Remember the movie Forrest Gump and the scene when he was focused on just running that he ran across America several times? Yes, we know that he’s just a fictional character but if there’s anything to learn from this, it is to stay focused amidst distractions.
How many times have you been assigned a challenging task only to have your focus broken by intermittent distractions from your friends, colleagues, smartphone notifications, and even your bosses? Steve Jobs once said that the single most important trait when developing a product is Focus, and the only way to do that is to learn to say no.
The age of information overload comes naturally with advances in social media and communications technology, and we will fall victim to it if we let it change our way of thinking to one that is shallow and fragmented. Don’t let yourself devolve under the age of information and check out these tips to emerge smarter among the information clutter.
1. Keep the bigger picture in mind
By constantly keeping the bigger picture in mind, it is less likely for our minds to wander off and give attention to other less important details. By having a top down thought process instead of one that is bottom up, we will be able to stay focused on the main objective and not be bogged down by a countless number of small details.
To put it into practice, you can write out the top 5 things you would like to focus on just before you start the day. For instance, the CEO of Get Satisfaction, Wendy Lea emails her team the top 5 things she will be focusing on for the week, to keep everyone in line and focused.
2. Picking out the best bits
We always seem to have this misconception that putting a 100 percent effort to every detail will make us better managers or workers. In fact, so much time is wasted on processing 97% of the material we are reading, when only 3% are of use to us.
Learn to pick out the best bits of information by constantly asking yourself about what you want to get out of the information. For example, if you are reading an article on staying focused, go straight to the best bits and constantly ask yourself, “what is the best way of staying focused that will work well for me?” instead of getting lost in all the filler.
3. Stay Objective
It is easy for us to be too subjective when we apply selective reading, especially during busy times. When we are on a roll, we wish that all the information is favorable to us, so that we wouldn’t have to pause to think much about it. Because of this, we omit the negative yet important details out, to a certain extent.
Always keep an open mind to never leave out any information that is beyond our perspective and learn to seek out new points of view.
Meditation is being frowned upon because of some underlying misconceptions about it. Firstly, because humans are all result driven, we tend to expect something out of everything we do, and most of the time, meditation doesn’t allow you to reap instant rewards. Secondly, we give up too easily when we hit a brick wall or if something we do seems futile.
Instead, learn to use an object of attention such as your breathing, chanting or an image, and if a thought interjects, embrace it, refrain from being frustrated and slowly refocus on the object of attention. The purpose of meditation is to find the quiet between thoughts, which is pure silence and concentration, and with much practice, it can be more frequently achieved.
5. Never Multitask
Studies have shown that it takes about 25 minutes for the average human to refocus on a challenging task and to get back into the “flow” after getting distracted. Especially in the age of information overload, multitasking is counter-productive and tiresome. In fact, a study was conducted by Stanford University researchers showing that multitasking kills your performance and even damages your brain.
Learn to say no if the distraction is a subordinate job, and also learn to close your doors when focusing on a challenging task at hand. You can always come back to the smaller issues that are not too urgent after the primary job of the day is done.
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