Improve Your Focus by Learning to Ignore Things

Has the following situation ever happened to you? You come home for the weekend with a ton of work that you need to get done before Monday. But, instead of waking up on Saturday morning and getting right to it, you decide you need to clean up a little first instead. By the time the weekend ends, not only is your work done, but your house is clean, your bills are paid, and your taxes are filed as well. In an effort to procrastinate, you actually ended up being highly productive. If this sounds at all familiar, then you know that attention doesn’t always work exactly the way we’d like it to, and you’ll be interested in some of these tips regarding focus and productivity. Here’s what you need to know.


(Photo Credit: keith ellwood/Flickr)

1. Try to focus on ignoring everything else.

Some recent research out of Johns Hopkins University shows how the brain is able to block out distractions. Researchers asked a group of subjects to search for a target. Some subjects were given information about features to ignore while searching, while others were not. After a short time, the subjects who were given information were able to find the target more quickly than the others.

“Although the real-world implications of the research aren’t clear, Cunningham says the general phenomenon could support a strategy of actively trying to ignore things that bother you, rather than continuing with your work while you passively ignore them,” writes Ana Swanson at The Washington Post. “First, stop and acknowledge what’s distracting you, then make a concerted effort to block it out. That may help improve your focus.”

2. Keep shorter to-do lists or pair down your list for the day.

Along similar lines, there are other ways you can attempt to intentionally pair down distractions in order to maximize your focus. Some recommend prioritizing your to-do list, while others think it’s best to have as few things listed as possible. Trial and error will help you discover what works best for you.

3. Clean your space of all other projects.

It’s true that people with messy desks might be more creative, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the mess helps improve their productivity, much less their focus. If you want to eliminate distractions in order to give your attention the best shot possible, cleaning up your space is definitely the way to go. Investing even just a few minutes could go a long way toward tidying up the area, and if that improves your focus, it would be well worth the time spent.

4. Keep interruptions to a minimum.

Employers are learning more and more these days about the importance of unscheduled time in the workplace. Some have even decided to eliminate meetings altogether in order to protect and maximize valuable work time. Although hour upon hour of open time might not be possible for you, do make an effort to keep interruptions to a minimum as much as possible. Do what you can to clear your schedule of everything but what you’d like to focus on, and settle in with your task for as long as possible, interruption-free.

5. Don’t check your email and stay away from social media.

There are a few common productivity killers that you really ought to keep in mind when you’re hoping to focus on something important: email and social media. If you want to block out everything but the task at hand, don’t start your day with email and don’t end it with social media. In fact, try to stay away from both as much as possible. Once you’ve become distracted, it takes time to focus again.

Focus isn’t just about concentrating as hard as you can on the task at hand. Instead, it’s also about turning away from distractions and shutting out the things that are getting in your way. By paying attention to both sides of the equation, you can improve your ability to focus and, ultimately, increase your productivity, too.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think your ability to focus is significantly improved when you intentionally eliminate distractions? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.