Mental Focus in Your Personal Life
Mental focus is not only helpful for staying focused on our work or reaching our business goals, but it also works in all other aspects of our lives as well.
Our lives are busy. We’re juggling families, households, jobs, and various social obligations, while constantly being distracted by media in one form or another. When it comes to our personal lives, we have two options. We can let our surroundings take over and “go with the flow”, or we can work on mental focus for our personal life and do the things we really want to do.
Yes, it takes time and energy to come up with personal goals and then figure out how to go about reaching them. Some days it’s much easier to come up, plop down on the couch and start binging our favorite Netflix series. While there is certainly a time and place for that, I’m sure you don’t want to wake up one day and realize that you’ve missed out on life for the past few years.
Working on mental focus outside of work and business, helps you prioritize and make time for the people and things that are important to you. It helps you figure out a way to make it to your child’s soccer game or play performance, enjoy your favorite hobbies, spend quality time with your kids and close friends, while still having enough time to relax and watch a movie and get a good night’s sleep.
Figure Out What Time-Wasters are Slowing You Down
The key is to pinpoint time wasters and focus on what’s important to you. It may help to keep a time journal for a week or two. Grab a notebook and start jotting down what you do throughout the day. It’s up to you if you want to track what you do at work as well. Make sure you track everything you do during your free time from the time you get up to the time you go to bed. If you’re spending your morning drinking coffee and browsing the internet or watching a morning TV show, and that doesn’t bring you the joy and fulfillment you want in your life, think about how you can spend that time better. Maybe meditation would help you feel less stressed throughout your day. Maybe spending that time working out would give you more time with your loved ones in the early evenings. Or maybe this might be a good time to get around to reading those books on your bucket reading list.
Write It Down!
Keep a journal for a few days or even weeks and review where you’re spending your time. The simple act of having to write it down makes you more aware of what you’re doing. This alone will help you focus on each task. Next, make a list of things you want to change in your personal life, or even just a list of things you want to do more of. Maybe you want to take an hour each evening to play with the kids. Maybe you want to spend more time each year traveling. It doesn’t matter what your goals are. The important part is that you set them and then work on a plan to make sure you can reach them. After that it’s simply a matter of focusing on those tasks one at a time and managing your time wisely. You’ll be pleasantly surprised not only by how much more you can get done in a given day, but also how much time is left to just relax and enjoy life.
3 Simple Focus Boosters To Keep You Sharp
Getting and staying focused when you know you should be working on a task isn’t always easy. With practice it becomes easier to do, but anyone can benefit from these simple tips that will boost your focus and keep you sharp for longer stretches of time. Give them a try and see if you find them as helpful as I do.
Write A To-Do List
When you have a clear objective, broken down into steps you need to do one at a time, it becomes much easier to focus. You know exactly what you need to focus on and when that’s done you don’t waste any time figuring out what comes next. You simply move on to the next item on your list.
Before you sit down to get your focused work done, spend a few minutes figuring out exactly what it is you need to get accomplished. Even better, do it the afternoon or night before, so you are up and running first thing in the morning. Then before you call it a day, while everything about the project is still fresh on your mind, make out tomorrow’s list.
Set A Timer
Nothing helps you focus better than a tight deadline. You can use the Pomodoro technique to work under short deadlines using nothing more than a kitchen timer. You’ll be surprised how much it will help you focus and get more done in less time.
Grab a kitchen timer, or use an app on your phone. Decide what task you want to work on and set a timer for 25 minutes. Work fast and furious until that timer goes off. Take a 5 minute break and start another 25 minute work sessions. After three to four of these sessions take a longer break, get up, and move around.
Crank Up Some Tunes
If you find that your mind keeps wandering, or if you are working in a distracting or noisy environment, consider plugging in some headphones and listening to some music to help you focus. It can drown out the noise around you and help you keep your mind on the job you’re doing.
There is specific music out there that helps you focus, work, or study. Do a quick search on YouTube and try a few different ones. Classical or instrumental music in general also works well for a lot of people.
In the end it comes down to personal preference though. Listen to the type of music that gets you going and helps you stay focused.
Gives these strategies for staying focused a try and find out what works best for you. You want something that motivates you and makes you push harder, concentrate for longer periods of time, and help you produce your best work.
