Focus is something that seems to be in short supply these days. The internet makes sure we don’t have to wait for our entertainment, in written, audio, and video forms. Our phones are portals to the rest of the world, and we can even get notifications of our new content sent straight to our home screens. After some time, we start to expect instant gratification, and we get frustrated and bored when we aren’t served within an invisible time limit.
It’s why there’s a lot of focus on short attention spans themselves. There’s a popular idea that we used to be incredible at keeping our focus on one thing, for hours on end. But it’s been proven that the average in attention spans, like 50 minutes or 20 minutes, is hard to quantify. Dr Gemma Briggs, talking to the BBC, says our attention is much more ‘task dependant’.
And to tip the scale, there’s a lot of evidence to support the idea that we have much more to focus on these days. We’ve got to split our attention back and forth across so many different tasks and various responsibilities, and even at work, hardly anyone is going to be working on just one thing anymore.
And in the working world, a ‘lack of focus’ is one of the main things we fear the most. We feel that if we don’t have focus, we can’t complete the work day. We feel that without being able to juggle 10 different tasks at once, our employers won’t find any worth in us.
Last year, the UK Working Lives survey found that, out of 6000 employees, about 30% felt they had way too much to get on with at work. The effect of our increased workload doesn’t stop there, as even managers are feeling the heat: 28% of the senior leaders in the sample reported they couldn’t keep up with their personal commitments because of their workload.
And as someone with ADHD myself, I know just how troubling a constant lack of focus can be, for both our public and personal lives. Which is why I want to share 5 little ways to retain a bit more focus whilst at work; it would seem, without a proper review of the troubles of our jobs, and a few changes to the structure of the way we’re put to work, we only have some little focus boosts to help us out!
- Split Your Tasks into Pieces
This is the way I like to approach tasks the most! Let’s say you’ve got an hour to put a new report together, or you’ve got an entire 2000 unread email inbox to get through and answer, or you’ve just scored a big publication opportunity with a prestigious magazine, and only have 2 days to research, plan, write, and edit the whole thing. You’re on a time limit, and you’ve got to somehow manage a top quality standard; do you see yourself getting out the other side? Without losing sleep, getting constantly distracted, eating properly, and managing to put the kids to bed?
You split what you’ve got to do into steps, and then you prioritize. You take the hardest parts first; this is probably the researching or detail-oriented side of things, or taping the interview. Then you do the smaller tasks afterwards — these are the ones you could do in just a few minutes, or half an hour at most. You could even do them the morning of the next day, before you even get into work.
So, you gather together some possible sources, nothing else for now. You rank them in order of preference, usually according to the length and content of each one. Then, you go through each of them one by one. You get the details you need, you get the quotes you need, and you keep them all on a separate tab or document you can use as a reference.
Soon, you’ll find the other parts of your task falling into place. For example, in a report, you’ll be able to put the statistics into place, and then it’s much easier to write sentences around them. And this way, you won’t exhaust your brain beyond belief.
2. Throw Your Desk Contents into a Drawer
Your desk can be a very cluttered place, and when you’re set to do a task you really can’t stand the sight or thought of, anything can be a distraction. The desktop, the walls, the floors… So when it comes to retaining just a little bit more focus, out of sight and out of mind really does wonders. And if your desk is covered in all kinds of clutter, it’s time to make your environment a little bit more boring.
Put your phone away, put your pens and pencils away, stash the books for the time being etc. Forget about the aesthetics of a work desk, forget about the motivational quote you might have on the top shelf above you — just throw it all into the drawer! What’s most important right now is to remove the potential of distraction, if even for another 5 or 10 minutes, and you can put it all back later.
3. Ask Someone to Hold You Accountable
If you’re someone who works from home, and acts as your own boss, this is going to have the most relevance. You don’t have to answer to anyone already, so there’s no one around to hold you accountable, the way a co-worker or a boss would do. So you’re going to have to reach out, to a friend or family member, and ask them to make sure you keep to a time limit.
If you say you’ll have something written or designed by Saturday, and it’s Thursday already, then that accountable person is going to keep tabs on you. In a way, they’re going to oversee your progress as time goes on, making sure you keep to the deadline that you might not even respect.
Even better, if you’ve got a party or a get together coming up, promise the other attendees you’re going to have a bit of music ready to play for them, or some major news on the thought piece you’ve had the time to send in to an editor. Now you’ve got a whole room of people keeping you accountable! The disappointment of your loved ones is something most of us want to avoid.
4. Keep on Moving
A lot of us like to sit down to focus, and sometimes, that’s the opposite of what you need to do. Sometimes you need to get up and move, or put something in your hands to fiddle with for a few minutes, to help you think and get the creative juices flowing. If you’re a bit of a jittery person, who can’t sit still most of the time, the latter option can keep you from wanting to run away every half hour. And remember, it’s often found that exercise helps you to think better, so a couple of steps here and there might just act as a small change of scenery.
Get up and have a walk around. Go outside for a few minutes, and walk around the block or the neighbourhood. Just make sure you don’t go too far, or too fast, as you don’t want to pull yourself out of that focused zone completely. You just want to add a bit more energy to it, by expending some of your own, and clearing your thoughts for a couple of hours. Your blood is pumping, your brain feels a little bit more oxygenated, and you’re in a better place to get something done.
5. Write it Down
And last but not least, if you can write down what you need to do ahead of time, you might find it a lot easier to focus on the task at hand. You know why? Because you don’t have to think of what you need to do or how to go about it, you can just go ahead and get on with your work. Give your memory a rest, simple as that!
If you prepare for holding your focus in the few minutes you have before you go to bed, you can set yourself into a little routine. A post-it note here, a reminder on your phone there, and you’ve cut down the amount of mental energy you’ll need to use for the day. It’s why a lot of people find to-do lists helpful! It doesn’t have to be pretty; it’s practical, it can be updated, and crossing things off the list makes you feel really quite energised.
A lot of us need a bit of help with staying focused, and a lot of the time, that’s not even our fault! But the smallest of steps can have the biggest impacts, and you’re already working with limited time and energy, you don’t want to be spending hours trying to get in the zone.