How to find your focus and build clarity amidst change, upheaval and the ‘always-on’ culture

We have adapted so well to constant interruption, to continuous partial attention. Are we in danger of losing our ability to concentrate altogether?

The fact is that we are all more prone than ever to lack of concentration and are losing our ability to focus. So that when there is genuine upheaval created by change, or conflict, or both – a real life thing that is a genuine interruption to our flow – it is becoming harder for us all to get back to work when the upheaval is over.

As well as taking up time which has a huge cumulative impact on your ability to get things done – did you know it can take a full 15 minutes to re-find your focus after an interruption – being always ‘on’, checking for what’s happening, puts you in a state of constant vigilance which keep your stress hormone levels coursing through your body round the clock. The neurological impact is a reduced ability to think straight and make decisions. The physiological impact is akin to not sleeping. Not good.

Take my experience yesterday as an example. My lovely green room, from where my business emanates, is being re-decorated. I can’t easily get to things I need. The totems and mementos I keep in my room that serve as my truth north when I’m stuck, are hidden from sight. Although I will be able to put my room back together at the weekend, at this point it’s been this way for 3 weeks and I’ve lost all ability to focus on any deep work. The creative purpose, concentration and connection to others that drive my business have deserted me. I am so incredibly distractible that I’m itching, just itching to check my social media instead of completing any of the tasks I have set myself.

Chances are you experience similar edginess when things are in a state of flux – a norm for most of us at work. So… what to do about it? Well I have stared down the abyss of social media distraction and change anxiety yesterday and produced this article. Here’s my tried and tested ways to bring yourself back to focus, concentration and productivity.

  1. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Put the phone away. The purpose of the brain is first and foremost to control your body. This makes us very attuned to what’s in our immediate surroundings and likely to look for distraction there first.
  2. Listen to music. Music is an actual distraction itself, ironically. It works by satisfying a need for the mind to be distracted and reduces its ability to distract itself further. I find alpha waves music good for sustaining concentration for longer periods of time.
  3. Time-box. I gave myself a shorter amount of time to complete this task than I thought I would need. I have the allocated time and that time only to get the job done. An unrealistically short amount of time for task completion does focus the mind.
  4. Make progress on stuff you can control. Before I settled to the task of writing I completed a handful of tasks from my to-do list which would take 2 minutes or less each to complete. These easy tasks gave me a sense of accomplishment which boosted my confidence and willingness to concentrate on something that needs more effort.
  5. Relax. If you feel yourself losing focus, stop. Choose accuracy over spend. Taking a break is fine. Check your messages if you must, but the key here is to move away from your desk. This gives you a chance to focus. Wait find your focus before you communicate in writing or in person or make diary appointments.

Yesterday’s experience was a lesson in re-cultivating my concentration. My work requires constant creativity, authenticity and productivity, as I bet yours does. So, these are the things I’m going to do to nurture my ability to switch on my focus and sustain it.

  1. I’ve already started this – I’m reading more. I love to read, always have, but increasingly I have found it harder and harder to sustain concentration on reading. I pick up my book and I read for an increasing amount of time. I just resist the temptation to put it down in favour of making a drink, eating toast, petting the dogs. I believe that reinstating my daily reading habit has helped me find the focus for this article after 3 weeks of not being able to settle to anything.
  2. I’ve thought a lot about what does help me focus. I am developing an association in my brain with switching on certain music and doing creative and focussed work. I’m training my brain to expect to concentrate whenever I press play on that music.
  3. I am also training my brain to quieten down and focus its attention so that I can develop better meditation discipline. Nothing clever or mystical. I’m starting with simply focussing for 2 minutes at a spot on my desk and bringing my brain back to it whenever it drifts off, which to start with is a lot.

I anticipate that if I keep practising these three things I will find more clarity, not just better concentration. Deepak Chopra says

The more clarity you achieve, the more you will find that the universe is on your side, supporting your thoughts and intentions. Therefore, focus on clarity, not on getting results.

Deepack Chopra

And on that note, namaste.