How to Improve Focus and Use Your Time Better
The ability to focus is responsible for more than merely allowing us to get our tasks done in a timely fashion (although that’s no small thing). It can help create peace in our lives—both at work and at home. When we’re disciplined with our time, we can really go after our big-picture desires—whether that’s finishing a novel, adhering to a healthy diet, or starting a small business on the side. Finally, a more focused mind allows us to see the habits that no longer serve us and get in the way of those big-picture plans.
Focus is kind of like a muscle; its strength improves as we use it. Just as with physical fitness, every effort counts. The following are a few ways to build focus, make the most of your days, and clear the way for some pretty exciting stuff.
Begin your day with a moment of stillness. Your morning routine will impact the way the rest of your day unfolds. Think of your morning as a rebirth—a chance to begin from a calm and centered place. While practicing meditation has profound effects on the brain, some people may gravitate towards other ways to practice morning spirituality. Sitting quietly with a cup of tea, journaling, or doing a few sun salutations may be perfect for you. It may also help to put your phone in airplane mode—the e-mails can wait until you’re truly ready for them.
Create the right environment. Although much of focus is determined by your own willpower, our work and living environments can play a huge role. A noisy environment may prove too distracting for some but may fuel productivity in others. Recently, my partner was working on a conference paper proposal (on a Saturday!). Loud music pulsed through the apartment, and he was in the zone. I, on the other hand, prefer quiet, ambient noise or a little mellow music.
Limit distractions. This goes hand-in-hand with creating the most suitable environment. Make sure you only have necessary notifications on your phone (like text and phone calls). Also, what’s the deal with your web browser’s home page? Is it full of click-bait? If so, it may be helpful to change it to a less tempting page.
Finally, take inventory of a typical day. How does your time get frittered away? Be honest with yourself, and find a way to reduce the habits that don’t serve you.
Before you dive into any project or slew of e-mails, plan how you will spend your day. As I noted in my post on taking things one day at a time, having a million things to get done can feel less overwhelming when you have a plan of attack to remind you that each thing will get done in its own time.
Block out time for both major and minor tasks. For example, you may spend the first two hours of your workday on a particular project and then assign 30 minutes to checking email so that way you’re not allowing e-mail checking to get in the way of your time spent on the project.
Learn the art of mono-tasking and cultivate depth of focus. When possible, try to stick to one task at a time. This allows you to be fully present during your work. Additionally, continuously focusing on just one thing helps you cultivate depth of focus; i.e. you can get (productively) lost in your work.
Multitasking, however, impedes depth of focus since it requires our focus to be spread thinly across several activities. Sometimes multitasking is unavoidable, of course, but even then, it’s possible to multitask mindfully.
Take breaks and plan rewards. Finally, the fun part! Research shows that taking short breaks while you work can improve productivity. Every forty minutes or so, get up and grab some water or walk around the building. A bit of physical movement can relieve eyestrain and the physical discomfort that accompanies sitting for long periods of time.
Planning a reward can serve as excellent incentive to stay focused. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, either. It could be time on your yoga mat or an episode of your favorite show on Netflix. My personal favorite is planning to go for a run at the end of the work day. Anticipating the major release of running keeps me on task!
How do you stay focused throughout the day? Share your tips! 🙂
More career tips: How to Take Criticism in a Positive Way
Photo: Daniel Foster via Flickr