We live in such a busy, fast-paced world. We tend to plan our time down to a minute and we also expect to be always present. During a meeting, call, chat, when we are with friends, our loved ones, etc. we should always be focused, spot on. Well, as you may have noticed already, that’s not really possible.
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport states that even the highly trained people can have uninterrupted focus for about 4-5 hours a day. It is true that the productivity levels during that time are immense, but my point is, unless you’ve been highly trained to focus, you cannot expect from yourself to stay focused all day long. So, if you notice your concentration slipping away, be kind to yourself – you’re just a human being after all.
Having said that, there are several things you can do to improve your focus. Now, I won’t be talking about techniques such as the Pomodoro technique where you break down your work into 25 minute chunks. These management techniques are quite useful, mind you, but they are not what this article will be about. Here are the tips I had in mind.
As Jim Kwik says, in order to improve our comprehension, we should ask better questions. Why? Because when you ask a question, you control what you want to focus on. For example, if you’re about to go into a meeting, in order to get the most out of it, you should prepare the questions you’d like to have answered. That can be as simple as understanding what your action steps are, but it can also be understanding the important concepts that will move your company forward.
According to George Miller, a researcher who studied human memory, we tend to retain 7 plus or minus 2 bits of information in our working memory. Therefore, the number of questions you might want to ask is 5-9. You can start with the usual ones, the 5W questions (who, what, when, where, why) but should not limit yourself to them.
Just keep in mind that when you ask a question, you direct your brain to get the answer, thus helping you improve your focus.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
We’ve all had sleepless nights or just nights without enough sleep, which made it really difficult to focus the next day. You’d much rather just be out and about because your performance and productivity are just a lot lower that day.
Research suggests that sleep helps learning and memory in two distinct ways. First, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently. Second, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.Harvard Medical School
Now, the amount of sleep you need really depends on your daily schedule and your body, but a general consensus is that 7-8 hours a day should suffice.
Also, make sure your sleep is regular and consistent because sleeping 14 hours one night and then 2-3 the next is not the same as getting 7-8 hours on both nights.
GET SOME REST
Being busy is not the same as being productive. You can be doing something all day long but your results may not match the amount of work you’ve invested. According to Cal Newport, getting time off after work actually helps you perform better the next day because you’re giving your brain time to focus on something else and process the work-related information in the background.
Getting rest doesn’t have to mean lying in the bed and watching TV. It can refer to physical activity, spending time with family and friends, etc. The important thing is to shift your focus to something else. Our brain has this super power to still be working on what’s bothering you in the background, which is why we tend to get great ideas in the shower or while doing something else other than work.
Once in a while, try to disconnect; turn off your notifications, leave your devices aside, get involved with people or be in nature. There are so many benefits of disconnecting, especially in today’s world; one of them being better focus.
Here’s a simple thing you can do: when you start a task, stay away from your phone, don’t check your social media, turn off all notifications you can for about 20-30 minutes. You can do it longer if possible, but 20-30 minutes will be OK to give it a try. It’ll feel strange at the beginning, but the more you do it, the more productive you’ll get. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish if you eliminate distractions.
On the other hand, being able to spend time in nature on the weekends or your days off has an immense impact on focus. Nature helps us relax and unwind and if you immerse yourself in it and stay present in the moment, you’ll feel recharged and you’ll be able to focus better because you’ve given your brain a break.
To wrap up, there are many techniques you can try to improve your focus. Some of them might take more or less time, but they can be quite effective. However, getting enough sleep, resting, disconnecting and asking more/better questions can boost your concentration as well and you can do this easily and frequently. If you end up trying one or more of the tips I listed below, let me know how it goes. I’d love to read about it.
Until the next article, keep learning and growing.
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