Here Are 3 Ways To Strengthen Your Focus

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Leaderonomics

18-06-2018

4 min read

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How many times has a new email notification disrupted your flow, causing you to spend a little bit more time getting back to meeting that urgent deadline?

How about that time you forgot your car keys because you were trying to pack in your lunch and grab your house keys, while arranging a time to pick your kids up from sports practice?

Our busy, frantic lives don’t afford us many opportunities to pause and take stock of how splintered our attention has become.

Consequently, we end the day feeling frazzled, stressed, and most likely forgetting a few things along the way.

The sensory assault that accompanies our personal and professional lives never ends in a restless world, one in which we assume multiple roles that are necessary to deal with the demands we encounter.

Living in an environment that overloads our senses presents challenges not just because of the sheer amount of information we need to filter, categorise and make sense of.

We are also forced to decide which bits of information we need to attend to.

Often, however, when we pay superficial attention to the world around us, we act mindlessly towards what is presented to us.

Multitasking: A myth 

Ironically, we pride ourselves in our ability to multitask – dividing and spreading our attention thinly across varied and mostly unrelated tasks.

Contrary to conventional wisdom and its intuitive appeal, multitasking is detrimental to overall performance.

It decreases the accuracy in tasks, lowering recall of material presented in lectures and decreasing overall task focus.

It’s not surprising then that much of research on multitasking in the workplace highlights how technology disrupts, rather than enhances focus and attention at work.

American psychiatrist Dr Edward Hallowell goes one step further, calling multitasking a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.”

Focus on one task 

To effectively direct our attention in today’s environment, we need the ability to focus.

In his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, psychologist and author Daniel Goleman argues that we need to be skilled in diverting our attention towards the task at hand.

Note the singular in ‘task’ – just one task at a time, devoting all your attention to that, completing it as best you can, and then moving on to the next.

Goleman links the ability to focus with self-awareness — the recognition and understanding of how one’s attention, inner voice and sensory impressions are influencing thoughts, emotions and actions.

It’s not an easy thing to do, given that we are consistently confronted with situations, circumstances and individuals that repeatedly demand a slice of our attention.

Goleman, however, suggests that we can develop this form of self-awareness, and sharpen our ability to focus through mindfulness by being more deliberately self-aware and attentive about where our focus is directed.

Be mindful 

Mindfulness involves a deliberate, conscious awareness towards the present moment, where we focus on our immediate circumstances in a non-judgmental manner.

Shifting your attention to something new every other minute disrupts focus.

You exert additional effort and expend more mental resources in re-framing, re-evaluating, re-appraising and revising your attention.

Done repeatedly, this attention-hopping leads to disrupted focus, increases the likelihood of lapses and mistakes, and increases mental fatigue.

It’s focus that drives attention, accuracy and performance on a task – not our tendency to give selective, quick and superficial attention to every single detail that comes our way.

Being mindful to when and where our focus is interrupted pays dividends for our performance.

Recent psychological studies also show that it’s the quality, not the quantity, of attention paid to tasks that determines quality work outcomes and improved psychological well-being.

Being mindful of how flighty and precious our focus is helps us optimise our attention and navigate the demands of an attention-deficient world in a calmer manner. 

Being mindful, being in the present, enhances organisational attention – we pay more attention towards how we are processing information presented to us.

It allows us greater mental flexibility and accuracy in coping with demands that are placed upon us.

Being mindful to when and where our focus is interrupted pays dividends for our performance.

Image | pixabay

READ: Leaders, Are You Over-loading Your People?

 

Valuable Tips

  1. Focus on one thing at a time. 

Effective multitasking is a myth. Devote your attention and concentration to doing one task well, completing that task as best you can, and then moving on to the next task.

  1. Pay attention to distractions in your environment.

Recognise distractions in your environment that draw you away from the task at hand.

For instance, do your email notification and mobile phone messages prompt (or perhaps tempt) you away from what it is that you are currently working on?

  1. Give yourself time to get into a focused mindset.

Focusing intently on a task does not happen immediately upon starting a task – it can take between 10–15 minutes.

Give yourself time to immerse yourself in the task and be mindful that initial attempts might be met with some mental resistance, or mild levels of anxiety or frustration.

The good news is, once you hit a certain point, you are likely to experience a deep state of concentration, attention and focus called ‘flow’.

 

Sandy Clarke has been studying mindfulness and meditation for over 15 years and has gained valuable insights into the practice during his stays at forest monasteries. He believes it helps to boost focus, creativity, and well-being in the workplace. To connect with Sandy, follow him on Twitter @RealSClarke

Dr Eugene YJ Tee is currently senior lecturer at the Department of Psychology, HELP University. He has research interests in emotions within organisational leadership contexts. He occasionally writes as a form of catharsis, and at times finds it relaxing to engage in some video gaming and reading. He tweets at @eugene_tee

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