It’s a common problem these days: switching between browser tabs and apps on your phone, checking social media and messages and email, thinking about the million things you have to do but putting them off. Anything but staying focused on one task at a time.
And it’s hard to break out of the mental habit of switching, being distracted, letting the mind jump from one shiny thing to the next. How well you’ve mastered the skill of how to stay focused on the task at hand is going to determine your level of success.
If you are able to stay focused at work, or at school, and on your goals, you’ll be productive, you’ll get things done and you’ll reach your goals in record time. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If you are constantly distracted, or multitasking all the time, you are preventing yourself from reaching the next level.
The big question is: how to stay focused in the age of distractions? In a time where there are so many constant demands to your attention and everything and everyone is pulling you in different directions? The ability to concentrate, the ability to focus all your attention on the task at hand is going to determine how productive you’re going to be and how fast you’re going to achieve your goals.
If you’re focused, you’re going to achieve your goals much faster compared to if you’re being distracted, if you’re multitasking, or if your attention is being pulled in different directions. Here is 5 very easy to implement steps to help you start improving your focus today.
The first step to getting focused is to reduce or eliminate distractions. If you imagine your focus as bucketful of water, every distraction is a little hole in your bucket. The more distractions you have, the more holes you have, the more water is going to leak out, and eventually your bucket is going to be empty.
It is the same way with your focus. If you’re concentrated on your work, but your phone is beeping, somebody’s knocking on your door, people are talking, there’s all this noise around you, it makes it much harder to focus. It makes it much harder to concentrate, because every single time, you’re faced with a decision: do you pay attention to your phone vibrating, or do you stay focused on the task at hand?
So the first step to getting focused is to eliminate distractions. That’s why libraries are so quiet. That’s why if you sit in a meditation room, you’ll notice how unbelievably quiet it is. So make your own library. Reduce or eliminate as many distractions as you can. Put your phone on vibrate and put it in a different room.
Close the door to your room or to your office. Put a “Do not disturb” sign that’s going to tell people, “Listen, I’m focused. I don’t want to be disturbed.” Eliminate as many visual or auditory distractions around you as possible. If you’re on your computer, you’re writing, but there are all these to-do lists around you, or notes, it’s easy to get distracted. So minimize or eliminate as many distractions as you can.
That’s the first way to get focused. Create your own library, create your own meditation room; something that allows you to get into the Zen mode, that allows you to focus, allows you to stay concentrated on the task at hand. Every single time you face a distraction, we know from science it can take you up to 21 minutes to regain your focus. Don’t waste your time. Eliminate or at least reduce distractions as much as possible.
The ability to concentrate is like a muscle. The more you exercise, the more you go to the gym, the better developed your muscles are going to be. It’s the same way with your focus. If you’re somebody who’s constantly distracted, you’re used to multitasking, 40 minutes of focus time might be too much for you. So start with 5. Get comfortable with 5 minutes of paying attention to only one task. Then make it 10, make it 15, make it 20. Slowly build your way up to about 40 to 50 minutes of focus time.
Train your focus. If you’re used to concentrating for 5 minutes, and now you’re going to do it for 45, you’re setting yourself up for failure, because you’re not used to it. Your habit is to do 5 minutes or 10 minutes, and now you’re trying to jump almost tenfold.
“Build your way up.”
Train your focus the same way you’re going to train your muscles. You don’t go to the gym, go on the bench press and start benching hundreds of pounds. You start slowly, you allow your muscles to develop, and you build your way up. Same way with your focus and your concentration. Train it. Start slow; gradually build your way up.
Like everything else, like your energy, like your willpower, your focus is the highest in the morning. Put whatever focus work you have as close to the morning as possible, when you have the most energy, when you have the most vitality. If you go to the office and you start checking your email, you start talking to people, being on the phone, and only then you get into your focus time, it’s going to be that much harder.
