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Last Updated on February 10, 2021

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Until you know how to focus, you’ll never be able to think clearly, solve problems, make decisions, or remember things effectively. Being focused is important, but staying on a task is becoming harder and harder. A symphony of notifications can draw you out of whatever you’re doing at a moment’s notice.

Every time your mind wanders from your work, you have to waste time and energy getting back on track. A recent study from the University of California calculated that it took people an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get back to work after an interruption.[1] This means that every time something takes your attention off your work, you lose nearly half an hour of your precious time.

Interruptions are bound to happen, but when they happen several times per day, you’ll waste lots of time and energy. In this guide, you’ll learn more about why it’s so hard to stay focused and how to focus to reduce distractions and be more productive.

What Gets in the Way of Staying Focused?

Being Physically Unfit

Everything is more difficult when you feel sick or tired, and if you haven’t been getting enough sleep, your mind is bound to wander.

Human bodies are meant to be in motion, but many of us lead sedentary lifestyles. Not getting enough exercise is another common reason you might lose focus quickly.

Exercising helps your body regulate hormones and process insulin. It also alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety.[2]

What you eat and drink can play a major role in your ability to settle into your work, too. Start by staying properly hydrated. About 60% of your body is water, so if you’re dehydrated, you’re going to feel sluggish, and your brain won’t be able to work as well.

Digestive upsets and imbalanced gut bacteria are disruptive no matter what you’re doing. An upset digestive system is uncomfortable, but it also prevents you from making use of all the nutrients in your food. This means that even if you are eating well, you may not be getting the nutrition that helps you focus.

For example, B Vitamins are essential for digestion, and we deplete them rapidly when exposed to stress. A lack of B Vitamins will almost certainly leave you feeling foggy-headed.[3]

An Emotional Brain

You know how hard it can be to know how to focus when you’re worried about something else. Your limbic system, the epicenter for all your emotions and memories, attaches feelings to everything.

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The way you feel about your work can destroy your productivity and focus if you have a negative point of view. It’s worthwhile to take some time to get to know yourself so that you can figure out what triggers emotional reactions and loss of focus.

One of the best things you can do is infuse your life with positivity. When your work triggers positive emotions, you’ll be more interested in what you’re doing, and it’ll be easier to stay on task.[4]

Too Many Distractions

We’re fortunate to have so much technology at our fingertips, but these advances are a double-edged sword. As you work, phone calls, text messages, emails, and social media notifications threaten to derail your focus.

A 2012 study from the McKinsey Global Institute found that people spend around 13 hours or 28% of their work-week managing emails.[5]

That’s not to say that all time spent on technology is non-productive. It’s just that most of us have a hard time compartmentalizing our inboxes and notifications so that they don’t pull us from other tasks.

Multitasking

You may think you’re being more efficient when you multitask, but only about 2% of the population can effectively multitask.[6] James Clear’s illustration has best described the myth of multitasking:

    Human brains aren’t designed to do the kind of cognitive shuffling multitasking requires. People end up with a nasty build up of “attention residue” when they switch between tasks, so it should be avoided when you want to learn how to focus.[7]

    If you’ve ever been distracted by thinking about something else you have to do while you’re working on another project, you’ve experienced the effects of attention residue.

    Furthermore, multitasking can cause you to perform as though you’ve lost 10-15 points on your IQ score. No matter how smart you are, that’s a significant drop in your effectiveness. A study from the University of London likened this to missing an entire night of sleep.[8]

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    You’ll thrive if you can learn how to focus and carve out time for deep work. You’ll need to create windows of time that are completely free of distractions like emails if you want to be most effective.[9]

    How to Focus in a Distracted World

    1. Block out Time for Uninterrupted Work

    Make sure you schedule important time for yourself where you can focus on your tasks in uninterrupted silence, and let people know that you respond unless absolutely necessary. Think of this as scheduling a meeting with yourself, and treat it the same as you would when scheduling a meeting with others.

    Put your status as “busy” on your messaging apps and shared calendars. Wear headphones (even if you aren’t listening to anything) to make yourself appear that you’re focusing on your work. Intentionally carving out this block of time will help you focus and cause others to be more hesitant about distracting you.

