We all have a finite amount of focus. We may think of focus as something you do, but I think it is something you have. You either have focus for something, or you don’t. And focusing on something is like contracting a muscle. It uses energy and wears on you. And the longer you focus on something, the more tired you get and the harder it is to keep focusing. I notice this when I drive on long road trips. After 4 hours or so, its hard to keep focusing on the road and traffic. I need a break. The same is true when it comes to your work. After hours of focus, getting into what Cal Newport calls “Deep Work,” you get tired and need to recharge your focus. There was a great experiment in 1998 called the “Chocolate and Radish” experiment where the Psychologist, Roy Baumeister, discovered the modern concept of willpower. That it is a like a muscle and becomes exhausted. Be sure to listen to the episode to find out more about this experiment. But I believe the same is true with focus. It is finite. It will become exhausted over time. This is why its important to take breaks to recharge your “focus battery.” Below are some tips to help you focus.
- Prepare to focus – Just like anything you’re working on, you need to have a plan. Plan to focus on whatever it is you need to work on. I use outlook for that purpose. I schedule time for focusing. If you look at my outlook calendar, you would think I’m slammed with meetings, but only about 1/2 of those things are actual meetings. The rest are times I’ve allotted for focused deep work. When I schedule my focus, it is easier to get into the mindset necessary to hunker down and focus.
- Remove distractions – When its time to focus, turn off outlook, close slack, shut your door, turn off the ringer to your phone and put your cell phone in airplane mode. This may sound extreme, but its necessary for me. I’m super easily distracted. For more tips on beating distractions check out episode 3. If you like music, turn on music (but not with words, words can lead to you singing and causing more distractions. Grab your coffee, use the restroom, make sure the temperature is good. Basically you are removing any excuse for you to get up and do something else.
- Take breaks – Like we said above, your focus can be like a battery and it needs to be charged. We’ve learned that going outside and taking walks can help recharge this battery like a Tesla Supercharger. So take a stroll outside for a few minutes, then come back and start again. One technique that I’ve found effective is the Pomodoro technique. There are different variations of this, but what I do is turn off everything for 25 minutes of uninterrupted focus, then take 5 minutes to check email, slack, texts, etc. Get up refill the coffee if needed, take a restroom break, walk around a bit, and repeat the 25 minutes of focus. I’ve found that 5 minutes is all I usually need to recharge my focus battery.
If you have more tips on improving focus, please tweet them to me @johnrouda.
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