We are defeated by distraction – constantly and every single moment of our day. Our ability to focus and truly pay attention is compromised from the moment we wake up and reach for our phones to the moment our heads hit the pillow.

We are simply overloaded with information from so many different sources. Yet the ability to focus is the number one skill today. With just this one skill we achieve more, have better balance, produce better quality work, are grounded and manage stress. Our responses towards others are stronger and better. When we give others that gift of attention we reap huge rewards in terms of really understanding. Instead, we are on auto-pilot for much of the time.  consistently feeding our brains with stimulus, large swathes of it totally unimportant….

At work a constant buzz of emails, calls and meetings can create an illusion of productivity that convinces you that you’re working hard, even when you’re not actually getting much done – this is the case both in office and at home. The morning can get sucked up by emails and screens before you’ve even done any work at all. Sound familiar? I know it’s familiar for me!

And that is without added distractions from all the instant messaging and social media which is largely non-work related.

Distraction is served to us in two ways:

INTERNAL:

Internal distraction is when our minds wander. That’s most of the time! We like to fast forward to the future or dwell on past events. We also like to worry and are prone to doing this more when things are uncertain. Rarely are we fully in the present but THAT is where we have the most power and the most focus. This is helped by regular mindfulness, wellbeing and ensuring we get sufficient sleep.

EXTERNAL:
We are constantly exposed to noise. This noise includes email, notifications, text messages, phone calls, other people, website pop ups, browser tabs, videos, and many other factors. The main way to handle this is about having good strategies in place to manage our environment well.

Register here for our FREE Finding Focus networking event on 17th November

"I think the one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention."
- Diane Sawyer

Amishi Jha studies how we pay attention: the process by which our brain decides what’s important out of the constant stream of information it receives. Both external distractions (like stress) and internal ones (like mind-wandering) diminish our attention’s power, Jha says — but some simple techniques can boost it. “Pay attention to your attention,” Jha says.

Try some of these ideas to help sharpen your ability to focus. All of these work and you will experience an immediate impact!

  1. Manage your environment – this is probably the single most important factor: if you want to block out some time to work, make that possible by putting your phone away (where you can’t see it), close off all browsers and notifications, turn email off and only have to hand what you need for that specific task. Then spend just half a hour on that one task and notice how much your effectiveness soars.
  2. Make time for mindfulness – whether that’s a specific practice that you listen to or just taking time to notice what is around you, doing so on a regular basis will sharpen your ability to focus and will also support you with any mind wandering that we are all prone to. When you have a quiet moment or a little space, don’t fill it up by reaching for your phone. Instead stop, breathe and hone your ability to be present.
  3. Give the gift of attention – one of the most powerful things we can do is to truly listen to others. Yet most of the time we are searching for what we will say next or are not giving that person our full attention. That means eye contact (not scrolling at the same time), breathing and taking in what that person is saying and seeking clarification or asking a question to support our understanding. This gift truly transforms our relationships.
  4. Calm your mind – one of our biggest distractions is our own thoughts racing through our minds when we are trying to get something done. Silencing the constant chat we all experience from time to time can be a great assistance to focus.
  5. Movement and exercise – We all know exercise creates energy; it is also a powerful way to reduce stress, as endorphins are released by the pituitary gland to block out feelings of pain or stress. Serotonin, another chemical released while exercising, improves our mood and our sense of happiness. Exercise is also responsible for the creation of new neurons in the brain which enable us to process and store information more easily.
  6. Limit your focus – we are no good at multitasking! It may feel like we are getting more done but actually our attentional resources are limited so it is important to budget them wisely. Think of your attention as a spotlight. If you shine that spotlight on one particular area, you can see things very clearly. If you were to try to spread that same amount of light across a large dark room, you might instead only glimpse the shadowy outlines.
  7. Take breaks – Have you ever tried to focus on the same thing for a long period of time? After a while, your focus starts to break down and it becomes more and more difficult to devote your mental resources to the task. Not only that, but your performance ultimately suffers as a result. Researchers have found that even taking very brief breaks by shifting your attention elsewhere can dramatically improve mental focus and energy.

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