In today’s world of email, texts, tweets, likes, Snapchats, and Instagrams, how do you stay focused? It seems like every time I’m focused on a project, invariably my phone will ring or ding or someone will come and interrupt me. Before I know it, my attention and focus is being pulled to something else. Can you relate to this?
There have been numerous studies in the past decade on how distractions affect our productivity. One study found that after an interruption it takes an average of 25 minutes for someone to return to the original task, if they do at all. Another study showed that always being connected to technology impacts your IQ equivalent to losing a night’s sleep. Moreover every time you change you focus, you use metabolic resources. So the more you change your focus, the less resources you have available. Thus, the more we change focus, the more resources we use, and the less productive we are. So, the question is, how do we stay focused?
The way our brains work is interesting. Once we choose to allow a distraction to take our focus, it is much harder to go back, but if we stop the distraction before it takes hold, we are much more successful. Thus, the main thing about maintaining focus is inhibiting distractions. This can be difficult, especially if we have conditioned ourselves for distractions; that is, opening the email as soon as the notification pops up, getting up for a cup of coffee every half hour, etc. You have to focus on what you are focusing on. Choose to observe yourself and inner monologue; catch the impulse to pick up your phone or to get up, before you actually do it. When someone comes and interrupts you, tell them nicely that you are in the middle of something, and will be with them as soon as you finish. Moreover, do not leave the tasks that take the most focus to the end of the day; focus on these first when you have the most energy and focus available. Making these minor changes may not be easy as first, but once you start working on it, you will find it easier.
You might find yourself asking, “But why do I need to stay more focused? No one else is.” However, the main question is, how do you feel at the end of most of your days? Do you feel accomplished or do you feel drained and overwhelmed? We have all gotten so accustomed to working at a small fraction of the focus level that we are capable of that it has become the norm. But we are capable of so much more. Do not allow mediocrity and the status quo to keep you from achieving your true potential.