In one of our previous posts, we wanted to give you an overview of Deep Work‘s power. Deep work includes removing distractions and efficiently scheduling your time, but it also requires a great deal of focus. We live in a world where people are quick to blame modern technology for the global crisis of reduced attention spans. Parents immediately place fault on smartphone manufacturers and social media developers for corrupting their children. After all, who else could be to blame?
A Much Needed Reality Check
The reality is that technology is an incredibly powerful tool, and we as users need to find power over it. When used correctly, technology increases your productivity and quality of life. When used poorly, it consumes hours of your time, seemingly before you can blink twice. While the artificial intelligence present in social media platforms may have found ways to make the fight seem unfair, don’t be so quick to declare your conscious effort to focus on your life outside the device as futile. Another fact of reality is that technology and all its glory, whether we like it or not, isn’t going away. Instead, it is getting more and more sophisticated by the day. So what’s the solution? Focus.
Harnessing A New Skill
Most of us can remember countless instances where we’ve been asked to focus. We can also likely remember many times where we’ve directed others to attempt to focus. Few people have ever attended educational institutions where focus as a skill is part of the curriculum. Focus indeed is a skill. It is a skill that requires learning with subsequent training through repetition to master.
Focus provides you the ability to take control of your attention. What you want out of life may not come to fruition because you spend your energy on numerous other distractions. Our brains are also great at convincing ourselves that “it’s okay, I needed time to relax” or “I feel like I was still able to get a lot done, I deserve this.” Unfortunately, this is only a defense mechanism with the goal of self-preserving our ego. How crushed would you be if you were to admit that you wasted almost an entire afternoon browsing funny videos? Facing our mistakes can be difficult and sometimes depressing, and our brains want to help us avoid that so we can stay feeling happy and content.
Putting It Into Practice
Great, so now, hopefully, you are convinced that focus is a skill worth taking the time to learn. Where do I start? Here are a few great ways to practice focus:
Be Intentional About Almost Everything You Do
Multitasking is okay but set aside time to do so. Don’t spend half or all of your workday performing multiple tasks simultaneously. This may provide the illusion of productivity, but in many cases, the work you are getting done is shallow and not providing much real value. When you begin attempting to be intentional with your thoughts and actions, you’ll quickly find your attention starting to wander. Quickly notice this and consciously pull your attention back to the task at hand. If you have an idea that you don’t want to lose, start writing them down and make time to come back to them later and brainstorm. Don’t follow the rabbit hole of every idea that floats through your mind.
The one exception to this form of practice are individuals whose work requires this type of fragmented attention. Generally, these are Chief Executives or other decision-makers who spend most of their time directing and advising others through intense multitasking. For them, many times, the work that requires dedicated focus is scarce through their typical workday.
In Your Free Time, Limit Your Mindless Browsing
Social media platforms encourage you to simply tag along for the ride. Swipe through to the next video, and let the algorithm take you on the journey of your own data-backed preferences in video entertainment. The idea is not to avoid funny videos forever; instead, ask yourself beforehand, “How long do I really want to be doing this?” You’ll find that most times, you’ll set a limit for yourself far shorter than the time you would’ve spent otherwise. It will also never be easy to turn off when time’s up either. The strain you feel to close the app, however, is a good thing. That means your training is working! The frustration you feel is just your discipline and focus muscle getting a little stronger, so celebrate! Just don’t celebrate by treating yourself to another endless browsing session.
Whether you’re an avid reader or not, I’m sure you can recall a time where you glazed over a paragraph, page, or maybe several pages, only to blank on what you just read. Find a book to read, and the next time you are going through the words, consciously practice honing in on the content. Make a dedicated effort to focus on the book. If your attention wanders, don’t fret; bring it back to the pages and re-read whatever you missed. The frequency at which your attention wanders will lessen over time, and you will have trained your ability to focus in a way that applies to other areas of your life.
Start your mornings with a routine of focused thoughts about things you are grateful for in your life. Research has shown that gratitude changes your brain for the better. Not only are you practicing control over your attention while reaping the proven benefits of gratitude, but by doing it first thing in the morning, you are also setting yourself up for success throughout the day. You are immediately putting your mind into a state of deliberate attention, making it more likely that you will continue this behavior as the day progresses.
Thoughts for the Future
Like anything else, mastery takes practice. Over time and with diligence, you will develop a greater ability to regain control of your attention.