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How to Focus
...how to improve focus through 15 relatively random techniques...

By Lee Ridenour
 


Many people yearn to learn how to focus – or at least how to stay focused.  This article provides you with 15 ways to utilize as you discover how to focus increasingly throughout your daily routine.  While there are few “quick fixes”, use a variety of these techniques consistently and you may improve your focus over time. Each exercise can sharpen your focus in different ways.


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1.  How to focus by becoming comfortable

After you figure out how to become comfortable in your environment, your ability to focus can improve drastically. A study demonstrated that people who recalled more of a movie (a higher level of focus) fidgeted significantly less (and were more comfortable) than those who couldn’t recall as much of the movie. With this in mind, next time you are attempting to focus, make a point of getting comfortable. Reposition your seat, adjust your keyboard, desk, table or anything you are working on.

By reducing your mobility, you are forcing your mind to focus only on that which is in view – whatever the task at hand may be.  This has worked wonders for me as I have learned how to focus.  I had a habit of turning sideways in my seat and moving my legs around the side of my desk (the position would vary every few minutes).  By sitting in my seat and then sliding it in to “pin” me against my desk, my only choice was face forward and see only the project I was working on.  I now adopt this posture at all times – “pinning” myself into my work environment.  The less options you give your mind / body to direct its focus to, the more your focus will improve.

2.  How to focus by eliminating work space clutter

Clutter is one of your greatest enemies to learning how to focus.  There is a massive difference in the level of focus between someone who is working on their laptop while lying in their cluttered bedroom vs. someone sitting at an empty desk in the middle of a clean office.  Your “work area” needs to be exactly that:  your work area.  Your desktop should only include regularly used items, with a few inspirational items if you desire.  I’ll use my desk as an example.  I didn’t remove clutter from my desk for this shot, I just took it.  I work full time, go to school full time and run Self-Evolution, mainly via my desk.  Let’s take a look at what I have in my work area, starting from the left side.

focus

  1. Cup of green tea – I consume green tea at an alarming rate.  As a result, I am able to work 16-18 hour days, all week and still maintain good health.  I drink it constantly, so it has its home on my desk.
  2. External hard drive – I work with a lot of data and regularly take my external hard drive with me, so it also has a home on my desk.
  3. Lamps – I am a huge fan of light to increase energy.  Well-lit conditions help me to focus.  In college, my fourth floor dorm room was quoted as being “lit up like a beacon in the Flint skyline.”
  4. Speakers – I am extremely musically motivated.  Thus, a bangin’ sound system is necessary to pump trance music 24/7, allowing me to focus with incredible resolve and energy on whatever I am working on.
  5. External monitor – This was one of the best purchases I ever made.  Through doubling my work area, it has saved me loads of time.
  6. Laptop – Self-explanatory.  Although aged and out of date, it is easily the most valuable possession I own.  The paint has been worn off the front from years of sweat and tears.
  7. Water – Slamming countless glasses of water every day keeps me healthy and very awake.  Needing to “empty the lizard” every half hour keeps me awake and focused, if nothing else.
  8. Drawers under desk – this is where I keep my less used office supplies; notepads, etc.

The golden rule of workplace organization:  A place for everything and everything in its place.

My golden rule of workplace organization:  Only items which contribute to “value-added activity” should have a place in your workplace.

Take a look at your desk / work area from a perspective of: “Is this helping or hindering my ability as I learn how to focus on the immediate task?”  If it doesn’t, remove it from the area, store it, or toss it.  If it does, organize and keep it in the area.  Removing workspace clutter is underestimated in its ability to improve focus.

3.  How to focus by taking a break (what irony!)

Among seemingly counterintuitive techniques, never underestimate the power of a simple break (even just changing the task) as a powerful exercise to improve focus.  Next time you are studying or in the workplace, attempting to figure out how to focus, just step away and take a break.  In my education of the cognitive aspects of work design, I came across several studies on the critical importance of breaks during any kind of work cycle.  The recommended break ratio for studying is 1:6 (ten minutes per hour).  Many people wonder how it is feasible to dedicate this much time to breaks – it’s generally pretty hard.  However, if you can at least figure out how to do one single thing different apart from your task / project for five minutes, you will be much better off.

If you are in your workplace, walk to the printer or the drinking fountain.  Print off a document and deliver it to your coworker’s desk rather than emailing it to them.  Not only would performing such an action enhance your workplace relationships, but it would also give you a good stretch and some time away from the desk.  If you are having a hard time devising how to find a way to meet the “recommended” brake ratio, follow these:  For physical work: ten minutes an hour.  For desk work: five minutes an hour.  These are less than ideal, but make a point of meeting them – or else you might be overdoing it.

4.  How to focus through written plans

The power of a written plan can work wonders as you seek to understand how to focus and improve focus over time (increasing your alignment with your goals).  Plans and planning is another article altogether.  However to be brief, as it applies to learning how to focus, plans are critical.  Without a plan, your mind has little direction of where it should go or what it should pay attention to.  If you were to start driving with no idea of where you headed, wouldn’t you be prone to pull off down side streets and look around?  Do you expect your mind to automatically stay focused on your task when you have given it no written direction of where it should go?  A written plan for a project / task serves as a map of focus for your mind.  Without it, it’s easy to “wander down a side street.”  Before starting a project, “line up all your ducks in a row.”  Write down what you need to do, break up sub-tasks, prioritize, create a timeline and follow your plan.  Don’t allow yourself to stray from it and you will find your mind knows how to focus when it is given direction of what to focus upon.

