Do you lack focus and concentration? There are times when I definitely lack focus. I will start a task, and before I even know it, I’m looking for something else to occupy my time and attention. Everything else looks more interesting that I’m what I’m currently working on. I check my email and all my social media accounts, just to see if something amazing happened since the last time I checked – ten minutes ago. Distractions are everywhere.
It is evident that it is not just me suffering from a lack of focus. For years we have been told by researchers and educators about a societal lack of focus and the challenges it presents marketers in getting messages read or viewed. So far, the industry’s response has been to shorten, simplify, and add bright lights to our important and sometimes complex information. But, as hard as we may try, not every message can be reduced to a soundbite, tweet, photo, or a Facebook entry with no need to “click to read more.”
So what is this strange phenomenon that compels us to go from task to task without really accomplishing anything at all? Surprisingly enough, it may not be the proliferation of social media or the ever-tempting Internet. According to current research, it seems that our brains are hard-wired to respond to the new, the shiny, and even the unpleasant. A survival mechanism that came about while we were avoiding lions and searching for low-hanging fruit on the African plains. Great for then, not so great for now with the chronic shortage of lions roaming our office halls.
While I may not be able to change the attention span of society, I am able to respond to the challenge of my own short attention span, so I am developing my own strategy to combat this chronic syndrome. After doing some research, it seems that most advice on increasing our ability to focus falls into two categories. The first is reducing environmental distractions, and the second is controlling our minds.
Reducing environmental distractions refers to all the usual advice about minimizing interruptions, having a clear workspace on both your physical and virtual desktops, turning off your phone, and so on. All worthwhile advice and a great place to start.
The second category of advice is a little more intriguing and involves actually training your mind to focus more clearly and for longer periods of time. The next time you are tempted to change tasks, try some of the techniques I’ve found below:
- Ask yourself why you are changing tasks. This will cause you to evaluate your rationale and dismiss it if it’s not a priority.
- Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and concentrate on not thinking and not feeling anything for a couple of minutes. When you open your eyes, reevaluate whether or not you need to switch tasks, or just continue your work.
- Set time limits. Not too long to start, maybe 15 minutes, and then focus on your task until the time is up. After, take a short break before you begin your next 15 minute interval.
- Try focusing on how you want your mind to feel while you work on a task. Perhaps you want to feel creative, or peaceful, or clear and lucid. You can tailor the feeling you desire to the task at hand. Spend a couple of minutes conjuring up the appropriate feeling before you start work.
- Take a break from what you’re doing and work on something completely different for a while. This helps to work through creative blocks and we return to the task with a fresh perspective.
I hope these techniques will help you. I’ve tried all of them and am definitely finding it easier to concentrate and stay on task. Let me know if you have any techniques you’d like to share.
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