We’re stressed out and we’re wired for distractions. But that doesn’t mean we have to live with them if they are disrupting our daily lives. In the office, we can set aside quiet places or even time periods to work when we need to focus and ensure that noises and music are kept to a minimum. At home we can set aside a space for working so that when we are in that space our brains know it’s time to work and not time to do the dishes or plan dinner.
Focus can only occur when we have said yes to one option and no to all other options. In other words, elimination is a prerequisite for focus. As Tim Ferriss says, “What you don’t do determines what you can do.” Of course, focus doesn't require a permanent no, but it does require a present no. You always have the option to do something else later, but in the present moment focus requires that you only do one thing. Focus is the key to productivity because saying no to every other option unlocks your ability to accomplish the one thing that is left.
Instead of doing the difficult work of choosing one thing to focus on, we often convince ourselves that multitasking is a better option. This is ineffective. we are capable of doing two things at the same time. It is possible, for example, to watch TV while cooking dinner or to answer an email while talking on the phone. What is impossible, however, is concentrating on two tasks at once. You're either listening to the TV and the overflowing pot of pasta is background noise, or you're tending to the pot of pasta and the TV is background noise. During any single instant, you are concentrating on one or the other.
In their new book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist, and Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychologist, explain how our ability to pay attention works and what we can do to stay focused.
“Although it may seem counterintuitive, we now appreciate that focusing and ignoring are not two sides of the same coin […] it is not necessarily true that when you focus more on something, you automatically ignore everything else better. We have shown in our lab that different [brain] networks are engaged when we focus compared to when we ignore the same thing.”
It’s understandable that we are feeling more distracted than ever before, but there are tools we can use to combat distraction and keep moving forward. American Express has 10 ways for us to increase our focus and not get distracted. I actually found some of them very enlightening. Here they are:
1. Have a plan the night before
2. Turn off the distractions
3. Get comfortable
4. Practice meditation
5. Set smaller goals
7. Use visual reminders
8. Reward yourself
9. Take a walk
10. Unplug and play
MEASURE! MEASURE! MEASURE!
The trick is to realize that measuring is not a judgment about who you are, it's just feedback on where you are. Measure to discover, to find out, to understand. Measure to get to know yourself better. Measure to see if you're actually spending time on the things that are important to you. Measure because it will help you focus on the things that matter and ignore the things that don’t.
Whatever avenue you choose to utilize, don’t forget that anytime you find anything distracting you, all you have to do is commit to just one thing. Initially you don’t even need to succeed…….you just need to get started!