In today’s information-overload age, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain focus on everyday tasks, which can be detrimental to your productivity. Here are a few proven ways to help find your concentration throughout the day.
(Image Source: Mark Hunter/Flickr)
You know that feeling when you’re so focused on something that you actually become Rocky Balboa in that famous Eye of the Tiger montage scene, air punches and all? If you have, you know what it feels like to be “in the zone,” or so focused that your trance-like state allows you to complete a task … for once in your life. For those of you who haven’t been able to find that sweet spot, don’t worry — there’s a reason, and it’s called information overload, according to futurist Alvin Toffler.
The advent of the internet and, subsequently, social media has created an immediacy and need for being in the know nowadays – almost an addiction to information, if you will. The concern doesn’t lie so much in the type of information that we are exposed to on a daily basis, but the amount. If a cup is filled to the brim with a liquid, it will overflow once its limit has been surpassed.
The same concept works with our brains and information. When our brain’s capacity for taking in data is met, it can shut down and lose focus thereafter. As Joseph Ruff states in his article Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA), “Having too much information is the same as not having enough.” (Via Workplace Psychology.) To better understand this concept, let’s take a look at what happens to your brain when focused and when distracted.
In Lifehacker’s article, Train Your Brain for Monk-Like Focus, psychologist Susan Perry, Ph.D, explains that “focusing is a skill and takes practice to develop,” so it’s important to understand a bit of the science behind how our brains focus and why they throw in the towel. Perry states that the process is two-fold when our brains get in the zone:
First, your brain takes a “big picture” look at what exactly you should be paying attention to, like a blurry photo coming into focus.
Second, the brain recognizes the single aspect it should be focusing on and hones into that facet exclusively, like zooming in to get a closer look.
Now let’s discuss what happens when your brain loses focus. Perry suggests that there are two events that can break a person’s focus: “bright colors or lights, and loud noises.” When this happens, the curious side of a person’s brain wants to discover what the distraction is, and our focus is broken – it takes roughly 25 minutes to regain that focus and return to a given task. The brain will repeat this process over and over, causing the brain to exhaust itself and, eventually, shut down.
What can be done about this perpetual cycle of curiosity killed the cat to help you maintain focus throughout the day, especially at work? Try these techniques and see if you can find your sweet spot:
1. Stop. Look. Listen. Begin your day (or work) with a “big picture” perspective of what needs to be accomplished; in other words, prioritize your tasks. Then, “zoom in” on one task at a time until you are crystal clear on what needs to be done for each. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks that can help clear some brain space for you to accomplish your goals, and dump the things that just create “noise” in your day.
2. Minimize distractions. If you have a hard time focusing in noisy environments, put some earplugs in or put on some music that promotes concentration. Also, test out different locations to work in and see if you’re more productive in a certain setting.
3. Take a break. Your brain needs breaks, too, so allow yourself a few minutes to step away and recharge. In fact, Professor K. Anders Ericsson at Florida State University conducted a study and found that “[w]orking in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity.”
4. Time is of the essence. Many people become so overwhelmed with their to-do lists that they give up before even trying, resulting in hours of lollygagging at their desks doing little to nothing. Instead, try seeing your time as incredibly valuable – not even a minute can go to waste. This mindset will help you analyze, prioritize, and execute your tasks in a more esteemed manner.
5. Treat yourself. A reward can be a great initiator and motivator to get things done. Rewards can be as lavish or simple as your heart desires. Just ensure that they keep you motivated enough to continue chugging along.
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