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Monk Mind: How to Increase Your Focus
By Leo Babauta
I confess to being as prone to the distractions of the
Internet as anyone else: I will start reading about something that
interests me and disappear down the rabbit hole for hours (even days)
at a time.
But my ability to focus on a single task has dramatically improved, and that one habit has changed my life.
While a few years ago I couldn’t sit down to work on
something without quickly switching to email or one of my favorite
Internet forums or sites, today I can sit down and write. I can clear
away distractions, when I set my mind to it, and do one thing. And that
changes everything: you lose yourself in that task, become so immersed
that you pour everything you have into the work, and it becomes a
meditative, transformative experience. Your happiness increases, stress
goes down, and work improves.
I know that lots of people have trouble focusing one
one task for very long, and so I thought I’d share a few things that
have worked for me.
Focus Best Practices
There is no one way to find focus, but what works
for me is to clear everything away and create a little space of
tranquil focus. Some tips for doing that:
the browser and your email program. If you need to work in the browser
then make sure no tabs or windows are open other than the one you
off all notifications. Trying to focus while something is notifying you
of an incoming email or tweet or Facebook update is impossible.
off the Internet. Shut off your connection, unplug your router, or best
yet, go to a place where the is no Internet (yes, those still exist)This is the absolute best way to find focus.
- Close all programs and windows other than what you need for this one task.
a very important task to do. Not just “check email” but “write chapter
in my novel” or “write that kick-ass blog post I’ve been planning” or
“write that new Android app”.
your desk. No need to spend all day on this — shove everything in a
drawer or put it in a box to be sorted later. Don’t fiddle with this
now. In fact, don’t fiddle with anything — don’t worry about the
perfect setup or perfect notebook for writing or the perfect anything.
in the headphones. If you have people around who might distract you,
wearing headphones and playing some good, peaceful music is perfect.
a simple program. For writing, I like plain text editors (TextEdit,
TextWrangler) or writing programs that block everything out (OmmWriter,
WriteRoom). No distractions.
Once you have this environment (and you shouldn’t
spend more than a few minutes setting it up), get going on your taskDo nothing but that one task. Don’t switch to another task. Having
trouble doing that? Read on.
How to Increase Your Focus Abilities
If you can’t focus on one task for very long,
don’t worry. That’s normal. Our brains have been trained by technology
and society to switch tasks often.
One way we’ve been trained is that switching to check
email or blog updates or Facebook/Twitter is rewarding — we are
rewarded with a little nugget of satisfaction in that someone has sent
us a message (social validation!) or we have something new and
interesting to read (shiny and bright!). Switching tasks becomes a
positive feedback cycle that is hard to beat by single-tasking.
The way to beat that is to set up a positive feedback cycle for focusing. Here’s how:.
Set up a positive feedback cycle for single-tasking
focus and you’ll reverse the years of training your mind has gotten to
switch tasks. You’ll get more important work done, and it won’t seem
hard. You’ll find that focus becomes a form of meditation. It’s a
beautiful, beautiful thing, and you can thank me by sending me a craft
beer from your hometown.
Or buy my book on this topic — called focus — and I’ll use the money to buy myself a beer.
- Start smallYou only need to focus for one minute at first. Clear everything away,
pick your one important task, and just do it for one minute without
switching. This is hard to do in the beginning but if you consciously
focus on focusing, you can do it. It’s just a minute.
- Reward yourselfThe reward for focusing for one minute can be one minute (or 30
seconds) of checking whatever you want. Email, Facebook, whatever. Or
get up and take a one-minute walk. Stretch, drink some water, massage
your neck, enjoy your small victory. Empires are created with small
- RepeatKeep doing one minute focus, one minute reward (or 1 minute to 30
seconds if you like) for about half an hour (15 of each). You’re doneRepeat that later in the day. Rejoice in how much work you got done!
And notice how you’ve set up a positive feedback cycle for focusing.
- Increase in small stepsTomorrow, make it two minutes on, one minute off. Repeat that for 30
minutes, do it later in the day too. Feel free to go wild and do three
focus sessions in a day if you like, but it’s not necessary.
- Keep taking baby stepsI think you can see the pattern by now. Make it three minutes on, one
minute off on the third day, then 4:1, then 5:1. When you get to 10
minutes, be crazy and take a 2 minute break. When you get to 20
minutes, take a 3 minute break. At 30 minutes of focus, you’ve earned a
5 minute break. And once you’re at 30 minutes, you can stay there. No
need to become a monk.
About Leo Babauta:
Leo is a best-selling author and creator of one of
the most popular blogs in the world, Zen Habits. He’s considered an
expert in productivity and motivation, and has applied the principles
in his own life: quitting smoking, becoming a runner and marathoner,
losing 40 lbs., becoming an early riser, eliminating his debt, quitting
his day job and becoming an entrepreneur, starting several successful
websites (including zenhabits.net, writetodone.com, mnmlist.com and others). You can follow Leo on Twitter.
Good info on many topics:
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