How to Achieve Optimal Mental Focus
We live in a world with so much amazing and fun information. We also live in a world with so many important things to do – get the kids signed up for summer camp, walk the dog, make 10,000 appointments for, well, everything, and even just seeing friends and enjoying life. While there is so much to consume and do, it’s important to not let these not tasks get in the way of the “big rocks” – the Most Important Things that we need to do to achieve our goals.
I just love wasting time reading articles, taking tons of free courses, doing chores around the house, making to-do lists, etc, etc, etc. Anything to avoid doing the actual work I need to get done. This has been one of my biggest challenges. My brain loves to be distracted from hard, important work by shiny notifications or easy-but-not-very-important tasks that can be easily ticked off.
From what I see online and from talking to others I know I am not alone. Humans are distractible creatures by nature and with all that we have going on it can feel almost impossible to focus and do The Work.
While I am still working on finding my mental focus (I am literally using all the techniques below to get myself to write this article!), I have found some things that work for me when I actually implement them and stay dedicated through the discomfort.
Find Your Flow
The number one suggestion is to just start! Just start! Just start!
Once you start the process is so much easier. Push through those first 10-15 minutes (sometimes it’s only 5 minutes!) and then chances are you will enter a state of flow.
Flow is the state where you are working hard on something and your mind is fully engaged and enjoying the process. For me, it’s when the words are flowing out and my fingers are flying across the keyboard. For others, it could be when they are rocking through a design on their computer or building something in the garage. It can happen when your working, playing or even exercising (so I’ve heard). It’s almost when you surrender to the work of what you’re doing it literally just flows out of you.
Starting is always the hardest part, and once I actually take that first step it seems that the rest flows relatively easily. When you finish reading this article go directly to the big thing that needs to get done and START already!
What Is Your Why?
Everyone is talking these days about finding your “why,” and there is a good reason – it’s important! It’s much easier to stay inspired and dedicated to getting something done when you know why you’re doing it. Having a laser on the inspiration for what you are doing helps to refocus your mind when it wanders off course.
Every side trip to Facebook or Instagram is precious minutes away from achieving your goal of making enough from your side hustle to get out of debt. All the time you waste on Twitter is time away from creating a more meaningful relationship with your kids. Every email notification that distracts you away from your big project holds you back from the promotion and raise you want.
When you frame these distractions against your “why” it becomes much easier to resist them and come back to what is necessary to achieve what you’re trying to accomplish.
Turn Off The Tech!
Okay, so this is some low hanging fruit but seems to be so terribly difficult for us all. There is not much to say, but turn off the notifications! Keep your phone in your bag. Don’t have FB/Insta/Twitter/email/whatever open in your browser while you are trying to focus. This is important whether you are working digitally or IRL.
TURN OFF THE DISTRACTIONS!
The beauty of most of these is that you are in control of how much power they have over you. Put your future self first and prioritize your goals over momentary distractions. There is no trick to this. You just actually have to do it.
It will make a huge difference. TURN IT OFF!
There are studies on both sides of this one, so you need to figure out what kind of worker you are. Some folks thrive in a messy environment, and if you are one of those you can skip this step.
For me, I need a clean, clutter-free area to do my work. One of my greatest procrastination tricks is to do the laundry, wash dishes, organize the junk drawer, and wipe down all the cabinets in order to not do what I really need to get done while “being productive.”
And no matter how much I try, I will do it every time.
So, I have two options, to which I apply both. One, I can tidy up every night, keep on top of big cleaning chores, and make a chore list of things to tackle when I’m done working. This helps me feel comfortable settling into work and doesn’t give my brain the escape hatch of other less-hard work. The second option, if my house is a mess and my personal to-do list is long, is to go to a coffee shop or other place I can work without being distracted by the ability to get those non-urgent items done. Although I’m sure my local coffee shop crew wouldn’t mind if I picked up a broom and helped out – believe me, I’ve thought of doing it before!
Time Yourself Using Pomodoro
Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique? I’m betting a lot of folks have, but if you haven’t, it’s basically using a timer to work for periods of time with short breaks in between. My times is 25 minutes of working and a 5 minute break.
The Pomodoro Technique has been a HUGE breakthrough for me and my mental focus.
I can do anything for 25 minutes. And knowing I can check email or get up and walk around for 5 minutes, and that 5 minutes is never that far away, makes me so much more productive.
I am using it right now! It’s pushing me through as I so desperately want to look something up unrelated to this article and check my email to see if I’ve gotten a response to a message I sent earlier.
But I WILL NOT be torn away from my writing until the timer goes off!
If you’ve heard of it but haven’t done it, give it a real try! I use the free Be Focused app and it works perfectly. But you could also just set a timer on your phone. The beauty of this strategy is the profound changes such a simple little timer technique can help you make.
What’s Your Mental Focus Plan?
Imagine what could happen if you had laser mental focus. What could you accomplish? What could you achieve? In less time and with less effort. It could be monumental. Or even just incremental, which is still so much better than not having that focus and not getting anything done at all. At first, it’s tough to drag yourself into your work and train your brain to stay on task, but it gets easier and once you start seeing real results (hello finished article! yay!) the accomplishments will start flowing right out of you ;).