We all know that exercising complete focus will help us to achieve our goals. In our connected world can we clear our mind and truly focus on the tasks at hand?
Yes. Here’s how.
Simply removing yourself from distractions can be enough to clear your thoughts and allow you to focus on specific challenges.
The obvious way to do this is to physically get up and go outside or move into a quiet room, however, there are many more sources of distraction that can and should be addressed in order to truly focus:
- Switch off phone notifications
- Set ‘windows’ in which to check emails, don’t open every new email straight away
- Complete small tasks (5 minutes or less) first
- Clear messiness in your work space
- Close cluttered or distracting content on screen
- Temporarily and politely disengage from chatty colleagues
Most of the above distractions can be alleviated quickly and easily. When trying to concentrate, you must first ensure that environmental factors within your control are dealt with.
“On one occasion, the Blessed One was at the Jetavana Monastery and spoke to the monks there. He said to them, ‘Monks, it would be good for you to practice mindfulness of in-and-out breathing. Your bodies will not tire, your eyes will not ache, and you will be able to experience the pleasure of practicing observation meditation and learn to not become contaminated by ephemeral pleasures. Thus, when the technique for in-and-out breathing is pursued, it is of great fruit, of great benefit. Through it, one can advance to deep meditative concentration (samadhi), acquire a compassionate mind, silence all doubt, and enter a state of clear knowing (satori).” – Samyuktagama, chapter 29, sutra 10
Just concentrating solely on your breathing for a short period of time has many benefits.
‘Mindfulness of the breath’ is a technique you can use to focus on one thing and one thing only, your breathing. By counting your breaths and focusing on this one task you can block out environmental and psychological distractions.
“Observe the air coming in during inhalation and going out during exhalation. You don’t need to follow the passage of the air, just keep your attention on the tip of your nose. Observe and concentrate, see how the air is coming in and going out.” – Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale
If you can master the above, then you’ll be able to block out distraction and focus on your tasks.
With so much to do every day and limited time to do it in, it’s difficult to know where to start.
Prioritising is an essential part of any productive schedule, but spending too much time and being indecisive on how you order your tasks can, in itself, waste precious time.
The answer: BE RUTHLESS! Remove any external factors that influence your thought process and simply schedule your day to enable you to work at the most productive rate.
You may want to give a task for a friend a higher priority than one for a manager in a different department, but that’s not going to help you get the right things done first; remove emotional influences from your mind.
“You have to ruthlessly prioritize”. – Marissa Mayer
Your aim is to be as ruthless as is needed in order to get your priority list down to one task that needs to be done first. Once that’s completed, repeat to get the second, and so on.
Say ‘no’ and stick to it
Saying no should be one of the easiest ways to get more done, but it proves very difficult for most people. With the best will in the world, we all have our own work to do and it takes precedence over our colleague’s responsibilities.
If you’re snowed under with 101 items on your ‘todo’ list, then you simply haven’t got the time to help others – no matter how nice they are or how politely they ask.
When you have your priorities under control then you’ll have the time to help others but, until then, you need to learn to say ‘no’.
“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” – Josh Billings, pen name of humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw (unverified)
The Yerkes-Dodson Law
The Yerkes-Dodson Law states that your performance can be improved if you’re stimulated in some way connected to the task. However, too much stimulation and your performance decreases. Of course, this level is different in everyone.
One way that you can stimulate yourself to perform certain tasks better is to try and make them more interesting. Gamification is one way to achieve this, but how you do it is up to you.