Advertisement

6 Proven Ways to Sharpen Your Focus In a Distracted World

And become more productive like other successful people

Advertisement
Ad banner

- | 21 Aha! comments | Posted in category: Self Improvement

6 Proven Ways to Sharpen Your Focus In a Distracted World
Advertisement

You always wanted to be successful. And you also know what you need to do to attain success. Yes, you need to have a goal or plan and be more productive. But you can only be more productive if you’re focused or have strong willpower. For that, you need to sharpen your focus and make it a habit so the ability to focus comes naturally to you. However, there are plenty of distractions in our present lives and the world. To overcome this challenge, here are some simple steps to sharpen your mental focus and hence strengthen your willpower. ~ Ed.

 

We live in strange times.

Artificial intelligence has transcended our lives. Self-driving cars, personal assistance apps like Siri and Alexa, algorithms which ensure we see more of what we like on social media — the list goes on and on. It won’t take long before Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot becomes a reality.

We’re the creators of a whole new world using technology. Yet, we’re slaves to what we’ve created.

One notification ringtone is enough to throw our routine in a frenzy. We’re the most ADHD-affected generation in the history of civilization. We can’t stay focused on a single task without getting distracted, even if it means watching an entire episode of Game Of Thrones.

The ability to perform deep work has become rare. At the same time, it’s becoming increasingly valuable in our economy, believes author Cal Newport.

We know this. And we try hard to focus on what’s important for us. Yet, we succumb to the temptations of distraction all the time. It’s like smoking — people know it’s bad for them, but they just can’t stop.

I rarely touch my smartphone while doing deep work. But if I do during a break to check for missed calls, I end up browsing the internet. Or if I go to check my notebook, I find my phone and end up spending fifteen minutes with it. I forget to refer to my notes.

Does this happen with you too?

I cannot blame technology. The logic that smartphones and apps should govern themselves and be less distracting is bullshit. If I follow that belief, I’ll continue failing in my quest to do deep work. I cannot demand external circumstances to change if I want to improve my focus. Instead, I must focus on my internal locus of control.

The more you develop your focus, the more you develop a certain something known as willpower. Willpower, according to stoicism, is the only aspect under our control apart from our perceptions and actions. But this willpower is like a muscle, which gets fatigued each time it’s used. That’s why you feel exhausted at the end of a day when you’ve taken many decisions.

The stronger your willpower is, the easier you find it to stay away from distractions. You can also follow a healthy diet and focus on important tasks.

But you must strengthen your willpower through consistent training, just like you strengthen your physical muscles at a gym.

Advertisement

6 Steps to Sharpen Your Focus

I’m not a willpower guru. But in the last three years, I’ve come a long way in fortifying it. Here are six steps I’ve followed (and still follow). Let me know how many you’ve tried, and how they turned out for you.

1. Use Inversion

We keep pondering over what we must do to become productive. As a result, we end up trying everything we read. Yet, we have no idea about what works and what doesn’t. We waste more time researching how to become productive than taking action.

Instead, apply inversion — a mental model which makes you think backwards. Negative thinking comes easily to human beings. We find it easier to think about what we should avoid rather than what we can do.

Once every few weeks, I ask myself, “what can I do to distract myself and lose complete focus?”

The answers include working in a noisy place, keeping my phone within reach, checking for new notifications, being interested in what others do, and so on. Once I’ve identified these toxic actions, I avoid them.

The result is that I’m more productive than I would be if I would drink mugs of coffee and listen to music, or intake substances to increase focus.

Takeaway:

Advertisement

Instead of trying to work on improving your willpower, ask yourself, “How can I lose my willpower?” Note down the answers, and take steps to avoid them.

2. Turn Off Notifications

Until recently, notifications were my biggest distractions. A WhatsApp message or Twitter mention was enough to set me off course for almost an hour. So I turned off ALL my notifications.

Social media, email, apps… I receive no notifications. Now I open the app I need, finish my task, and put my phone away. I still get distracted if I open an app I shouldn’t while working, but those instances are far lesser than earlier.

