Improve Your Focus Overnight
By Catherine Franz
Haven't you always thought having a disorderly mind meant something was wrong? Well, I did. That was, until... I read tons of information about the brain, including material produced by the Center for the Study of the Brain. And guess what? Having a mind that is disorderly is a natural condition. Who would have guessed? Hey, we're normal. Doesn't just knowing this give you a breath of fresh air? It sure did for me.
After my fresh air experience, I was still faced with the challenge that I needed solutions for: my disorderly mind. How can I work it so I have more focus when I want and need it... and not just when it occasionally comes along at its own leisure?
So, I weeded through a stack of mumbo-jumbo (at least to me) in medical journals, talked with some therapists and doctors, and came up with I'm about to share. Then I put these theories to the test. To my surprise, they worked. And worked darn well.
The four most common blocks to being able to focus are:
- Being tired.
- Being bored.
- Being under stress or duress.
- Trying to do too many things at once.
After learning to be acutely aware of when these block were occurring, I experienced a new euphoria in my lifestyle decision making process. Instead of trying to force myself to focus when I was experiencing one or more of the blocks, I choose to correct my time management instead. I learned to take good care of myself when any of these were occurring and to develop methods to let go of them quickly. This included taking a nap, going to bed early and getting up early, exercising the stress away, and stopping multi-tasking (and be proud of it). Oh heavens, the last one is a whole story by itself.
In the research process, I picked up seven simple tricks that can help increase focus for a few seconds, a few hours, even a day if you take it very very slowly. Over a 30-day trial period I put them all to the test. Many I already did sporadically and just needed to incorporate them regularly. I set up printed reminders and Outlook popups to keep them active.
First, I didn't begin anything without asking what my objective was for doing it. What did I want to accomplish? It didn't matter if I was taking a shower, making dinner, chatting with a friend or client, or writing. Let me tell you, it sure wasn't easy to train my mind to answer these. I had taken them for granted for so long, I just did them without thinking. So many times I wanted to toss the task aside as common sense, and how ridiculously small, so why did I need to know the objective? I soon realized that in order to go big you need to start small.
The second is visioning -- visioning the payoff. Feeling full from the dinner before I began to eat or seeing my writing being emailed. Any stress caused with too much on my to-do list reduced itself by at least half and productivity increased by that much or more. This transfer of energy felt sensational in my bosy and built my positive self-image.
Third, is setting the environment up for success. I cleared my desk except for the materials I needed. I practiced mantras before each focus. Played a productivity CD or meditated for a few minutes (using a timer so I didn't get lost in time). Previously when I did this type of exercise, I felt I was wasting my time. Now, I realize it accomplishes the opposite.
The fourth is being "in the now." Keeping the mind in the present moment. Not thinking about all the issues that come from whatever you are doing at the time. Allowing the future to be created at the beginning of the focus and then letting go and diving into the focus. During the trial period, I still found my inner chatter jumping into future thoughts. Instead of trying to completely dismiss the distraction, I promised myself to address it in X minutes (the promised focus time period). It seemed to satisfy me and helped to let go of the distraction it was sending me. Here is where you will find exactly how much time you spend in other places than the now (past, future or what ifs).
Fifth is learning to let go of everything else except the objective. Except exactly what the step is that you are working on. Letting go of the next step, needed materials, manpower, or anything else. Whenever I'm in this stage of the process I think of a horse drawn carriage -- you know the one. The horse is wearing blinders so their eyes don't stray or they get spooked. This includes letting go of any fears that might be crowding in.
Sixth is taking breaks. It wasn't until my third year at college, my first degree, that I learned that if I took a short break every 30 minutes (and for science every 15 minutes!), I remembered more. My brain caught up with what I just read and processed it by connecting the dots with what came before. These are short breaks or long ones, depending on the topic and what you want to process. What is your maximum attention span? It averages somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.
Seventh is writing. Writing out what is blocking the focus. Writing releases the "I don't want to forget" factor. It places the information in a trusted place that you know you can return to. Set the timer for five minutes and freely write what is going on in your mind. I call this process "dumping." Write it in a positive tone to maintain the attraction process.
Focus doesn't need to be only for fleeting moments in our life. Nor do we need to tolerate the natural disarray condition. With alert awareness and conscious choice -- and solutions on how to focus -- it can be there whenever we want or need it. Just knowing that it's part of your arsenal is powerful in itself. Testing it to find your own personal path is even more exciting.
Catherine Franz is a syndicated columnist, author, radio host, international speaker, and master business coach.