Distractions happen. They can be all around you, or they can happen unexpectedly. With the advances in technology, interruptions are taken for granted. Almost everyone has had the experience of focusing on something, and the phone rings, or someone comes to your door. Then there are the unexpected things, such as a family member or your pet gets sick, or you get sick.
We also know that multitasking is needed more and more in our busy lives. Yet, research indicates it increases the possibility of interruptions derailing us. In other words, it decreases your ability to focus. Not only does multitasking decrease productivity and efficiency, it is detrimental to your physical and emotional health.
In teens, multitasking while doing homework can impede the development of the brainâ€™s prefrontal cortex according to recent cognitive neuroscience research. This area of the brain does not fully mature until the mid-twenties. It is responsible for social cognition, planning, conceptualization, reasoning, and decision making skills which are need for prioritizing when you are multitasking.
Dr. David Meyers, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found that the inability to concentrate for 10 minutes at a time in a day can decrease productivity from 20-40 percent. That is more than most of us can afford to lose. It is possible for you to handle distractions and increase your energy and ability to focus even with email, iPods, and cell phones.
So, what are some basic things you can do to sharpen your ability to focus and increase your energy?
1. Have an idea of what you want to focus on. Is it the steps it will take you to complete a personal or professional goal? It might be to improve a relationship that is important to you, to find a new job or to redecorate a room in your home. Is it in the present or future? How important is it to you on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being extremely important?
2. Take time outs. Deanna Davis discusses the need for Recovery Time in the form of time outs in her book Living with Intention (2005). Your body has a high energy and focus cycle of about 90-120 minutes followed by a 20 minute low point in which you are less energetic and motivated. Mini breaks, rest or relaxation allows you to refresh yourself mentally and physically. They also decrease the release of stress hormones which compromise your brain and physical health over time.
3. Use a reset button. During â€œcrunchâ€ times which you may face from time to time, you may have to rely on a simple ritual or habit that will provide a short recovery time. These need to take only about 30 seconds to a minute and be something that you can do automatically, without thought. It might be several calming breaths, a short stretching exercise, saying a calming phrase or looking at a picture that is pleasing to you. It is like touching a reset button that gives you a renewed feeling of energy and focus.
4. Have work-free zones. Establish times and spaces that give you the opportunity to disconnect from work in order to create more balance in your life. By disengaging for short time periods, you will increase your energy and focus.
You may have to intentionally practice these behaviors one at a time until they become automatic and effective. It helps if you:
â€¢ Have a strong reason to be more focused.
â€¢ Feel committed.
â€¢ Are willing to take the time to practice.
â€¢ Develop a system to support the changes you want to make by putting in place something positive to make it easier for you to remember to change your present behavior (a note to yourself or having a special place to put something).
It takes about three months for a new behavior to become a life-long habit. Then your mind is freed up to concentrate on other things that are important to you.
Be sure to develop a system that supports your change in behavior in order to make it easy for you to follow through with your commitment. Begin today. You will be amazed at how sharp your focus can be.