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The Fragmentation of Focus, And What You Can Do About it!

The Fragmentation of Focus, And What You Can Do About it!

Over the past two years, I have noticed something change in me. At first, it was barely noticeable, it was subtle — but increasingly I have become more aware of it. What I noticed was the fragmentation of my focus. I came to realize over the past couple of years that my ability to concentrate wasn’t as sharp as it once was. I thought it might have been due to having so much on my plate at work. But then, I have always been very good at focusing on my career.

It Wasn’t Only Happening To Me

As I looked around me, it seemed I wasn’t the only one struggling with focus. In fact, I am often taken by surprise how little focus people have these days. Their actions seem scattered, uncertain, and anxious. Were I first began to notice this was in a curious place, not somewhere most people would expect. As a martial arts coach, I get to work with diverse groups of people, from all walks of life. It was on my mat, in teaching them, that this fragmentation of focus first jumped out at me. People seemed less and less able to stay focused on one specific thing long enough to get it down. Their ability to retain information seemed to escape them. If I wasn’t experiencing the same phenomena myself, I may have put it down to the learning process and simply requiring more time to get it down. But this wasn’t the case.

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I then realized, over the past two years I have focused considerably more on my social media presence than any time in the past. If you are an entrepreneur you are constantly told that you need a social media presence to be competitive in this world. So, taking that advice, I engaged in all of the most popular social media platforms. Before I knew it, I was concerned about likes, comments, and shares. It became addictive, and not checking to see my latest likes, or retweets made me feel like I had missed my morning coffee. An underlying anxiety began to build. First, I couldn’t explain it and wrote it off as stress. But around the same time, my wife, who has never really been into technology or social media, got a brand new iPad for her birthday. Before long, she was hooked too. As we sat around one day talking, we both reflected on this underlying, what we thought was unexplainable anxiety we were both feelings.

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The bottom line is, there is a lot of research now and articles that have been written to show that social media is addictive, and it isn’t good for you. It’s not my intention here to rewrite the research, and in fact, I am pretty convinced that when people think about it, they intuitively know it isn’t good for them too. What I want to offer up here is what I have been doing to get my focus back, and it’s working.

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Here are my 4 tips that anyone can apply in their life to get more focus back in their lives:

  1. When I wake up in the morning now, I take it slow. A cup of coffee, a cuddle with my cat, or a relaxing gaze out the window at the wondrous birds that visit my garden. Only once I am awake for an hour do I open up my laptop or reach for my iPhone. I then clear all my emails, check my social media accounts and head off to work. As a side note, I leave my iPhone in the kitchen overnight and no longer have it lying next to my bed.
  2. Throughout the day I don’t check any of my social media accounts. I stay off Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and only answer emails if I absolutely have too (I run an online business so at times I have no choice). At 4 pm, I check my social media accounts again, and then that’s it for the day.
  3. When I am on social media, especially Facebook I stay away from the newsfeed. I have told all the important people in my life, to tag me rather in a post they make, especially if they want me to be aware of it. This way, the only page I ever see on Facebook is my own. It honestly makes the whole experience a lot less stressful. I don’t get to see the ranting antics of ‘stuff’ that, to be honest, sometimes should simply remain in someone’s head. As a bonus too, I then steer clear from all the negative posts as well.
  4. Anytime I am on social media now, I practice what I call Social Media Mindfulness. I post, and I tweet like everyone else. But just like everyone else, I found, as I noted earlier, that I began to become addicted to the likes, to the feedback. Before I knew it, I had an expectation that people would respond to my tweets, my posts – and when they didn’t, I felt some level of despair and panic. I now post, tweet, or Instagram ensuring that what I put out there is important, and then taking a deep breath, I no longer attach to the outcome. If people like it, or comment, great. If not, that’s fine too.

My four strategies above have allowed me to be on social media, but without becoming consumed by it. Cutting back on how many times I would check my social media accounts during the day (and night) and being disciplined about it has been the single most important change I have made in my daily routine. This alone has boosted my concentration. I am now able to stay more focused on one project at a time for longer because I no longer have that constant background anxiety that I am missing out on something. The truth is, I realized within a week of making these changes, that for the most part, not much changes in 8-hours in my social media world anyway.

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More by this author

Rodney King

Embodied Performance Coach

The Fragmentation of Focus, And What You Can Do About it! Your Voice of Temptation Doesn’t Need To Be In Charge 4 Steps to Managing Your Emotional Life 4 Step To Being More Mindful in The Chaos of Life

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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