    You can make use of this Full Life Planner to help you better schedule your everyday tasks and keep your mind focused.

    2. Email Batching

    Emails can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them when we receive them. Similar to blocking out specific time for focus, carve out time to deal with emails in one go.

    Doing this will create more productivity and keep you in the flow of dealing with emails one after the other. If you find you still get distracted easily by every new email, you can install a Chrome extension called Block Site which allows you to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times.

    3. Make Technology a Useful Tool

    These days, many people feel controlled by technology and their phones to some extent, so make use of the disabling options it gives you when you want to learn how to focus. Turn off email alerts and app notifications, set your phone to go straight to voicemail, and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages.

    There are also some really cool apps that encourage you to be more productive and less distracted by your phone. Forrest is an app that rewards you each time you focus well, motivating you in a fun way and encouraging you to leave your phone well alone.

    4. Schedule a Distraction Time

    Just as important as scheduling focus time is scheduling distraction time to take a break from work.The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this, distractions become more powerful and paying attention becomes more difficult. So, while taking a short break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes the brain more efficient towards a task.

    Find out how to overcome distractions by learning to work with them instead of against them in this free Fast-Track Class – Overcoming Distraction. It’s a focused 30-minute session that will teach you what you need to get over distractions. Join the free class now.

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    5. Anticipate Your Internal Needs

    You may think it’s the external distractions that cause us to be unproductive, but actually 44% of distractions are internal. Hunger, boredom, stress, and lack of sleep have probably played a part in your lack of motivation many times.

    The good news is that you can control these factors by understanding your patterns and planning ahead to eliminate distractions. Notice when you usually start to feel sleepy, hungry, or bored.

    Taking note of these patterns and counteracting them is a great way to become less distracted by them.

    Mix up your tasks so you alternate the boring and interesting ones more frequently. Keep a snack close when you know your stomach is about to rumble, and go for a quick run up and down the stairs if you’re tired.

    6. Practice Mindfulness

    Mindfulness meditation trains your mind to identify thoughts that arise throughout your day. When it comes to distraction, understanding and noticing these moments can help you deal with them more quickly and increase your attention span.

    Meditation and mindfulness practice can be done at any time. While you eat your food, notice the taste, texture, and how it looks and feels. When reading, really take in every word, or while out walking, notice how your body feels and the details of your surroundings.

    Doing this on a regular basis will eventually train your mind when it comes to other areas where distracting thoughts pop up.

    You can learn how to meditate with this helpful guide: The 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

    7. Exercise Regularly

    Not only is exercise good for the body, but it’s also good for the brain. Physical exercise fires up the neurons in the brain, making you more alert and willing to concentrate. This means it increases your ability to ignore distractions and get on with the task at hand, making it a perfect addition to your routine when you want to learn how to focus.

    You can do an exercise routine in the morning and head straight into work, making sure your block of focus time is carved out first thing. You’ll be surprised at how much motivation you have and how much you get done. If you think you’re too busy to do any exercises, here’s how to find time.

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    8. Create a Willpower Workout

    Just like your muscles need a workout, so does your willpower in order to build up its strength.

    Setting daily self-control habits can train your mind in the art of control in many other areas. In the book Willpower by John Tierny and Roy Baumeister, Tierny cites a study in which students were asked to watch their posture for a week. At the end of that week, these students performed better on self-control tasks (tasks that were unrelated to sitting up straight) than another group who weren’t asked to be mindful of their posture.

    A good willpower practice is to watch the way you speak. Make an effort not to use contractions, i.e. try saying “I am” instead of “I’m.” Speak in complete sentences and refrain from saying “nah” instead of “no” or “yeah” instead of “yes.”

    Alternatively, try using your opposite hand in tasks. The aim is to get your brain used to mental effort, as the more it uses mental effort, the more it builds up your willpower muscle. Find out more ways to help you increase your willpower here: 10 Simple But Powerful Tricks to Boost Willpower

    The Bottom Line

    Now you know why it’s hard to stay focused and what steps you can take to stay on-task and build up your ability to concentrate.