It felt frightening at first. I wouldn’t know if I received a message, or been tagged. But within two days, I noticed the world didn’t stop spinning. Life went on just the same for everyone. For me, it became calmer.

Takeaway:

Turning off all notifications on your phone and laptop might appear alarming at first. But you’ll become less distracted and more focused. You’ll also witness an improvement in your willpower. If you want to be productive in the true sense, take this step now.

3. First Things First

I know. This is one of the rules in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Sometimes, I pick up my smartphone during a break. (Trust me, it’s a bad idea.) I might open LinkedIn to connect with potential leads, or open WhatsApp to message a client. But before I get to that, I get sucked into — press the green button when you get the right answer — notifications.

I’m human after all. When I get a notification, my brain quietly tells me I’m important. So I want to see what others say about me. But it also pulls me away from my task. I drift towards reading useless chats and notifications. Before I know it, I’ve wasted fifteen minutes.

When you pick a task that has the potential to distract you, then finish the task first. Block out everything else. You won’t always succeed (God knows I’m still working on this). But each time you enjoy a small win, you strengthen your willpower by a fraction. The cumulative result of these fractions, in the long run, is mind-blowing.

Takeaway:

When you pick a task, finish it first. You can cave into distractions later. They will stay right there. (If you have suggestions to improve this trait, do leave a comment. I would love to try them.)

4. Use the 5-Second Rule

Pulling yourself out of distraction or laziness is tough. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s human nature. But you can take conscious steps to get yourself on track.

I follow Mel Robbins’ Five-Second Rule. It states that when you don’t feel like doing something important, or when you know you must pull yourself away from a harmful activity, tell yourself, ‘I’ll [insert activity] in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.’ When you end the countdown, start the activity in the self-dialogue.

When I don’t feel like getting out of bed, I say, “I’ll stand up in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” After the countdown, I gingerly keep my feet on the floor and stand up. On other instances, when I become aware of the time I’m wasting on my smartphone, I say to myself, “I’ll put this phone away in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.” Then I switch off the internet and put the phone away.

The more you practice this rule, the easier it becomes to follow.

Takeaway:

When you become aware of doing unproductive work while more important tasks loom overhead, tell yourself, ‘I’ll start [insert deep work activity] in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.’ Then stop what you’re doing and return to the important task.

5. Exercise

Common wisdom states exercise helps you lead a healthier lifestyle. Coupled with a good diet, it helps you live a healthier life.

But the results of exercise cascade into all aspects of your life, including boosting your productivity. Research shows that exercise releases endorphins, the happiness chemical, in the brain, which enhances your state of mind.

Exercise trains you to push yourself. Your mind gets exhausted before your body does. When you push your body a little more, you subconsciously strengthen your mind too. Gradually, you improve the ability of your mind to focus.

Exercising doesn’t have to include heavy lifting or rigorous strength training. It can range from a brisk walk to training for a marathon.

Takeaway:

Physical exercise will train your mind to push itself to the next level. Exercise for three days a week and witness your willpower become stronger with time.

6. Switch Off

We love staying connected 24/7. It makes us appear like we’re on top of things. In reality, though, we become slower.

Staying involved in something all the time pulls you into tactical issues of every moment. This impedes your ability to focus on larger and more strategic aspects of life. As a result, you’re like a hamster on the wheel — running hard but barely moving forward.

Psychologist Amos Tversky believes, “You waste years by not wasting hours.” Even soil is left barren for some time so it can recover and become fertile for the next season.

Once a day, put all your entertainment devices, books and work away for ten minutes. Just be. Observe your thoughts. Ponder over important aspects you’ve put off since long. ‘Wasting’ an hour a week will save you from wasting years.

Takeaway:

Switch off for some time every day. It gives your mind the much-needed breathing space. Become wise enough to recognize that constant activity is not a productive way to live.

Summing Up

In the late 1960s, a team at Stanford University experimented with children. They offered each child a marshmallow and gave the child two choices — s/he could eat the marshmallow now, or wait for fifteen minutes and get rewarded with two marshmallows.

In follow up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for rewards had better outcomes in life, like SAT scores, educational attainment, body-mass index and other life measures.

