While we may know that concentrating our attention and energy yields better results more quickly, maintaining focus is more difficult than ever—and it’s going to get worse. “Scientists say juggling email, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information,” according to New York Times reporter Matt Richtel.
Many neglect to address the underlying factors that make it difficult to focus. For instance, people fear they will be sacrificing something if they focus on only one thing. They might think, “If I concentrate here, then I will lose the ability to do x, y, z.” That’s a tradeoff they don’t want to make. Focus also involves moving out of your comfort zone. Ironically, you might feel most comfortable when you’re stressed and running behind. Choosing not to focus is providing you with a benefit; you have lots of ideas but aren’t taking any action, and that creates that “comfortable” feeling of being stressed.
Recognize that focusing is both a skill and a habit. Start small. You don’t want to set yourself up to fail by trying to focus in too many areas at once. Choose one project. Set aside 20 to 30 minutes and use that time to do nothing except work on the one project you’ve chosen. It will be difficult because you’ll want to check email or make a “quick” call. Resist the urge. You don’t have to act on every impulse. Like any skill, it will gradually become easier to maintain your focus. As you develop the habit, you will probably choose to build more focus time into your day because it will allow you to accomplish more. You will have traded a harried, stressful work experience for one that allows you to do your job so that you can choose when to leave the office.
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