Do you remember the last time you tried to get some (or a lot) of work done and you spent the first 5 minutes twiddling your thumbs trying to decide what to do? Maybe the thumb thing was followed by staring at the wall in front of you wondering where to begin?
Have you ever managed to achieve the type of focus that allowed you to continually produce meaningful results for the entirety of your work session?
But let’s not stop there. Let’s up the ante and strive for more.
Have you ever managed to achieve the type of focus that allowed you to continually produce unfathomable results?
Well? Have you?
Total focus. This is what it takes. Science says It can be done. Let's explore this further, shall we?
Total focus, complete focus, insane focus, call it whatever... can be achieved with effective planning and deliberate practice. While the exact method is unique to every person there are common elements that increase focus. These are having the right routine, being ready to work, attaining the right rhythm, managing distractions, and minimizing stress.
Choosing the right work environment and keeping it consistent is key to achieving total focus. One way to do this is to be like Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway had a desk with one object on it: a typewriter. Hemingway used his desk for one thing: writing. He didn’t read at it. He didn’t eat at it. He stood by it and wrote. History and legions of entranced readers prove Hemingway produced works of art.
But why is doing it the Hemingway way beneficial? While it might seem a waste to use your desk for one particular thing only, there’s a method to this madness and yes it’s scientific.
When a soccer player sets aside his Sunday loafers and places cleats on his feet his mind, body, and the rest of his being is told it’s time to play soccer. When you designate one and the same spot to work on your larger than life project you communicate to your entire being that it’s go time; it’s time to work on THIS and ONLY THIS one thing.
And then it happens. The more you repeat the behavior the quicker it becomes a habit. Your work spot becomes sacred. The uncertainty disappears. Each time you get to your magical place of work your body, mind, soul, and spirit know exactly what to do. Every part of your being consciously and unconsciously pushes you toward success.
So whether you choose to work at a nearby cafe, at the kitchen table, in your cubicle before or after hours, or at a desk in a quiet attic room make it predictable to achieve total focus. Make it your routine. One spot. One task. One goal.
It is difficult to focus and produce desirable results when your brain is missing the information necessary to complete the task. If you have knowledge gaps or lack experience necessary to be successful in your endeavor do the research and learn whatever is needed before you start your work session.
If your time is severely limited, but you commute to work start reading or watching videos on the train to work or listening to podcasts and audiobooks while you drive. Alternatively, you can devote 25-minute work chunks (pomodoros) to doing anything that helps you learn more about the ins and outs of your project before producing the actual product.
After all, learning and gaining experience is an integral part of any project you undertake. The more expertise you gain the better the final product will be. Few things are more disappointing than finally carving out some time to start on your dream and then realizing that you’re experiencing the biggest brain fart.
Brain farts aside; once you start you want to keep going. How will you maintain total focus for 25 minutes? How will you keep going without stopping? How will you attain rhythm?
If you’re thinking music you’re on the right track but it’s important to pick the right type. While lyric-filled music can be inspirational it is best to use instrumental music to attain rhythm during tasks that require intense mental focus. Lyrics work well when you’re training for an Ironman race but are distracting if you’re reading or writing. Luckily, there are plenty of productivity mixes on YouTube or Spotify. I suggest you find and save your favorite ones ahead of time. Then, try them out and pay attention to whether they help or hinder.
Another way to get in rhythm is to time your work sessions. You can use your phone’s timer or download an app that lets you do that. Some apps keep track of your work (or focus) sessions and breaks. In addition, putting your phone in airplane mode and using it specifically for focus and rhythm helps you manage the distractions it can potentially cause.
Eliminating distractions is difficult if not impossible but if you want to maintain total focus you will need to have contingencies in place to manage the different distractions life throws at you. And this is what my next post will explore: Achieving And Maintaining Focus In The Age Of Distraction And Anxiety.
Till then I would be honored if you chose to use a few strategies from this post to help students, coworkers, or your loved ones focus better.
You have the power to change lives. Use it often so they can change the world.
I frequently share brain-based teaching, learning, and success strategies. Sign up for my newsletter below to receive them when I post them.
Hi! I'm Oskar.
I teach, write, speak, rant to make the world better.
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