This is part II of a two-part series on improving your ability to focus. Part I emphasised how to accustom yourself to deep focus (read it here); Part II deals with cutting out distractions.
Every day, we’re each bombarded by distractions that scream for our attention from the minute we wake up to the time we go to bed. While it’s part and parcel of modern life, it also harms our ability to concentrate.
While the techniques in part I were targeted at changing how you concentrate, part II will deal with minimising your dependency on distraction. Even when you’re not engaging in deep focus, having a mind that quickly defaults to distraction can eat into your ability to concentrate when you do need to be in deep focus.
To that end, here are some ways you can start cutting the number of distractions in your life for better focus.
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A huge reason for our perpetually distracted state of mind is that we entertain our desires to fill every second of our lives with activity. The minute we feel the onset of boredom, we succumb to the need for distraction. We’ve conditioned ourselves to equate distractions with benefit since they help to stave off our boredom.
Unfortunately, this is also why we often find it so hard to concentrate when we need to; we can’t sit still because we’re addicted to distraction.
Paradoxically, getting yourself to focus better requires that you allow yourself to be bored from time to time. It’s not about increasing your inactivity. It’s about retraining yourself to get used to sitting still.
According to research psychologist Larry Rosen, we each need to “retrain our brains to respond based on a set schedule rather than spontaneous cues.” In other words, instead of responding to sitting still by immediately seeking a distraction, we need to be more systematic, disciplined, and intentional about the way we allow distractions.
One way to do this is to regulate your daily email-checking to specific time windows during the day. Similarly, resisting the urge to check every chat alert and social media notification can do wonders for your concentration, though it’s not easy.
To make it easier on yourself to concentrate at will, pay attention to how your body feels throughout the day. If you’re a morning person, you’re better off doing your deep focus work first thing in the morning when you get to the office. If you find yourself generally more energised and alert in the afternoons, schedule your deep focus time for then.
You may not always have the option to limit your deep focus time to particular sections of the day. However, merely knowing working along with your mind and body instead of against it can make it that much easier to slip into full focus when you need to.
Deep focus can be taxing on your mental reserves; without sufficient rest, in the long run, you might end up quickening the onset of job burnout and mental depletion.
Being able to concentrate better at work necessitates that you keep your mental, emotional, and physical health in tip-top condition. A huge part of this involves giving yourself proper rest-and-recharge time each day.
Some of us have a hard time leaving work thoughts behind when we leave the office. Subsequently, work stress seeps into every aspect of their lives and takes away from proper restfulness. Because of it, they can take up to an hour to fall asleep at night, and even then, end up waking up several times throughout the night. This eventually affects their concentration ability adversely.
Cal Newport writes that it’s vital that you shut yourself off from work once you’re done with it. He advises having a daily shutdown ritual at the end of every workday to help facilitate the transition from deep focus mode to rest. You can read more about it here.
Additionally, having bad sleep habits can be just as detrimental. So many of us sleep with our phones within reach of us at night so that we can use our phones just before we sleep. The blue light that most of our phones emit, though, can trick your mind into behaving as though it’s daytime, which reduces the restfulness of your sleep.
It’s also crucial to practice good sleep habits. Most of us know that it’s essential to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. We do, however, tend to neglect other equally essential restful habits like:
The bottom line is: when you need to focus, cut out all distractions. Once you’ve finished, cut everything out besides rest.