Stress Personal Growth

How To Improve Your Focus

Research tells us that our attention spans are shrinking. In 2000, we could focus for 12 seconds before our brains wandered. By 2012, that time was reduced to 8.25 seconds.

Losing focus is not a problem if your job is to scroll Tik Tok, but it’s very problematic if your line of work demands your uninterrupted attention.

After an interruption, it can take up to 23 minutes to fully return to the same level of focus. Therefore, whenever you switch your attention from a task to, say, look at your phone or your emails, or worse – split your focus between multiple tasks – it can take a long time to focus again.

High-quality work is produced when you combine intensity of focus with time. The part you tend to struggle with is the intensity of focus, which is why complex tasks tend to take you longer to complete than they need to.

So How Do You Improve Your Focus?

Various research studies have indicated how effective mindfulness can be for improving focus. One study showed that after practising just 10 minutes of mindfulness through meditation, people showed a better focus and better results on subsequent tests than the control group. If you would like to take the first step to improve your focus, we recommend a simple mindfulness practice through a short, guided meditation of your choosing.

If meditation is not for you, you can improve your level of focus with other pastimes, too. Try reading (not listening to) books or other long-form content, completing puzzles or Sudoku, playing memory training games, or practising something that requires you to be fully immersed, such as learning a new language or musical instrument.  

The ultimate goal is to achieve a “flow state” or “flow”. Flow is a mental state in which you are fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process so that you lose a sense of space and time. Understandably, you won’t be able to apply this to all elements of your work, but there may be some tasks you do that require a deep level of concentration and could benefit from working in this way.

Get Into Flow

  1. Set windows of time where you will focus on one thing. That might be a block of one to two hours.

  2. Share your plans with the people around you so that your manager, your team, or your clients know how frequently you will be available on emails, messages or on the phone.

  3. Turn off notifications. Your devices may even have focus settings you can take advantage of. During your designated focus time, block all notifications for e-mails, phone calls, social media and messages.  

  4. Identify what a productive work environment looks like to you.

  5. Work in 60- to 90-minute blocks followed by short 10-minute breaks.

Battle Procrastination

We all procrastinate from time to time. You probably all know the feeling of frustration when you’ve put off work, and then you have to rush through it or work overtime to finish it at the last minute. Procrastination happens for many reasons; your brain likes to preserve energy, so if it can take on an easier task – like answering emails or checking social media – it will. You may notice that when you’re challenged by a hard or complex job, you tend to find the energy to clean or organise, and you need to get yourself a snack before you begin. Your brain looks for a distraction.

To combat procrastination, you need to make your goals explicitly clear. Think about breaking bigger tasks into smaller goals; the more specific you can be with these goals and what the outcomes look like, the easier it will be to stay on task and complete them. For example, if you know you have a lengthy report to write, you want to break that down into small achievable chunks. Today’s goal may be to finish 500 words or ten slides. If the only task on your list is “finish the report”, it’s likely that you’ll put it off.

Finally, get some help. Share your goals and deadlines with others who can help you stay accountable. If you’re prone to procrastination, scheduling regular check-ins with your team, your boss or your clients (and the fear of letting them down) will mean holding yourself to the task until it’s finished.

Written by:
4 August 2022