3 Good Habits for Improving your Focus

Unless you’re a Zen monk, you encounter distractions from time to time that cut your effectiveness down.

Think about it. Our brain cells are continuously firing. From this electronic activity brain waves materialize as oscillations at different band widths.

And like a radio station uses different frequencies to carry specific information far away from the emitting source, so does the brain.

Just like radio listeners with a certain musical preference tune in to the frequency that carries the music they prefer, brain areas tune into the wave length relevant for their functioning.

The problem is all the static we pick up in our day to day lives.

The internet is especially disrupting with email, messages, status updates, and more.

But distractions also include co-workers, family, and our own wandering minds. It seems that we fritter our lives away five minutes at a time.

The big question is how to defeat this tendency. How can you make use of the Internet constructively without falling victim to its distractive qualities?

Try turning these strategies into daily habits that help you become more efficient and effective:

Use Time Limits

When we set a time limit, we improve our ability to focus. It almost becomes a game of ‘beat the clock’.

Ideally, you should use a timer and limit your work periods to around 25 or 55 minutes – with a 5-10 minute break in between tasks. If a task is going to take longer than 55 minutes, break it down into smaller chunks.

Having a time limit also forces you to do the most important parts of any work. If you only have an hour, you’re going to have to decide what’s most important.

This is much better than deciding to simply work on something until it’s done. Decide how long it should take, and then set the timer.

If you have any sort of attention challenge, using a timer can increase your ability to keep your mind on the task at hand.

The time flies by, and you’ll get more done. You’re likely to even find it relaxing, since you’ll be focused on what you’re doing instead of thinking about 20 other things.

Research has shown that the most productive schedule for most people is:

  • 50 minutes of work
  • 10 minute break
  • 50 more minutes of work
  • 30 minute break (You might not be able to get away with a 30-minute break at work, but it’s a good time to get up, walk around, and get a drink.)
  • Repeat

Time your breaks. If you decide to check your email or do one of those other tasks that seem to magically go from 5 minutes to 30 minutes or more, using a timer will serve as a reminder. It will also force you to only check on the most important things.

Close everything that can be Closed

Everything on your computer that isn’t necessary for the task at hand should be closed down. If you don’t need the internet, shut it off. That includes all your email, notifications, games, and blogs.

Close your door and unplug the phone, if possible.

Nothing is going anywhere – it will all still be there when you’re done. One of the keys to being more effective is eliminating the things that make us less effective.

Put it on Pause

Put it on Pause, as needed. When you first implement these habits, there will be times that you will have an incredible urge to check your email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Before you succumb to the urge, take 10 seconds and pause. Take a long, deep breath and ask yourself if you really want to waste your time on something that is largely meaningless, or if you’d rather accomplish something worthwhile.

The ability to focus has been largely lost for many of us. However, these easy habits, which anyone can do, can go a long way toward improving your focus and effectiveness at any task.

To neuroscientists, the brain appears to synchronize the activity of different brain regions to make it possible for a person to pay attention or concentrate on a task.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis believe the process, roughly similar to tuning multiple walkie-talkies to the same frequency, may help establish clear channels for communication between brain areas that detect sensory stimuli.

Focusing attention lets people ignore irrelevant sensory stimuli, like a driver disregarding a ringing cell phone, and pay attention to important stimuli, like a deer stepping onto the road in front of the car.

Cognitive training and day to day habits like the ones above can help your brain tune itself to the task at hand.

It’s likely to be challenging at first, but you can do it. You can get more done, in less time, by learning to improve your focus and avoiding the things that waste your precious time.

Put these three habits into play starting today. You’ll be impressed by how much more you can get done.

For More Information:

A. L. Daitch, M. Sharma, J. L. Roland, S. V. Astafiev, D. T. Bundy, C. M. Gaona, A. Z. Snyder, G. L. Shulman, E. C. Leuthardt, M. Corbetta.
Frequency-specific mechanism links human brain networks for spatial attention.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; 110 (48): 19585 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1307947110

Alexandra B. Morrison, Merissa Goolsarran, Scott L. Rogers, Amishi P. Jha.
Taming a wandering attention: short-form mindfulness training in student cohorts.
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2014; 7 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00897

Photo credits, top to bottom: Elizabeth Knudsen, William Warby, Yeray Hdez Guerra, wendEwho! Thompson