ways to focus better
They say the key to success is to simply show up every day and do what needs to be done.
But showing up is the easy part. How to focus and stay on-task is the real challenge.
Like an old lawn mower, it probably takes a few tries to get going. However, when you do, you enter a state of focus where you forget the world and are able to get lost in your work.
It’s in this state that we do our best, most efficient work without even thinking about it.
We call it being “in the zone”: a magical productive place you probably wish you could visit whenever you wanted to.
So why can’t you?
Why Is It So Hard to Focus?
You’ve probably heard of “writer’s block” wherein writers struggle to fill a blank page with words despite their best efforts.
But it’s not really specific to certain professions. Everyone from designers to entrepreneurs has encountered the proverbial block that's stood between them and getting something done.
The cause isn’t so much a lack of an idea or the will to start, but the inability to dedicate your attention to the task at hand in a noisy world.
There’s always so much to do and so little time attention.
One study found that when making meaningful decisions—which requires a fair bit of brainpower—the human brain processes information at about 60 bits per second. Dial-up internet moves information at 56 kilobits per second, just to give you a sense at just how much faster we’re able to receive information relative to our ability to actually process it.
This reality reveals an unfortunate truth:Attention is a finite resource. Information isn’t.
Improving your concentration comes down to two things:
- How you allocate your attention
- How you block out excess information or “noise”.
But it’s easier said than done.
Even as I write this I’m nowhere near being in my zone. My attention gets pulled to other items on my week’s to-do list, my social media feeds, a Shopify store I’m building on the side, and my personal life.
As someone who can get sidetracked at times, I’ve done a lot digging into the topic of focus to figure out how to improve my concentration.
The most impactful perspective I’ve found has to do with a concept called “flow”.
How to Focus Better By Harnessing “Flow”
No life hack will ever replace old fashioned discipline (trust me, I've looked).
Both your body and your mind need to show up ready to work or your attention will wander no matter what you do. This is something I find especially important to keep in mind when working on side projects that require intrinsic motivation (because no one's paying you).
However, there are a number of strategies I've tried that have helped me cultivate a better work ethic:
- Cut down on multitasking: Splintering your focus gives you less attention to work with for each task. We’re just not made for multitasking—just try listening to two conversations at the same time.
- "Eat the frog first": Do the hardest task when you have the most energy, which for many people is earlier in the day.
- : Invest in your sleeping hours to reap a sharper mind during your waking hours.
- : Even if you can never fully squash your tendency to procrastinate, never give up the fight. Every battle you win means a less stressful to-do list.
Master Your Attention, Master Your Success
There’s an undeniable relationship between focus and success.
You need to commit to your goals in order to be successful, but you need to focus in order to commit.
For many of us, that doesn’t come easy. But it all starts with appreciating how limited a resource our attention is, and that chasing after our goals means being smarter about how we invest it every day.