Mental Focus Works Like A Muscle… You Need To Train It
When you first start to work on improving your mental focus, it’s hard. You can only fully concentrate for 15 or 20 minutes at a time. You’re easily distracted and when you force yourself to focus for extended periods of time (with the help of a kitchen timer for example), it feels exhausting. That’s ok and it will get easier with practice.
Think of mental focus as a muscle that you need to work out regularly to get better. That’s why using lists and timers can be so helpful. They are your training tools that help you push a little harder, stay focused a little longer, and go a little further each time you “work out”.
They also help you measure your progress. Without a timer and a record of what you’ve accomplished it’s hard to see those small changes and improvements you’re making. It’s hard to measure how much and how long you’ve concentrated and how much you’ve gotten done.
Seeing those small changes will help you to stay motivated and keep going.
But when you’re using a timer, you’ll start to notice that you can set it for 25 minutes instead of 15-minute increments and stay focused. You’ll also notice that it gets easier and easier to concentrate and work hard for 30 minutes at a time before you’re ready for a break.
Why You Need to Keep At It
As with physical exercise, mental exercise is something you need to do regularly, or you’ll start to slip back. Does that mean you have to work on mental focus for 8 hours a day? Of course not. You don’t have to work out that long to stay fit and healthy either. Aim for one or two focused sessions of 30 to 45 minutes a day. That will be enough to keep you sharp and will help you throughout the rest of your day as well.
First though, you need to get your brain into shape. Grab a timer, set it for 15 or 20 minutes do what you can to stay focused during this time. Shut the office door, take the phone off the hook, and cut out any distractions you can. Then work concentrated and focused until that timer goes off. How hard was it? Did you struggle towards the end? If so, make it a goal to do a few of these shorter sessions throughout the day.
If you find working focused for 20 minutes easy, bump it up to 30 minutes. Then get to a point where you can work back to back 30-minute sessions with just a short three to five-minute break in-between. Keep pushing yourself and you’ll be amazed how quickly this mental training starts to pay off.
Relaxation Is an Important Part of Mental Focus
This may sound a little counter-intuitive, but if you want to improve your mental focus, you have to make sure you get plenty of rest and relaxation. In other words, it is easy to overdo things, work too hard, which can then lead to lapses in concentration and focus.
Start out by doing what you can to get a good night sleep. I don’t have to tell you that it’s much harder to concentrate on anything if you’ve been sleeping badly, or only got a couple of hours of sleep. Our brains need long periods of rest to process information and “make room” for you to focus on something new the next day.
I used to get up super early, work all day, put the kiddos to bed and work some more. I was burning the candle at both ends and I was exhausted. I was falling asleep during the day and I was getting NOTHING done.
Then I changed my schedule. I was still getting up super early in the morning, but I started going to bed shortly after the kids. I was scared that I would never be able to get everything done, but the opposite actually happened. I started getting MORE done! I was up early when no one else was and so there were not a lot of distractions. Plus, since I was more rested, I had a lot more energy and it was easier for me to focus.
How Can I Get Everything Done if I’m Sleeping?
While burning the midnight oil may seem like a great way to get more done and stay productive, the opposite is true. Yes, you can power through a long night to finish a project every once in a while, but it isn’t sustainable for the long run. Do it when you absolutely have to but get in the habit of getting good sleep the rest of the time. Your brain and your body will thank you.
Surprisingly taking breaks throughout your work day is another effective way to stay focused and get more done. Work hard in short bursts of time and then take little breaks. Go get a cup of coffee, move around your work space for a few minutes, or just day dream and give your brain a short rest before diving back in. This doesn’t have to be long. You can greatly benefit from breaks shorter than five minutes. Go chat to a coworker or do something fairly mindless like filing or straightening up a few things on your desk. Then get back to your most important task at hand.
Just as important as short breaks are a few longer breaks throughout the day. Every couple of hours, take a 30 minute or longer break and walk away from your desk. Go to lunch, have coffee with a friend, or go for a walk outside. This gives your brain time to process what you’ve done so far and gets you ready for the next couple of hours of work.
Last but not least, don’t forget to do something fun and completely work unrelated at the end of the day and on the weekends. We all need balance in our lives. If you enjoy your work and you’re deeply invested in it, it can be hard to unplug and not think about it for a while. Make a conscious effort to make time for rest and relaxation. You’ll find you actually get more done in the end since you’re able to focus when it’s time to get back to work.
