3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Focus

Of all the resources which have become in short
supply over the past few years, the diminishing of
our power to focus is perhaps the most problematic.
Lean and challenging times are nothing new to the
human race, but it’s our ability to concentrate that
allows us to thrive in spite of them—to cultivate
relationships, deeply problem solve, and innovate
our way to a better future.
So, whatever your resolutions are this year, my
advice is to start by first improving your ability to
focus—and from there, you can conquer whatever
mountains you need to with aplomb.
It sounds like a big task, but rebuilding your powers
of concentration is a remarkably straightforward
process, which can be accomplished by targeting a
few very simple behaviors. In my work as a time
management expert, I’ve found the following three
strategies to be extremely effective, producing
rapid and satisfying results:
1. Avoid Computers for the First and Last
Hour of Each Day
Our screen lives (email, social media sites, online
news) have created an instant-response culture that
has been scientifically proven to be addictive,
stealing our ability to concentrate. And so, as a
2012 study by UC Irvine and U.S. Army
researchers found, spending time away from email
significantly improves one’s ability to focus.
While I’m not suggesting you cut out email
altogether, one easy way to break the mindless
habit is to start and end each day fully
unplugged. Devoting your first hour at home and at
work for your most critical, concentrated task will
allow you to begin your day with a sense of
accomplishment and control. And preserving your
last hour of the day to relax and unwind will get
you centered and prepared to sleep—another
activity that’s crucial to improving focus.
2. Fortify Your Work-Life Balance
Sacrificing your personal life for your job makes
you a far less effective worker. It increases
mistakes (which take time to correct), blocks the
synthesis of new ideas, and leads to inefficiency
and poor decision-making. While most service
professionals believe that being available 24/7 is
required to compete in today’s global economy, a
Boston Consulting Group study published
by the Harvard Business Review found that making
time off predictable, and required, boosted job
performance (not to mention satisfaction).
So, identify one or two activities that instantly
recharge you—whether it’s dancing or meditation—
and build them in to your evening or weekend
routine. Yes, even if you think you don’t have time.
Taking even a few hours a week for yourself has
the remarkable effect of stretching time, by
boosting your energy, fueling your creativity and
perspective, and increasing your patience.
3. Capture All Your To-Dos in One Place
A 2008 Virginia Tech study on personal calendar
use found that the majority of participants kept
separate business and personal calendars, and only
a handful used their calendar for to-do items. But
keeping your information in multiple locations (plus
your memory) is a recipe for distraction, confusion,
and worry about what you might be forgetting.
Instead, commit to a single, consistent planning
system for 100% of your calls, tasks, and meetings,
both personal and professional. Choose paper or
digital, and go whole hog. Integrate your to-do list
directly into your calendar (rather than keeping
tasks in a separate list or system). This gives you a
complete picture of everything on your plate and
allows you to prioritize your tasks in context. When
you’re confident that there’s nothing you are
forgetting or neglecting, your mind is free to focus
and to fully engage in each moment.
Reclaiming your capacity to focus is the most
important first step you can take this year, a
behavior change that will position you to tackle
every other challenge with confidence, clarity, and
precision. Try dedicating the next two weeks to
improving your focus—and see how quickly (and
almost magically) you will feel in control.


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