, it’s a little jarring to dive headfirst into a task. So make the transition a smooth one by writing in your journal or meditating for a few minutes or even clearing out your desk. A small warm-up will help you get into the right mindset for productivity. 

Turn your to-do list into a concrete task list

Want to make sure you accomplish your work? Then follow Leo Babauta’s advice and "have a very important task to do.” He writes on Zen Habits: Not just “check email” but “write chapter in my novel” or “write that kick-ass blog post I’ve been planning” or “write that new Android app”.

So instead of writing a to-do list that is vague and ambiguous, you’ll want to use language that is concrete, actionable, and conveys the importance of the task. When you know that a task is important and worthwhile, you’ll put more effort into achieving it. 

  • Vague: Finish work stuff 
  • Specific: Write first draft of blog post, write fun copy for newsletter, email manager with follow-up questions. 

Use visual cues to help you prioritize and stay on track 

Sometimes I’ll write a to-do list and then quickly forget what it is I have to work on next. To help me keep track of my different workstreams and priorities, I’ll use visual cues to remind myself of what’s important and timely. 

You don’t have to do anything fancy or intricate. Simply placing a star next to a task is enough to signal to your brain: do this next. 

If a task is really important, I’ll circle it with a bright marker, which ensures that I won’t miss it. Plus, the use of bright markers and pens turns a hum-drum task into a pleasurable one.

Manage emotional distractions

We know that environmental distractions like a noisy coworker or a messy desk can get in the way of our focus and concentration. But emotional distractions can be just as disrupting to our workflow. 

Whether it’s doom scrolling the news or reading text messages from a demanding loved one, these emotional distractions can break our concentration, not to mention take a huge mental and physical toll. So if you know that reading the news is going to impact your mood, save it for after you’re done with your work. Or if a loved one’s message is going to stress you out, then avoid reading it until you’re in the right headspace. 

Build your focus muscles with a mindful activity 

A mindful activity like running, coloring, or cooking can help you feel calm and centered, which can then enable you to do other activities that require your attention. For example, a long walk can prepare your body and mind for a focused writing session. Or coloring for a few minutes can help you decompress before starting a big, complex task. 

Plus, these activities are great for quieting a busy mind, which is so valuable when trying to increase your focus. 

Use a timer

Sometimes, there’s nothing like the thought of a timer going off to force you to stay focused and finish your work. A little time pressure can help you avoid the temptation of clicking on a website or checking your phone, and motivate you to stay in your seat. 

A timer is also a great tool to use if you struggle with perfectionism. You can’t fixate on a sentence or a typo because you have a strict amount of time to finish your work. 

How to do it: Set a timer for 15-20 minutes and don’t leave your desk until you’ve finished. Use a kitchen timer or hourglass so you’re not tempted to look at your phone. 

After you’ve finished your 15-20 minute session, take a break for a few minutes and repeat another cycle. Eventually, you may even find yourself setting your timer for longer periods and building your focus endurance. 

Zone out

Yes, it’s true, zoning out and staring off into space can help you stay focused for longer. 

Forcing yourself to work through the day without a single break is hard on your mind and your body. And it’s also a surefire way to burnout quickly and abandon your goals. 

When it comes to achieving focus and productivity, you’ll want to break up your work with scheduled breaks. Closing your eyes, zoning out, or taking a short walk lets you clear your mind and reset. 

Gamify your work

If you’re dreading a certain task, then harness your focus by turning it into a fun game. Human beings are very much motivated by games and rewards. Gamifying a task makes the task seem less like work, and more like an interesting challenge. 

So if you’re trying to write 1,000 words, challenge yourself to do a writing sprint and write as much as you can in a set number of minutes. Or if you’re organizing and decluttering your house, challenge yourself to clean a room in 10 minutes, and then see how fast you can clean the next room.

Afterwards, follow it up with a pleasurable reward. Maybe it’s your favorite cup of coffee or looking at Pinterest boards or treating yourself to a piece of candy. The important thing is that you congratulate yourself for accomplishing the task. 

Written by JiJi Lee.

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