    Start by addressing your physical health and emotional needs. Identify what’s distracting you and compartmentalize tasks like managing email during specific times in your day. If you’re a chronic multi-tasker, it’s time to hang up that hat and focus on one thing at a time.

    Above all, develop productive habits that lead to efficient routines so that deep focus and concentration becomes the norm for you. You have all the tools you need to figure out how to focus on the things that matter most to you. It’s time to give your work your undivided attention.

    More on How to Focus Effectively

    Featured photo credit: Dollar Gill via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

    What Are The Top 7 Priorities To Have In Life? Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes And How to Tackle Them Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It) How To Be Successful In Life: 13 Life-Changing Tips 11 Best Inspirational Books That Can Change Your Life

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    Last Updated on March 2, 2021

    How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

    How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

    You sit at your desk, ready to finally get some work done. “Okay, lets do this,” you think to yourself. You scroll over to Word (or Excel, or Office, etc.) and open up a fresh document. You have some idea of what needs to be done, but what happens next?

    You write a few words down but just can’t stay focused. Then you say “Maybe I should wake myself up with something fun.” You go to Facebook, 20 minutes gone. Then comes Youtube, 60 minutes gone. Before you know it, lunchtime has come and half the day is gone.

    Does this seem familiar? Do you ever find yourself wasting your day?

    Well it doesn’t have to be this way, all you need to do is focus on finishing this article to find out how to not get distracted easily.

    But before we move on to the tips, here’re some important notes you need to know:

    • Avoiding distraction is tough. You’re not alone when it comes to distractions. It’s not easy staying on task when you need to work for hours at a time, but some people are able to do it. The question is: why them and not you?
    • You were never taught how to focus. It’s funny how all throughout our school days we were never taught HOW to learn and be focused, even though that’s all we did. It was just assumed, and ultimately it was hit or miss on whether or not you ended up knowing how to do those things at all.
    • The tools to help master your ability to focus. Since everyone’s left to their own devices, it’s up to you to find ways to master your focus ability. That’s what these tips are for, so you can finally stay focused and on track with what we want to accomplish for ourselves.

    So without further ado, let’s get started. 

    1. Keep Your Vision and Goals in Mind

    First things first, why do you even need to focus? Do you want to become a skilled guitar player? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to start working from home?

    Think about it.

    Knowing why we need to stay focused can help us push through the tough and tedious parts of accomplishing our goals. That’s when our ability to focus is really tested and when it’s most needed.

    2. Reduce the Chaos of Your Day by Focusing on 2 to 3 Important Tasks

    If you have 20 tasks you need done everyday how effective do you think your focus ability will be? Terrible, right?

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    You can’t expect to do those things with sophistication if you’re too scatterbrained to focus. You need to break it down to the essentials.

    Focus on only doing 2-3 important tasks a day (even one is okay), but no more than that. It’s all you need to take steps towards accomplishing your goals. Slower is much better than giving up early because you took on too much, too early.

    3. Do Those Tasks as Soon as Possible

    In order to make sure you get those 2 to 3 tasks done, you need to do them early. This means as soon as you wake up, you’re already plotting how to do them.

    So get up, use the bathroom, eat breakfast, and do it (Yes, BEFORE work is the best time to do it).

    It’s tough, but waiting to do them only invites distraction to take over. Those distractions WILL come, and they will drain your willpower. This makes working on your goals harder to do, so don’t wait do work on your goals, do them as early as possible.

    4. Focus on Only the Smallest Part of Your Work at a Time

    An easy way to kill your focus is to see a goal for the big giant accomplishment that it is. Most goals will at least take a few weeks to months to accomplish, and knowing that can make it feel like it’ll take FOREVER to do.

    This will cause you to do one of two things:

    • You become discouraged because the goal is too big; or
    • You fantasize about what it’ll feel like to achieve the goal

    Either way is terrible for your focus and always a potential problem when focusing on the big picture or using visualization.

    So what should you do? Focus on doing a very small, minimum amount of work instead.

    For example, which seems easier:

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    Writing 200 words per day or writing a minimum of 2 sentences per day?

    20 pushups per day or a minimum of 1 pushup per day?

    The key here is to use minimums. Chances are you’ll push past them.