Your focus and your willpower get depleted every single time you need to make a decision. And the decisions don’t need to be important ones either. It can be a decision about what to wear today, or about what to eat. Every little decision chips away at your willpower, at your focus and at your energy. So try to schedule your focus time as early in the morning as possible.
Maybe you cannot do it first thing in the morning, but do it the first thing when you get to the office. Instead of checking your email, do your most important task first. Do your writing, do your reading before you get to do anything else. The closer you get it to the morning, the more focus you’re going to have, the more concentration you’re going to have, the easier it will be to actually stay focused. Do it first thing in the morning.
Always have a plan! What happens if you don’t have a one? You go to the office, you sit down, and you’re like, “Wait, what should I do?” And then you choose one task which seems the most important one, and you start doing it. But then in the middle of it, something else pops in your mind, and you’re like, “Wait, this one is more important,” so now you switch your focus to something else.
In the middle of that task, something else pops in your mind and you’re like, “Wait, should I be doing this, or should I be doing that?” And the vicious cycle continues. When you don’t have a plan, when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing, your mind is going to keep wandering around.
If you have a plan, if you know that between 8:00 and 8:30, you’re supposed to do this one task, you’re in a different mindset. Your mindset changes; you know you’re supposed to be doing this one thing. So then you don’t need to be faced with the choice should you be doing this, should you be doing this, are you doing the right thing? You’ve made a plan.
You know that between this and this period, you’re supposed to be doing this one task. It makes it much easier to stay focused. Always have a plan. Start your day with writing down what you need to do, when do you need to do it, what do you need to achieve. When you have a plan, when you have a schedule, it is that much easier to focus and to stay focused.
We live in a society where taking breaks and relaxation is not “cool”, because you’re supposed to be on 24/7, but taking breaks is going to allow your focus to renew. Your energy follows a very predictable pattern every single day: it goes up, and it takes about 2 ½ hours to go down. And when your energy starts going down, so does your focus, your concentration, your willpower and even your mood.
But people don’t like that… at all. When our energy goes down, we start going for coffee, we start going for energy drinks, for sugary stuff, just to pump our energy up. But instead, if you take a break, your focus is going to renew because your energy is going to be elevated.
Do this: work for 50 minutes. Concentrate all your attention for 50 minutes. Then take a 10 minute break. Follow it up with another 50 minutes of focus time, then take another 30 minute break. During your breaks, get up. If you’re sitting at a desk, get up, walk around, shake it off.
Don’t think about what you were doing before or what you’re going to be doing next. Take a break physically, but take a break mentally as well. This is going to help bring your energy up, which is going to bring your focus up, your willpower, your mood, your creativity, and everything else up. Always take breaks. Even if you don’t feel like you need them, take a break.
When you get exhausted, when you’re wiped out and it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, no amount of sugar, no amount of productivity apps, nothing is going to change your focus, but taking a break. And that is how you do it. These are the 5 steps to answering the “how to stay focused” question.
Eliminate distractions, or at least reduce them as much as you can; train your focus slowly, gradually, build your way up; do it first thing in the morning when your energy, when your vitality, when your creativity, when your focus is the highest; have a plan – this way, you’re not faced with the choice of “Are you doing the right thing?” – and then take regular breaks.
If you do this over and over again, you’re going to not only develop your focus, but you’ll be able to focus for longer chunks of time. Say hello to productivity!
If you spend your day focusing on what’s important to you, on your important tasks , on your goals, that’s what life is about. That’s how you become successful. That’s how you become productive. When you focus every single day on what’s important, you get it done over and over again, that’s how it compounds. That’s how you get productive, that’s how you get successful, you get happy, you get energetic, because you’re succeeding.
Use these 5 steps. It is very easy. As you can see, it’s not rocket science. It’s just being deliberate; it’s about training your focus, having a plan, being deliberate about when you do what. That’s it. That is how you train your focus. That is how you get a laser-sharp focus and train yourself how to stay focused.