A Dunedin study on over 1,000 children showed the same thing — the ability to apply willpower and delay gratification is directly proportional to positive outcomes in life.

You don’t have to “do so much in such less time.” You don’t have to keep complaining how difficult it is to do more because you’re stretched to the limit. Because, admit it — you’re not. You’re stretched far less than you’re capable of.

Fortify yourself to work on tasks which matter, and break away from those which don’t. The more you follow the steps mentioned above, the stronger your willpower becomes. And the stronger your willpower, the better your focus.

Successful people are no different from you. They just work on what’s important and ignore what isn’t. They know they cannot do everything, so they don’t even try. They know what to focus on, and they go after it with fervor.

You can do the same. Don’t let technology make you feel like you’re a hamster on a wheel. Instead, leverage it to become productive, and grow yourself to the next level. Run hard, but move forward.

Over to you –

Why do you think we live in such distracted times? What steps do you take to overcome distractions and stay productive? Do leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Advertisement


Show Comments

21 Comments - Read and share thoughts

  1. Jade D'sa

    October 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    True, focus is so difficult now that we have our phones constantly buzzing and so many little things to be done. I find that just sending an email takes me 15 minutes because I keep switching tabs, clicking links and in general, allowing my attention to be scattered.

  2. Rajinder Singh

    September 27, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Vishal,

    Well written! Thanks for sharing amazing ways to sharpen focus. I’m usually like to do meditation to increasing concentration and focus. It helps me a lot to do daily routine works on time. As a blogger, I need more time to spend so that I can build a good business on the web.

    No doubt, exercise helps you keep the healthy and fit body. Thanks for sharing with us.

    – Rajinder

    • Vishal Kataria

      October 1, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      Thanks Rajinder. Yes, focus is essential if we want to achieve our long term goals. All the best.

  3. William

    September 27, 2017 at 8:35 am

    nice post Vishal! It’s true to the point that the vast majority of us have to hone our concentration rather than multi-entrusting. Steady hecticness doing little undertakings and getting impeded with diversions instead of concentrating on the work that issues implies we simply skim the surface and don’t accomplish especially by any means. I’m a firm adherent to killing telephones and having advanced detox days, yet more exertion is required in the activity division! A debt of gratitude is in order for the colossal exhortation.

    • Vishal Kataria

      October 1, 2017 at 9:21 pm

      Thank you for the kind words William. You’re right; we must hone our concentration but end up avoiding it because of the Fear of Missing Out. As a result, we try to be in too many places (mentally and physically) in a short duration of time.

      Do let me know how these techniques work out for you.

  4. Ryan Biddulph

    September 17, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Hi Vishal,

    I am a big fan of each of these tips, especially keeping notifications off and exercising daily.

    I have a phone but only use it at home, with my home internet connection. I also have no notes on the phone, no Messenger, no dings, no distractions. I am plugged in enough. I check emails at my leisure, and social media updates, well, I check them as I check them.

    Most folks have a tough time turning off notes due to heavy fear-based attachments but I am A-OK in so doing, because it is about having fun, creating helping content, serving others and enjoying the ride for me, not getting social media updates every 16 seconds.

    About ready for my 10 mile run today; there are few better ways to immunize yourself from distractions, then by raising your energy through the blessing of exercise.

    Loving all the tips bro.

    Ryan

    • Vishal Kataria

      September 19, 2017 at 7:47 am

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ryan. I admire your willpower to not give into the herd and install apps which cause huge disruptions in our daily work. And you’re spot on about raising energy through exercise.

      Hope your 10-mile run went well.

      Cheers.

  5. Max

    September 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

    Brilliant post. We’re all SO distracted in today’s world. Sometimes we’ve just got to take a step back and relax for a minute.

    • Vishal Kataria

      September 19, 2017 at 7:44 am

      Absolutely, Max. In fact, we’ve got to step back and relax for more than a minute.

  6. Ahsanul Karim

    September 16, 2017 at 8:56 am

    Hello Vishal Kataria,

    Now a days, to live in this world in a peaceful manner is a challenging. We use lots of gadget everyday. Most of them have notification. So it wastes time. It makes our mind restless. So we use them when we need. You added some key points to use proper time. Most of us know these points but we never follow them.
    You added excellent tips. Happy weekend 🙂

    • Vishal Kataria

      September 19, 2017 at 7:44 am

      Thanks Ahsanul. I wish you the best to implement the points mentioned in the post.

