Focus is a skill you can learn for better results in work and life.
By improving your mental focus, you can finish what you start, align what you do with meaningful results, and achieve better, faster, simpler results from the time you already spend.
By learning a few key strategies, you can really take your ability to focus to a new level.
These are proven practices that have stood the test of time. But the trick is to actually practice them.
Here are key ways to sharpen and hone your attention skills.
Get Clear on What You Want
The simplest way to focus and stay engaged is to have clarity on what you want.
Make it vivid and visual. Keep your goals simple and clear.
Test yourself to state your goals as one-line statements.
By having clarity on what you really want, you improve your engagement.
When you are engaged in what you do, your energy and attention will automatically flow with your focus.
Start with Your “Why”
This is the key to making your focus compelling and sustainable.
Make why you want to do something explicit and connect it to your values in some way.
Align Your Focus and Your Values
Once you get clarity on what you want, you need to reduce your internal conflict and deal with competing priorities.
For example, you might value spending time with friends and family, but your focus might require that you spend a lot of time alone.
By aligning your values, you improve your engagement and, as a result, you automatically improve your concentration and focus.
At the same time, you automatically, reduce distractions.
Use Time Chunking to Scope Your Focus
One of the best ways to focus is to close the loop on things, by finishing what you started.
The key here it to bite off things that fit within a specific timebox or chunk of time.
You can choose to focus on something for specific time frames.
For example, some common time frames are 5 minutes, 20 minutes, a day, a week, a month, and a year.
By using time frames for focus, you can chip away at a stone for an extended duration, or you can nail your short bursts of work with skill.
Expand Your Attention Span
It’s easy to focus when you’re fully engaged.
The trick is to train your focus to deal with any situation, including very distracting scenarios.
The other trick is to expand the duration you can focus your attention.
Work your attention span like a muscle through practice.
Start with 30 seconds. Focus for five minutes.
Focus for 10 minutes. Focus for 20 minutes.
By having a range under your belt, whether you have a short block of time or a longer block of time, you can get results.
When you have a much longer block of time, you can simply chunk it up.
Use 20-Minute Intervals to Focus with Skill
A 20-minute chunk of time is a very useful slice of time and the productive possibilities are endless, if you can sustain your focus.
The key is to know that sustained thinking takes energy, and it burns out.
To address this, take breaks to recharge and renew.
Five minute breaks are a great way to stay focused.
Distractions can come from in you (internal distractions), such as your thoughts, or outside of you (external distractions), such as your chair.
External distractions include visual distractions, physical distractions, noise, and interruptions. Internal distractions include nagging thoughts, interesting ideas, internal conflict, and mental chatter.
The key in all cases is to either address the distractions or let them go.
For example, if worrying is distracting you, then address it by having a time and place for it.
You can use the practices throughout this article to address distractions.
Spend Your Attention with Skill
This includes allocating the right time for the right things.
Another key is to reduce the things that distract you in your life from what you want to achieve.
Another key is asking yourself simple questions to refocus, such as, “What’s the goal?” or “What’s my next best action?”
Structure Your Success
One of the best ways to structure your success is to make it easy to pick up from where you left off.
You can also structure your success by structuring your information – have one place to look and one place to write things down, including your goals, tasks, and actions.
You can also structure your environment for to improve focus.
For example, you can add visual cues and reminders.
You can also optimize your workspace to support your focus.
You can also structure your time to improve your focus.
Your schedule is your most powerful tool. Use it to “design your time.”
For example, you can adjust your schedule to account for your most productive time, your least productive time, the best time to interrupt you, etc.
Chart Your Progress
Use meaningful milestones, as well as little and big indicators along the way.
It’s been said that feeling a sense of progress is one of the most important ways to stay engaged.
You can think of a milestone as a numbered marker along the road.
It helps answer the questions, “Am I on track?”, “Am I moving in the right direction?”, “Am I making progress?”, “Have I reached a significant chunk of achievement on the journey?”, “Now that I achieved this, should I continue or should I explore another path?”
You can think of your little and big indicators as the feedback you get along the way, as well as your little and big wins.
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