    Eventually your minimum will increase, and you’ll slowly improve your ability to stay focused on the bigger tasks.

    5. Visualize Yourself Working

    I briefly mentioned in tip #4 that visualization techniques can hurt you more than help you sometimes. But there is a proper way of using visualization, and it’s by visualizing yourself actually WORKING (not as if you’ve succeeded already).

    Champion runners use this technique to great effect, usually by working backwards. They imagine themselves winning at first, then they act out the whole process in reverse, feeling and visualizing each step all the way to the beginning.

    A quicker and more relevant way to apply this would be to imagine yourself doing a small part of the task at hand.

    For instance, if you need to practice your guitar but it’s all the way across the room (let’s assume maximum laziness for the sake of this example), what should you do?

    First, imagine standing up (really, think of the sensation of getting up and then do it). If you really imagined it, visualized and felt the act of standing up, then acting on that feeling will be easy.

    Then repeat the visualization process with each step till you have that guitar in hand and you’re playing it. The process of focusing so intently on each step distracts you from how much you don’t want to do something, and the visualizations “ready your body” for each step you need done.

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    All you need to do is apply this process to whatever it is you need to focus on, just start with the smallest motion you need to do.

    6. Control Your Internal Distractions

    Internal distractions are one of those problems you can’t really run away from. You need to find ways to prepare your mind for work, and find simple ways to keep it from straying to non-essential thoughts as well.

    A good way to prime your mind for work is to have a dedicated work station. If you always work in a specific area, then your mind will associate that area with work related thoughts.

    Simple enough, right? When you take breaks make sure to leave your work station, that way you’ll know when you’re “allowed” to let your thoughts roam free as well.

    Deadlines are useful here also (use Pomodoro method for example, see tip #9). This method helps keep your mind from wandering around since you’ve got that looming deadline coming along.

    If you can build your focus muscle, you will be able to take control of your internal distractions all the time. How? Join this free Fast-Track Class – Focus Like Top Achievers to find out.

    Ultimately though, silencing those unwanted thoughts is all about getting some traction going. So instead of focusing on what’s happening internally, focus getting something done (anything!). Once you do that, you’ll see that all your thoughts will be about finishing your task.

    7. Remove External Distractions

    This tip is straightforward, just get away from things that distract you.

    Is the television a distraction? Work in another room. Are the kids distracting you? Get up earlier and work before they wake up. Is the Internet distracting? Turn off the modem.

    It’s usually obvious what you should do, but you still shouldn’t overlook this piece of advice.

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    8. Skip What You Don’t Know

    This is a tip I don’t see often enough, if you hit a snag in your work then come back to it later. Focus your attention on what you CAN do, keep working “mindlessly” at all costs. All this means is that you should focus on the easy parts first.

    Eventually you can come back to the more difficult parts, and hopefully by then it’ll have come to you or you’ll have built up enough momentum that it won’t break your focus if you work on it.

    9. Improve Your Discipline With Focus Practice

    There’s a few focus exercises you can do to improve your overall discipline.

    The first one is meditation, which is basically the definition of focus in practice. Think about it, you’re literally just sitting there doing nothing. It’s a great method for building focus ability, de-stressing, and giving you greater control over your emotions. You should definitely give meditation a shot.

    The second exercise is the Pomodoro method. These are basically “focus sprints,” and each one is followed by a solid break. Like real sprints, you’ll get better and better at doing them over time. Each interval improves your ability to stay focused when it matters, so it’s more than worth your time to try this out.

    10. Manage Your Momentum

    Momentum is like a discipline lubricant‒it helps ease the process of sticking with goals. That’s why I think it’s important that we never take true breaks from our goals; we end up losing momentum and relying on discipline to get back on track (not an easy thing to do).

    This means each and everyday we need to do something significant to further our goals (yes, even weekends and holidays). And when I say “significant,” I don’t necessarily mean a big task‒but rather, any task that brings us closer to our goals.

    For instance, if your goal is to be a freelance writer, then write one single pitch on a weekend. If your goal is get healthy, then go for a short 5 minute walk even on Christmas day.

    Nothing big, nothing crazy, only stuff that is significant enough to contribute to the success of your overall goal.

    More Tips on Staying Focused

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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