A Simple Technique for Increasing Focus

Make working from home more productive

We’ve all had that feeling that we are capable of so much more. We beat ourselves up and say something like, “tomorrow will be different, I will definitely crush it tomorrow!”. Only deep down we already know the outcome will be similar. The same distractions, the same time spent procrastinating, or in a state of worry or overwhelm. How can we break the cycle?

I’ll share a ridiculously simple technique for increasing focus that has helped me. It might just work for you too…

Focus!

Don’t be hard on yourself!

Studying or working at home or in an office with all the distractions that entails can be really challenging to say the least! Whilst working in a busy office can have many benefits, performing creative or complex tasks can be a struggle. Working from home (especially if you have kids around) can be equally challenging.

As many who work in creative roles can attest to, the best work is often created when you’re in that state of flow where nothing else matters. Time ceases to exist, you are hyper-focused on the task at hand and intuition takes over. This state requires a certain environment conducive to such work. The tiniest things can snap us out of our train of thought. A  phone notification, overhearing snippets of someone else’s conversation, even a familiar song in the background.

Staying in the zone

The problem is, every time we ‘snap out’ of the zone or lose our flow, we have to find it again. This process takes time and if we’re being distracted multiple times in a day, the amount of time we are spending being truly focused is limited. Of course, this is an area where there are many complex psychological facets at play and I’m in no way qualified to even scratch the surface of these.  The following technique though is something that has worked for me. I want to keep it super-simple, without delving too much into the mechanics of why it works.

OK, so let’s assume changing our physical location isn’t an option. I’m sure we could be much more productive in a secluded beach house on a beautiful deserted island, but unfortunately, that’s not a privilege I currently have. So instead, let’s focus on the things we do have a degree of control over. I  believe there are three key things that help me be more productive:

1. Clearly defined goals.

2. Feeling at ease and free of the worries of daily life
.
(Did I switch the iron off? I must pay the electrician… My daughter needs picking up from her playdate at 4 o’clock).

3. Freedom from distractions.

Clarity

Without being crystal clear on the desired outcome, making clear decisions on what to do and in what order can be virtually impossible. Secondly, it’s important to allocate time for a specific task. For example, it might be 45 minutes exclusively set aside for a particular project and absolutely nothing else. That way, we can feel calm in the knowledge that this is what we should be working on. For those 45 minutes at least, we do not need to give our attention to anything or anyone else.

Ambient background noise

Here’s the hack for increasing focus… I put on some headphones and listen to ambient background noise. Youtube has a wealth of these to choose from including busy coffee shops, forest noises, old-fashioned train journeys… all manner of weird and wonderful environments. It’s just a case of finding one that resonates with you personally.
The keyword here is ambient. It’s important that the audio doesn’t vie for your attention in a way that perhaps the lyrics of a song or a podcast might. These often grab your attention and alter your train of thought, which is something we’re trying to avoid. It’s not meant to be stimulating. Boring is good! My personal favourite is a busy coffee shop in a foreign country. The audio gives a feeling of being in a busy but calm environment, without being able to comprehend any words I might hear in the background as they are in another language.

Summary

I find that listening to these ambient tracks really helps me to tune out of what’s going on around me and focus my attention entirely on the task at hand. Sometimes I can remain in a focused state for an hour or more. At other times, twenty minutes is the best I can manage. That being said, if it works for short bursts, it’s got to be worth a try, right?

Disclaimer: I’m still not always productive – far from it. I sometimes have days where I feel like I achieve very little at all. However, this technique has helped me gain tangible progress, especially when performing tasks that require a high degree of concentration such as coding.

Leave a comment