Focus is hard. We live in a busy world, and distractions surround us. There is always fighting to win our attention. Learning to stay focused and have a longer attention span becomes increasingly difficult in the modern world.
Understanding the science behind focus and attention helps us achieve our goals. If you could have a better focus today, you can devote time to accomplishing the tasks you've been putting off.
In this guide, I will break down everything you need to know about focus. I will talk about what focus is, how to increase your attention span, and how to get focused fast.
What is Focus
Focus is the skill of concentrating on a particular thing. It allows us to pay attention despite distractions and setbacks.
The above definition is simple, but there are essential insights within that definition.
To focus on something, you must ignore many other things. This definition implies that you are saying "yes" to one thing, and "no" to everything else. What you ignore is just as important as the object of your focus.
Focus is the act of being in the present. You are focused on what's important right now. It's not that you are saying "no" to it forever. It just means that at this very minute, you will only concentrate on one thing. Focus is critical because it allows us to accomplish one thing and one thing well.
Why Am I Distracted
It's easy to be distracted. We are all distracted from time to time. It's human to get caught on in something. The reality is that we are terrible at deciding where to focus.
You can avoid distractions once you have clarity on what you want to do.
Most people can focus when push comes to shove. Think about all the times when you had a deadline coming up. You were able to get that one thing done because you could ignore everything else and focus on the timeline. Taking action helps you eliminate procrastination and fear.
Sometimes, we try and do multiple things at the same time to accomplish more. However, multi-tasking almost always backfires in our face.
The Opportunity Cost of Multi-Tasking
Multi-tasking is the execution of more than one task at the same time.
Computers accomplish multiple tasks by running them through different threads. Humans do this by splitting our focus into two places.
For example, we often watch TV while we are scrolling on our smartphones. But at any given time, we are only focusing either the smartphone or the TV. We cannot pay attention to both of them at once.
Multi-tasking forces us to switch back and forth between different tasks. But the human brain does not work this way. Once our attention breaks, it takes time to get back into the flow.
Have you ever been disturbed while you are in the middle of writing an essay? When the conversation ends, you need to reorient yourself back to your writing. There is a mental cost we pay every time we switch between tasks. This psychological cost is the switching cost.
In a study published in 2001, Joshua Rubinstein, Jeffrey Evans, and David Meyers found that young adults lost time when they switched from one math task to another. When the tasks became more sophisticated, they lost more and more time. Time costs were higher when they turned to unfamiliar tasks.
The conclusion multi-tasking makes you less productive, not more. So dedicate your focus towards one task.
How to Stay Focused Longer and Increase Attention Span
Do you want to have a better focus and an increased attention span? Try and prioritize the essential tasks in your life.
Start by writing down twenty-five things you want to accomplish this week.
Then narrow everything down to the top five things.
Then start working on those five things, and ignore everything else.
While you may want to tackle those other tasks, you must not dedicate any resource to them until you have accomplished your top five goals.
Following this methodology allows us to make good use of our time. We can eliminate distractions focus on the most significant things that matter.
Quantify and Track Your Goals
You will always want to quantify and track your progress towards your goals. Momentum helps us see growth and gives us valuable feedback on how we are doing.
Once we apply metrics to measure the parts of our lives that are important to us, we can dedicate our focus in the right direction.
For example, if you are running a business:
Tracking impressions and conversions will help you see how customers are responding to your marketing. Tracking sales will increase the health of your business. Tracking your corporate values allows you to create a more ethical company. Most of the time, you avoid tracking these metrics because we are afraid of seeing the numbers. You don't want to see yourself as failures.
However, you should see these metrics on where you are in our journey, not who we are. The more you track, the better you understand yourself. It helps you focus on the things that matter and ignore the things that don't.
Fall in Love with the Journey
Life is not so much about the results as it is about the journey. We fall in love with the result but not what it takes to get there. Everyone wants to be Michael Phelps on the podium, but no one envies Michael Phelps when he's training.
The process is just as necessary as a result. We want the glory, but none of the grind. People are too often stuck playing a finite game instead of an infinite game.
A couple of examples:
"I want to sell my business for $10 million. Only then will I be happy and fulfilled." "I want to lose 30 pounds, and I will be good-looking." "Once I have a girlfriend/boyfriend, my life will be complete."
These mindsets all see the result as the end-game. They are focused on that single event, and only then will they be happy. But these things are only accomplished through hard work, focus, and dedication. Fall in love with the process. Life is more than just a series of end goals.
Start seeing life like this:
"I wake up excited to build my business every day. Making 10 million dollars is nice, but the only way to get there is to build a business that customers love." "I am so energized when I work out every day. I feel much better when I eat healthily. Losing weight is a nice side-effect that helps me look and feel better." "I love who I am becoming. My life is full of excitement. Someone will be lucky enough to share in my life someday." Focusing on being in a powerful state and falling in love with your journey helps you focus on the process over the results.
Mind-Hacks to Improve Your Focus
Here are some quick and easy ways to improve your focus and attention span fast:
Work During Your Most Productive Hours:
Energy ebbs and flows at different times of the day. For example, I am far more productive after 2 PM. That's when I do my writing and coding. But I know I am more creative in the mornings. So I schedule most of my creative tasks in the morning and handle the heavy workload after 2 PM.
One Task Per Day:
When you wake up, determine the one thing you must get done no matter what. This task is where your focus should go. Don't tackle any other task until this task is complete.
Have a Strong Morning Routine:
Track & field runners emphasize how they start a race because it sets a tone. Use the morning to your advantage. Focus on tackling some of the essential goals you might have. For example, if you are trying to improve your fitness, you can start your morning with a run.
Use "Do Not Disturb: on Your Phone:
Your phone is the most distracting thing you have. It is always begging for your attention through the buzzing and push notifications. When you put your phone on "Do Not Disturb," it allows you a period of peace to get your work done without interruptions.
Avoid Social Media and Emails in the Morning:
Focus is about saying "yes" to one thing and "no" to everything else. When you go on social media or read emails, it drags you away from your tasks. You should spend your day doing what you need to do rather than what everyone else wants you to do. Maybe wait until noon before you go into your emails and social. The point is that you should carve out a period that doesn't throw you off track.
Focus and attention allow you to dedicate your time to your goals. Once you have determined what the essential things in your life are, pursue them relentlessly. Dedicate your energy into solving hard problems every day. The more you say "yes" to the right things and "no" to the wrong things, the better you will perform. Fully commit to the present and enjoy the journey. You will find a life worth living once you have discovered your calling.