In the modern world of work, with endless distractions caused by open plan offices, social media and technological overload, it is hard to maintain focus on the job in hand. However, one of the characteristics of a mentally tough person is their ability to do what it takes to achieve their goals and targets. It is their supreme focus and ability not to get interrupted, distracted or diverted from their goal that enables them to make things happen and get things done.
Art Markman PhD, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, has identified these four ways to focus including some innovative suggestions such as a standing desk and becoming more social.
1. Treat your brain like part of your body
The primary function of the brain is to control the body, not as a computer inside a robot designed to serve it. Brains evolved to help bodies navigate the world successfully. If you spend the day sitting down, it’s eventually going to be hard to stay focused on the task at hand.
“Because our brains evolved to control our bodies, people are extremely sensitive to the objects in their immediate environments.”
So use your body more during the workday. Get a standing desk if you can, or find somewhere you can pace back and forth while you’re thinking or talking on the phone.
Take walks during the day or consider a lunchtime workout. Basically, just add more exercise and movement into your day in general. And consider taking up a hobby like painting or playing an instrument rather than sitting in front of the TV or fiddling on your laptop in the evening. All of this keeps that connection between brain and body functioning effectively.
2. Turn Off Your Smart Phone
If you’re a slave to your smartphone and check it several times an hour, as most people do, turn it off or move it out of easy reach when you’re trying to accomplish something significant. It is easier said than done but because of that aforementioned brain-body connection, people are extremely sensitive to the objects in their immediate environments. Changing the environment changes what your brain believes is possible. Remove the biggest sources of distraction, and you’ll find it easier to pay attention to the work that needs to get done.
3. Make Work More Social
Socializing may not sound like a great strategy for focusing on something that demands your unbroken attention–usually that means doing the reverse, and shutting people out. But the human brain is optimized to cooperate with other people (even if your current mood isn’t). People still tend to get deeply engaged in conversations even when they’re having trouble fixating on their computer screens for long stretches.
“The human brain is optimized to cooperate with other people (even if your current mood isn’t).”
So if you find your attention drifting when you’re working on a big project, don’t just try to bite the bullet and isolate yourself even further. See if there are ways to get some other people involved, even if that just means seeking some quick feedback.
4. Turn Focusing Into a Team Effort
If your work environment is hectic, work with your colleagues and manager to tame the worst of it by creating few signals that let your colleagues know when you’re available to chat and when you need to be left alone. See if you can set aside some space in the office where individuals and small groups can gather when they need to get away from the hubbub.
So, in summary, staying focused is usually a combination of biology, environment, and habit. There isn’t much you can do to change the way your brain is structured, but you can manage your behaviors and the circumstances in which you perform them. We simply aren’t built to sit still and sustain our attention for long periods of time. So even if you’re pretty good at that, get up and move around now and then. Your brain will thank you.
To learn more on becoming mentally tough and increasing your focus, contact us.