3 Tips to Help You Get On Track When You’re Losing Focus
Staying focused isn’t always easy. No matter how much you practice, or how well you’re usually able to concentrate, we all have days when it’s hard to stay on track. Here are three simple little things you can do to get back on track when you’re losing focus.
Review and Reevaluate
When you find yourself struggling with focus stop and take a minute to review what you’re doing. Why are you struggling? Is it this particular task, or did you not sleep well the night before? Maybe you’re getting sick, have a headache, or you can’t stop the constant distractions.
Once you know what’s causing you to lose focus, you can address it. Sometimes that means reworking the task or getting more information, so you can move on in a timely fashion. Sometimes it means admitting defeat and cutting yourself some slack if you’re getting sick and just not feeling your best. In that case, do what you can but don’t beat yourself up for not being at the top of your game.
I figured out that it took me a really long time to get blog posts finished sometimes, because I didn’t like creating graphics. I knew what I was doing, but simply wasn’t enjoying the process. So, I would procrastinate. I started getting some help from a really awesome graphic designer and my productivity has gone through the roof.
Pick One Task
Often our lack of focus is caused by trying to do too many things at the same time. Make yourself focus on one simple task, get that done, and then move on to the next task. Choose wisely and then put on your mental blinders and get it done. Doing this will usually bring your focus right back and after getting through a few tasks you’ll find that you can start to multitask if the need arises (though I don’t recommend it).
Overall, aim to start your day with a little planning and break your work down into tasks that you can accomplish one at a time. Multi-tasking may make us feel like we’re working hard and making a lot of progress, but research shows again and again, that we can focus better and stay more productive by tackling one task at a time.
Work in Shorter Bursts and Take Breaks
Some days you just can’t focus as well or for as long as a period of time as you usually do and that’s ok. No matter what the reason, accept it and find a way to deal with it. One way to do this effectively is to work in shorter bursts and take more frequent breaks. If you’re used to working highly focused in 45-minute chunks of time, break it down into 15-minute bursts instead. Get out your timer, set it for 15 minutes and get to work. When the timer goes off, give yourself permission to take a 5-minute break to recharge before diving back in for another 15-minute session.
You may not be as productive as you would on a day when you’re feeling great, but these tips will ensure you’re staying fairly productive. And who knows, you may find that after an hour or two you’re picking up you’re groove and getting back into full focus mode.
Trouble Staying Focused? This Might Help
We all have days when we’re struggling to stay focused on our work. One of the first things you should look at is distractions. There are various things and people that can keep us from concentrating and getting work done. Let’s look at what shape and form these distractions may take, what you can do to cut them out, and how you can get back to staying focused.
Let’s start with the obvious. There can be all sorts of things that distract you in your office, or around your desk. This could be your phone blinking each time you get a new social media alert or email. It could be your email program on your laptop notifying you of incoming messages. It could be your phone ringing, or that pile of files sitting on the corner of your desk that you know you need to deal with.
If you’re working at home it could also be that sink full of dirt dishes, or the washing machine beeping to let you know it is done. The key here is to realize that you are in control of your work space. Turn your phone to silent and stick it in a drawer or lay it upside down while you’re working. Turn the ringer of your phone, and either deal with the files now, or stick them in a drawer until you can take a look at them. Cut out the physical distractions as much as possible, so you can work on staying focused and getting your work done. The key here is also to make a conscious choice of when to deal with things like email, laundry, and social media instead of allowing it to constantly interrupt you.
People that show up and distract you can be a little harder to deal with. You need to work with others, you want to cultivate friendships, and there are times when you have to deal with a family situation, no matter how big a work deadline you have looming.
Setting expectations and making it clear to those around you that there are times when you need to shut your office door and get things done can help. If you can set aside a time and make a schedule of sorts when you’re working uninterruptedly and then other times when you’re having an open door can help tremendously. This works well with co-workers, but also with family and friends.
Last but not least there are mental distractions. They can be the trickiest to keep at bay since there is not a lot you can do to shut them out completely. Thoughts will pop into your head and do their best to distract you. Things that help is keeping a notepad on your desk that you jot those thoughts down if needed, so you can go back and check on things after you’re done with your task.
