I tried out a new workout yesterday at a place called 9Round. It combines cross fit and kickboxing training moves into a fast-paced workout at nine different stations. You walk in, jump in, and go hard for 30 minutes.
During the workout I saw a poster displaying the core values of 9Round. It was inspiring (you can view it here). It also had one of the best definitions for the word “focus” I’ve ever seen…
Follow One Course Until Successful
In the daily grind to get things done, I find myself bouncing around from task to task. I dabble when I need to focus. This keeps me from being as productive as I could be.
Tony Robbins acknowledges this when he says, “One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.”
I recognize my tendency to dabble and have learned some ways to increase my mental focus and get a lot of work done in a short period of time.
Here are ten strategies I use that may help you:
1. Make an appointment to complete a task.
Your calendar is your best tool for productivity. If you want to supercharge your to-do list, take each item and make it an appointment on your calendar. This takes a task and moves it from being something you need to do to something you will do at a specific time and date.
2. Isolate to better concentrate.
I am easily distracted. Some have wondered if I have a bit of A.D.D. I tell them I’m simply O.D.D. (email me if you don’t get it). One of the ways I fight distractions is to remove myself from them.
3. Remove clutter to increase clarity.
The clutter can accumulate quickly. I wrote about my battle against the piles in an earlier post. Creativity is a messy process that needs to begin in a clean space. Clear the space around you and you create more space inside your head.
4. Turn off the technology that distracts.
I’ve surrounded myself with technology that clamors for my attention. I have notifications, alerts, reminders, beeps, texts, emails, and alarms. Every time I respond to one of these interruptions I lose focus on what I’m working on. I’m learning to power down to produce more.
5. Use white noise.
White noise can help you focus by blocking out all of the other noises around you. It is like battling noise with noise. While your brain can still hear the outside noises, the white noise blends them all together in a type of frequency pile and keeps them from distracting you. You can test out the benefits of white noise (and pink or brown noise) by visiting a site called SimplyNoise.com.
6. Use a timer.
When I want to put forth a superhero effort in focusing, I use a timer. I have timer on all of my devices. For my iPhone/iPad, the Clock app is great. I also like Clear Timer. On my Mac, I have a little app that sits in my Command line called Alarm Clock. I will typically set the timer for 30 minute increments. It feels like I’m gaming my productivity -– it’s me against the clock.
7. Reduce stress.
Stress steals your focus. If you were to measure your ability to focus on a scale of 1 to 10, the presence of stress could lower your score by 3 to 5 points. A little stress may motivate you to get your work done. As your stress level increases your productivity level decreases. When I feel like stress is capturing more attention than I’d like, I’ll go for a run or lift weights. Physical activity helps me to reduce and release my stress.
I’m drinking a grande, bold coffee from Starbucks as I put the finishing touches on this post. Studies show that caffeine can increase energy and focus (if used in proper amounts). Sometimes we all battle that “2:30 in the afternoon feeling.” A healthy dose of caffeine may be the jolt you need to stay focused on the task at hand.
9. Do one thing.
Multi-tasking is a myth. All we end up doing is moving from one thing to another at a rapid pace. When we do this, we lose momentum. We decrease our creative energy. It’s easy to spread ourselves thin across all of the tasks on our to-do list. We see ALL that we have to do instead of focusing on the ONE thing we need to do at the moment. If you struggle in this area I would encourage you to read my post entitled “Simplify Your ToDo List With Now And Next.”
You can improve your mental focus through practice. It will take discipline and repetition. In a world of distraction and competing demands, mental focus is a scarce commodity. If you want more of it, you will have to be intentional about getting it. Start out small. Practice for shorter periods of time. Slowly increase the length of your timer. Don’t beat yourself up. You can get better.
Have you ever had a task that you absolutely had to get done? What happened? You got it done. Maybe you procrastinated, but once you committed to doing it, you got it finished.
Here’s a secret: Making progress in your health, your work, and your life isn’t about learning how to focus and concentrate better, it’s about learning how to choose and commit to a specific task. These strategies are simply tools to assist you in following through on your commitment to get things done.
Question: What do you do to increase your mental focus?
Tim Milburn is dedicated to preparing the next generation of leaders. He works with student leaders, inspiring them to live better, more meaningful lives, and trains adults who work with students. Tim provides speaking engagements and other resources, and focuses on personal growth, leadership development, and productivity. This article was originally published at timmilburn.com, a website dedicated to developing lifelong leaders. For more information, complimentary downloads, and to follow Tim on Twitter, please visit his site.
© 2013 Tim Milburn
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