5.  How to focus through visualization

There is no power in knowing how to focus if you are unable to know what to focus on.  Through visualizing your plan, you are strengthening the focus “map” you have given your mind.  Now, not only does your mind have a map, but it also has pictures of landmarks along the route.  Visualization is another massive subject worthy of other articles, but as it applies to learning how to focus, visualizing your plans / projects can work wonders.  If you visualize an activity enough, your mind can know how to focus to follow the visualization; executing it according to plan.

6.  How to focus through centering

Many times, the inability to focus can be attributed to situational anxiety.  Centering is an effective way to combat this.  To begin, close your eyes.  Take several deep breaths:  in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Place the tip and of your tongue on your front pallet, directly above the backside of your upper teeth.  Focus on pushing the top of your tongue up into the roof of your mouth.  This is effective in stimulating cross-lobe integration (and relaxation) in the brain.  Picture a point out in front of you.  Focus on that point and project your thoughts there.  Continue breathing and keep focusing on that until you are fully relaxed.  Once you have calmed down, slowly bring the point in front of you closer, reaffirming to yourself that you now know how to focus.

7.  How to focus by eliminating video / audio distractions

In today’s world, the amount of video and audio stimulation is simply overwhelming at times and is clearly non-conducive in contributing to your ability to improve focus.  TV’s, movies, music, talk shows and cell phones can be found blaring all over the place.  I won’t get into my anti-TV tirade, but I will leave it at this:  Other than music, there shouldn’t be any other electronic distractions in your work environment.  No television.  No movies.  No talk radio.  No texting.  No IM’ing.  No internet looping (ie; email, weather, stocks, forums, repeat).  No phone calls.  Turn everything off - including your phone if you are unable to control your texting habits.  The silence may be overpowering – however if you can wean yourself off of the many sources of electronic stimulation, your ability to focus will improve drastically as you eliminate electronic "clutter" in your environment.

8.  How to focus by sharing

I experience improved focus when I discuss my project / task with someone else.  Not only does sharing information or issues about your project act as a stress reliever, discussing it can allow you to spell out and focus on those components which are most important.  This is particularly effectively when you are trying to figure out how to focus on important parts of the project or make critical decisions.  Discuss every facet of the project or task you are working.  Tell them what you are doing, why you are doing it and ask them what they think.  Laying them out in a conversation and obtaining outside input can work wonders to improve focus.

9.  How to focus by finding a way to make it interesting

If you are unable to find ways to focus on a necessary (yet uninteresting) task, find a way to make it interesting!  No matter what you are working on, focus on the interesting aspects of it.  Find a way to make it a game – through any means necessary.  By making any activity fun, you dramatically increase your ability to focus on it.  Think of the positive aspects of it and expound upon them.  What parts of it are interesting?  Is there anything you could add to make it interesting?

10.  How to focus through exercise - Improve oxygen uptake - Improve focus

Exercise is a great way to improve your oxygen uptake.  Increased oxygen levels in your blood leave you with energy, yet calm.  This is a perfect state to improve focus.  Ever notice how much better you feel after a workout?  The elevated oxygen levels and endorphins leave you feeling elated and at peace.  From a time management standpoint, what is the best exercise to accomplish this?  High intensity cardio!  It rockets your metabolism and oxygen uptake, leading to improved focus.  For a great exercise (and five other ways to increase your energy all day), check out: http://www.selfevolution.net/ways_to_increase_your_energy_all_day.html

11.  How to focus through counting

Mental counting is a method for how to focus on shutting out distracting thoughts.  Count backwards slowly from ten in your mind.  Close your eyes - imagine each number appearing and then shrinking, all the way down to zero.  When zero disappears, let the first thought be that which you should be focusing on – such as your project.

12.  How to focus by forcing yourself to take action

If you are having a hard time figuring out how to focus, force yourself to just do it!  Action is not only the best solution for laziness; but also for indecisiveness and lack of focus.  Pick the highest priority task in your project and just get to work!  Literally forcing yourself to take action on important tasks can work wonders to improve focus by removing one of its greatest obstacles – hesitation.

13.  How to focus by taking a nap (again, what irony!)

When you have battling with how to focus for an extended time, lay down your arms and submit yourself to a 20-minute power nap.  20 minutes is short enough to avoid entering REM sleep (leading to grogginess) but just long enough to reset your sodium-potassium ratios in your brain; helping to improve focus on your project.

14.  How to focus by staring at your tormentor

Literally, stare at your task and figure out how to focus upon it at all costs.  Look at nothing else around you until you have allowed your project to fill your thoughts and subsequently acted upon your plans.  Give your mind no other options but to discover how to focus.

15.  How to focus by filtering your thoughts

When attempting to improve focus, be critical with "external" distracting thoughts.  How did this distracting thought enter your mind in the first place?  Why are you thinking about it?  Send those thoughts on their way and recognize you know how to focus by never letting them enter your mind again. When you expel mental clutter, your mind has little else to dwell upon except the task at hand.

 

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