For example, if you’re worried if your check cleared, make a note, get back to work and then check your online bank account during your break. By writing it down, you then don’t have to worry about remembering to do it.
3 Major Focus Killers and How To Avoid Them
While there are lots of different things that can kill your focus, there are three major causes. We’ll take a look at these focus killers one by one, and then discuss what you can do to avoid them or remedy them as they pop up. I hope these ideas are helpful and allow you to find your way back to working with focus and concentration, getting back to getting things done.
Lack of Information
Nothing stops you in your track faster than lack of information. Having to go hunt down a file or learn about specifics of a project can bring your entire day to a screeching halt. This is particularly annoying when you were highly focused and, in your groove, trucking along, and making progress.
While you can’t always avoid this, the key here is to do your homework and get everything you think you need together before you sit down to work on a task. Yes, there are times when we don’t know what we don’t know, and missing information is unavoidable. That’s ok, there isn’t much you can do about it. Simply do your best and be as prepared as you can be. You’ll be able to keep your focus most of the time.
Too Little Sleep and Too Much Stress
Not getting enough sleep and feeling stressed out will kill your focus faster than anything else. The solution is simple. Get a good night sleep, live well, and get a little exercise to help with stress.
Taking time to take care of yourself, finding a hobby, or just relaxing at the end of a long day will go a long way in reducing stress, helping you sleep better, and as a direct result getting more done when it’s time to get to work. Don’t feel bad about taking some “me” time and just chilling out. It pays off in the long run.
And then of course there are distractions. No matter how sharp you feel when you sit down at your desk, and no matter how much information you have in front of you, if you keep getting interrupted and distracted, you won’t be able to focus.
Removing distractions is a two-step process. The first is to find and recognize the distraction. You may not think about it, but if your smartphone keeps alerting you every time you get an email or a social media post that can be a big distraction that disrupts your focus. Multiplied by dozens of alerts per day (or even per hour), this can be costly and have a huge negative impact on your productivity. Find out what’s distracting you by paying attention and then do whatever you need to do to stop those distractions, no matter how small or innocent they seem.
How A Brain Dump Can Help You Focus
Have you heard of “brain dump”? It’s a very effective exercise to help you clear your mind and allow you to focus on tasks on a time. The big problem a brain dump addresses is the fact that we all have constant thoughts, ideas, questions, and concerns running through our brain. A brain dump allows you to consciously address them, get them on paper, and thus keep them from distracting you later on.
Here’s what you need to do a brain dump. Get a notebook, a pen, and set aside a little quiet time to do this. If you’re more comfortable typing, open a word document or the likes. I’m a pen and paper kind of girl.
Let It Flow
Start writing everything that comes to mind. Don’t judge, don’t edit, and don’t skip over anything. Any ideas for projects, to-dos, and the likes go in the notebook. Don’t try to sort or organize them. Just let them flow from your brain to the paper. Of course, you don’t have to write down random thoughts. The idea is to get all those project ideas, things you want to do around the house, new strategies you want to try at work, or even that idea you had for a novel. Order and topic don’t matter. The fact that you want to start jogging again can go right next to that list of potential new clients you want to type up.
Take your time, don’t force it and take a breather every now and again. This exercise can be quite exhausting, but it is incredibly helpful and freeing. Think of it like a reboot for your brain that dumps all the RAM memory. It frees up a lot of space and helps you focus on the tasks that are truly important without being distracted by random thoughts.
I do this at least once a week and it’s amazing how much clearer my mind feels once I’m done.
Organize It or Let It Go
What you do with your brain dump is up to you. You can simply tear out the pages and stick them in a drawer. There’s value in the simple act of dumping them out of your brain.
You can also go through your brain dump pages a few days later and make lists of what you want to do and focus on. For example, you may make a list of good work-related ideas that you should try to implement over the coming weeks. You may also decide to disregard a lot of what you’ve written down and that’s ok too. Another list could capture any home improvement type projects you thought of that are worth pursuing.
Going through your brain dump like this allows you to sort and categorize the information into a format that you can work with, one task at a time. This is much more productive than having those random thoughts running through your head, taking up valuable brain space.
I hope you give this brain dump technique a try. Don’t just do it once and be done. Do brain dumps as needed to help you stay focused and productive.