The Truth About Staying Focused

The truth is, it’s impossible to focus.

You may have experienced this. You have a need or desire to think deeply on a subject, but interruptions from all sides keep your focus and attention at surface level. You may also find that it takes you a long time to reach that deep focus state and that you are disoriented if you come out of that deep focus from unnatural causes (like a phone ringing).

Focus is a precious gift and is hard to come by. Whether working from a home office, private office or in a busy workplace, interruptions are constant. We have trained our brains to operate on a surface-only level. In spite of overwhelming evidence, we continue to try to ‘multitask’, getting less and less done in longer amounts of time.

At the most recent National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) Conference, I attended a session by Certified Professional Organizer Debbie Rosemont entitled, “Multitasking Makes You Stupid”. Debbie led the group in an exercise where we wrote down the numbers 1-26 alternating with the letters of the alphabet.

I am really fast at writing. I thought I would “win” this contest, and in a way, I did. The time it took me to complete the task was shorter that most others in the group. But, then Debbie asked us to write down consecutively first the numbers 1-26 and then all the letters of the alphabet.  When I FOCUSED and limited myself to one task at a time, I was able to write the sequence TWICE AS FAST! What!? I truly did not expect that result.

I wondered, where else am I splitting my attention in such a way that my efforts are significantly slower than if I simply focused? In sports, the difference between winning and losing is often a fraction of a second. We never even hear about the athletes that cannot focus. But what about in life? What are you missing out on? What race are you not even a part of because you are constantly training yourself to switch gears, making your efforts take twice as long?  Even at your fastest you are still slow.

Research shows that the more we switch between tasks, the less we are able to focus such that we have to re-train our brains for focused work.

But, it can be done.

It starts by giving yourself time and boundaries to focus on one task at a time. That means turning off the phone, shutting off notifications, letting people know you are unavailable and giving yourself 20 minutes to get a task done.

Unfocused tasks take you twice as long OR MORE to complete. Do you really want to be working on that proposal for 3 hours? Or would you rather knock it out in 1 hour and still have time to follow up with 5 people?

The truth about staying focused is that it requires establishing intentional boundaries against distractions so that you can actually create more time in your day.

We could all use a bit more of that especially when it means we can rest and enjoy life more.

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