10 Ways to Improve My Focus
I found an interesting tweet in Jon Morrow's feed where he theorizes that optimizing Focus is even more important than optimizing Energy, Time, and Money. He says a lot of people have it backwards and optimize money first when in fact, it's the most replaceable asset among the 4 here. As an employee, it might not make as much sense since I won't make much more money by prioritizing my focus to superhuman levels, at least not in the immediate term with bonuses, raises, and/or promotions. But since I'm an aspiring entrepreneur, it seems more relevant in that realm which is why I'm brainstorming ways I can improve my focus.
1. Evaluate if I'm even working on the right things
Not being able to focus might be a sign my subconscious mind is telling me I'm not working on the right things.
2. Timeboxing (i.e. Pomodoro Technique) is my go-to solution
Though I customize it to fit me. For example, I don't always set the timer for the suggested 25 minutes, it could be 15, 30, 45, etc. I enter the time boxing thinking "I need to get focused and will try my best for at least X minutes." If I fail once the timer goes off, I'll reassess the situation. But if I'm in a deep flow state at that point, there's no reason to stop - keep going (unless there's an emergency that needs your attention)!
3. Tame distractions or "get it out of your system" rather than completely eliminating them
The old adage "work comes before play" is probably the most old-school way but it may not work for everyone (consistently, at least for me.) If staying focused seems like an uphill battle, temporarily tend to your distractions for while. Time box a period to do those things, whether it's checking email, contacting a friend, shopping, playing a game, checking social media, etc. Then get back to your task at hand. Most likely than not, your distractions will be less of a barrier this time around.
4. If constantly distracted by ideas racing in your head, write them down!
I find they no longer race around in my head after I've written them down, at least for the time being. Always have NotePD available for this! If the thought of other things you need to do is cluttering your head, do them right now instead (if they're more urgent) or make a to-do list or add them to your planner (if they're not as urgent.)
5. Make sure you're taking care of yourself
This includes getting enough sleep, eating enough nutritious foods, going to the bathroom before trying to enter a flow state, eliminating all obvious distractions from your workspace (or picking a workspace that has fewer potential distractions.)
6. Think back to the last time you were completely mentally immersed in something
Like when you were 100% focused on reading a book, playing a video game, talking to a person, etc. and barely noticed things happening around you. What were the conditions that were conducive to your focus that time? Can you recreate as many of them as possible in your current environment for your particular task?
7. Inform people around you of your desire to focus (at the moment)
This includes coworkers (if you're in an office) or your kids, parents, spouse/SO, roommates, etc. if you're working from home. Not only will you reduce the chance that they'll provide unnecessary distractions but they'll know if you failed to focus and you also end up enlisting their help in holding yourself accountable that way.
8. Use music or binaural beats
Preferably something simple, catchy, and repetitive. This is my go-to song that I've bookmarked for the purpose but use whatever works for you. I did this from time to time over the years and recently learned Matt Mullenweg (creator of Wordpress) uses a similar technique.
9. If it's not urgent and you simply can't focus, maybe find some other time
Don't waste time trying to focus on getting a task done if it's not urgent. Do something else in the meantime. This is especially true if you're emotional or tired and it's getting in the way of your focus. If it is urgent, a lot of times, the urgency will naturally push your focus to superhuman levels even under less than ideal conditions otherwise. Some people might think of this as procrastination but use your judgement whether or not it's worth risking waiting later for a better time to focus on it.
10. Finally, don't pressure your mind constantly
If you've tried meditation, you know what I mean: constantly pressuring your mind to stay blank. Except when focusing, you constantly pressure your mind to stay on task. Don't spend every second doing that and have a perfectionist attitude towards your focus; I personally find that counterproductive but do get into a habit of noticing every once in a while when your focus shifts and bring it back.