The world is becoming more and more distracting. Notifications. Competing priorities. Constant connection. It’s almost impossible to find a space to escape – at least without some real effort on our part. Cell phones even ring and ping in our places of worship and on backwoods trails.
If you’re like most people, you’re also facing a lot of internal noise. Self-doubt. Worry. Fear. Frustration. Stress. Virtually all of us are familiar with the chatter in our heads that pulls us away from what we want to think, feel and do. And in an ironic twist, many of us turn to external distractions like social media to drown out these more disturbing interruptions coming from our own minds.
The inescapable truth is that, in our world, distractions are normal. But they’re also impacting your results. In fact, some researchers suggest that workplace distractions cost the U.S. economy almost $650 billion each year. As a result of our reduced productivity, we find ourselves working longer hours and end up exhausted. Because we don’t have the skills to effectively address our mental chatter or the non-stop noise coming at us, many of us are needlessly consumed with negativity. Sound familiar?
Maybe you find yourself spending twice the necessary time to complete routine tasks. Maybe you miss the feeling of flow you get when you’re able to really focus on your work (or even a hobby). Or maybe you are just tired of looking up and noticing that you just wasted half an hour of precious time scrolling through random ads and pictures on your phone.
Whatever your personal struggle with distraction, the good news is you can improve your focus and begin to reap the benefits sooner than you think.
You Aren’t Broken…
Focus is a funny thing – a skill many of us feel we were just born with or not. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, for the majority of us, there is no physical or mental problem that actually prevents us from focusing. This is good neww. Chances are very good that you have the ability to quiet your environment and improve your attention and focus.
Now for the bad news…what’s keeping us distracted is a series of habits and behaviors that have become so ingrained that we no longer even notice them. We spend the entire workday with our email open, notifications turned on, reading every one that crosses our screen. We keep our phones within arm’s reach and look at them every time they buzz and multitask like pros. Jumping from task to task fiendishly in an attempt to feel productive.
Each of these patterns are made up of habits that undercut our ability to focus on the task at hand – habits that we have the power to change.
But It Is Up to You
If what undermines our focus is habits, then it is up to us to change them. Doing so starts with a choice. A choice that we are going to be serious about improving our sense of concentration, flow and peace. That no matter how tempting distractions may be, we’re going to recognize them for what they are and choose better for ourselves. A choice that real productivity is better than the frenzied sense of busy so many of us have adopted.
To be sure, these things don’t happen overnight. Habit change is a long-term game and requires that we make incremental changes. Just like getting ourselves into physical shape starts by pushing ourselves a little bit over a long time, we can get ourselves back into mental shape by making a series of small adjustments over days, weeks and months.
It’s Worth It
Improving your focus isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but the benefits are worth the struggle.
The most obvious payoff from being able to concentrate fully is that you become more productive. Simply put, you turn out better quality work in less time. That never-ending to-do list that you keep trying complete actually becomes something you can overcome. Leaving the office at a reasonable time in the afternoon becomes a real possibility. And you finally trade in busy for effective.
There are other, more hidden benefits to improved focus as well. For example, the stress you feel when trying to complete a task while jumping between emails, phone notifications, and meetings? It drops dramatically. While we may try to convince ourselves that multitasking is productive, our brains and bodies instinctively know otherwise and amp up our stress in response. When we pay attention to this signal, slow down and choose a single task, our bodies and brains begin to relax.
Finally, focusing on one thing at a time allows us to tap into unused parts of our brains. When freed from distractions and the stress that undoubtedly accompanies them, the human mind is intensely powerful and creative. Especially for those of us engaged in knowledge work, turning out thoughts and ideas instead of widgets, this is especially important.
Learning to improve your focus isn’t easy, especially in our modern world.. But the cost of showing up every day frazzled and distracted is undeniable. You have the power to choose a different way, starting now. If you commit yourself to this journey, the benefits will be worth it.
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