  7. Cori Ramos

    September 15, 2017 at 1:53 am

    Hi Vishal,

    Thanks for sharing these tips! I especially liked #4 – I need to try that one. 🙂

    I use some of the suggestions you shared like turning off phone notifications and exercising (I love doing yoga before starting my day).

    I could do more of #6 – I tend to get caught up in work without taking breaks.

    These are great tips you shared and I’m passing them on!

    Have a great day and rest of the week. 🙂

    Cori

    • Vishal Kataria

      September 15, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      Hi Cori. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      #4 is my favorite too. And we call could do with more of #6. Once we overcome FOMO, it becomes easier to do so. Good luck for your endeavors to try these out, and thanks for passing them on.

      Cheers.

  8. K.J. Hutchings

    September 13, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Great post Vishal! It’s so true that most of us need to sharpen our focus instead of multi-tasking. Constant busyness doing small tasks and getting bogged down with distractions rather than focusing on the work that matters means we just skim the surface and don’t achieve very much at all. I’m a firm believer in turning off phones and having digital detox days, but more effort is needed in the exercise department! Thanks for the great advice.

    • Vishal Kataria

      September 14, 2017 at 11:36 am

      Thanks KJ. Glad you believe in digital detoxes.

      Indeed, we wear busyness like a badge, but it’s like being a proud chain-smoker. Digital detox days are difficult because we try reaching the peak right at the outset, like doing 100 pushups on the first day of the gym.

      Slow and steady wins the race. Good luck 🙂

  9. Vernon Layne

    September 13, 2017 at 1:48 am

    Hi Vishal,
    I’m not much on coincident. I believe things happen for a reason.
    This have to be my third blog I have read on focus.
    Matter of fact, Harleena wrote on it some years ago that resonated in my heart because staying focus is hard for me these days.
    I bookmarked it.
    I love the tips you gave here.
    In particular the 5 seconds counting down rule.
    I think it will help me get started.
    Getting started has always been a thorn in my side.
    I’m currently trying to optimize my blog speed and it has been challenging because I know nothing about coding so I procrastinate knowing I need to fight through.
    This post will help me along with all the others I’ve read on focus.
    I will see you around.
    Good job on this one too!

    • Vishal Kataria

      September 14, 2017 at 11:32 am

      Thanks for the kind words Vernon. Indeed, the 5-Second Rule is my favorite rule too. Just like you, starting has been my Achilles’ Heel, and this rule has helped me overcome it to an extent.

      As far as procrastination is concerned, I think if you break the larger goal of blog optimization for speed into smaller steps and set a timeline for them, you’ll progress faster and enjoy the activity too. Do read up about SMART goals. They should really be useful.

  10. Vinitha

    September 12, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Switching off, turning off notifications and exercise – I do these. Rest I have to try. Loved the take away in the first tip. Made so much sense. Good pointers to sharpen the focus, Vishal.

    • Vishal

      September 12, 2017 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks Vinitha. Would love to hear how the rest of the steps work out for you when you try them.

  11. P V Ariel

    September 11, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    Hi Harleena,
    I found this post’s notifications on the pages of BizSugar and posted the following comment there.
    Happy to read Vishal’s post on your esteemed page.
    Hey, those 6 ways are indeed essential to be followed to focus more on the work you do. Yes, as you said in this distracting world many things around us will get distracted very badly, I am sure these proven ways are excellent to overcome these problems. Great tips shared by the Guest author.
    I do follow most of them mentioned except the #2 in the list. Indeed that is a great distraction! Thanks for the shout out!
    Best
    ~Phil

    • Vishal

      September 12, 2017 at 7:23 am

      Thanks Phil. Glad to hear that you follow the techniques mentioned. Would love to know if there’s something different you do, and how it works for you.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



6 Proven Ways to Sharpen Your Focus In a Distracted World

by Vishal Kataria time to read: 8 min