Mental focus is the most important skill when it comes to success in any area of your life. It, more than talent or skill, will help move you forward and help you reach your goals, no matter what they are. I’m sure you’ve seen time after time, people without as much talent or skill as others who still manage to gain wild success. They just keep on going. To focus means to concentrate on a task or problem for a period of time. It’s something you can get better at with practice. For now, let’s look at exactly why mental focus is crucial for success and how it can help you get things done.
Focus Keeps Distractions at Bay
Distractions are all around us. You sit down at your desk and end up checking email, browsing through Facebook, or getting lost on YouTube watching video after video. We get distracted by new projects, things that need taken care of around the house or the office, and of course by family members and coworkers. With all these distractions it’s a wonder we get anything done. There’s always something else that demands our attention, or a fun new project we’d rather be working on.
When you finally do start to get things back on track, it takes a while to regain focus. It can take nearly half an hour to fully concentrate after an interruption.
This is where focus can make a huge difference and help you get things done. Focus is like a pair of blinders. It helps you concentrate on the task at hand until it is done.
Focus Keeps You from Making Mistakes
I had a day where I was trying to do a million things at once. I was trying to get the kids ready for school, talking on the phone to a client, and working on an email sequence. I couldn’t figure out why the sequence wouldn’t work properly and forgot to go back and troubleshoot. A few hours later, I was horrified when I got an email from someone saying they’d gotten a template email that I created rather than the one I’d sent. Turns out I hadn’t published what I’d originally intended and sent the wrong thing. I was so embarrassed.
Because you are not constantly distracted and you’re giving your full attention to whatever it is you are working on now, you’re less likely to make mistakes. Mistakes happen when your attention is divided, and you’re not fully engaged and immersed in the task you are working on.
Being focused, on the other hand, helps you concentrate on your work. It allows you to make less mistakes to begin with and when you do make them, if you’re not distracted, you’re that much more likely to catch them and fix them. The result is a better-quality product, no matter what you’re working on.
Focus Helps You Get More Done Faster
Have you ever worked on a tight deadline? Let’s say you must finish a report or write a blog post before you can head out to lunch to meet a friend. If you’re highly focused (thanks to that looming deadline), a task that would usually take you half a day is suddenly accomplished in 30 minutes. Best of all, the end result is often better than your usual work because you’re highly focused and are getting into the flow where everything just comes together almost effortlessly.
Mental Focus in Business
Mental focus is the ability to concentrate on a single task or project without getting distracted. Learning to focus better and for longer periods of time on any business tasks, will help you get more done in less time, do higher quality work, and become more successful overall.
In today’s economy, being self-motivated and focused is becoming more and more important. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, if you’re working for someone else, or if you’re in business for yourself. You have to be able to focus and show results without strict supervision or a detailed assignment that spells out each stop of your task.
This is especially true if you’re trying to run a home business.
When you’re working independently, particularly from home or in your own office, it’s easy to get distracted. Most of us work on from our computers where sites like Facebook and YouTube to name a few are a constant source of temptation and distraction. Being able to focus on the things you need to get done will help you get your work done in a timely fashion and it gives you a leg up on your competition who may not be as focused as you are.
Here are a few tips to help you get more mental focus while you’re working. Use them in your own business, in your job, or even when you’re studying. They will help you concentrate and be more productive for longer stretches of time. That means you can get your work or assignment done and move on to something more fun.
Tip #1 – Cut Out Distractions
Shut the office door, take the phone off the hook, stick your cell phone in a drawer and don’t even think about opening your email program or anything else on your computer that could distract you. Instead, keep only the programs and files you need for the project you’re currently working on open and get to work.
There are a number of apps available that will put you on time out for a certain period of time.
Tip #2 – Practice and Workout Your “Focus Muscles”
Being able to focus for long periods of time is an acquired skill. Think of it as a muscle that you’re working out. Start with making yourself focus 100% on a task for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. As this gets easier and easier, keep increasing the time until you can easily focus fully for 30 to 45 minutes at time throughout your workday.
Tip #3 – Take Breaks And Give Your Brain A Rest
No one can give it 100% all of the time. Just as important as working on increased focus is taking regular breaks. Give it your all for 15 minutes, then get up and take a break. Get a glass of water, make a phone call, attend a meeting or check your email, then get right back to another 15 to 45 minute interval of focused work. Setting a timer can help with this in the beginning.
Give these tips a try and experience for yourself how much more you can get done when you increase your mental focus at work.
Find Out What You Need to Focus On
Before you can focus on a task at work or in your personal life, you have to know what you should be focusing on. After all, working hard on something that doesn’t give you the results you want or need, isn’t very helpful. The key is to make smart decisions, prioritize, and have a good idea of what you need to focus on today.
Start with The Big Picture
Before you can start to focus, you need to have a good grasp of the big pictures. Without this all-important first step, it’s too easy to fall into a trap of doing busywork or continuing to do the same tasks each day without seeing the results you want to get.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this in your own life. You go through the motions because that’s how you’ve always done it. It’s easier to stick to your habits than it is to sit down and figure out what the big picture is. It doesn’t matter if this is for a work project, or a personal goal. Start by deciding exactly what it is you want to accomplish. What’s your why?
Make A Plan and Come Up With A Strategy
Once you have that big picture or big goal in mind, it’s time to make a plan for getting from where you are now to where you want to be. In your personal life, that might mean figuring out how you can go from living in an apartment to owning your own home. At work, it could mean going from the position you have now to getting that management promotion or seeing a larger project through from start to finish.
Hopefully, it also means perhaps owning your own business one day.
It may be helpful to map it out on a piece of paper or with your favorite mind mapping software. Seeing all the pieces in one place and how they interconnect can be very helpful in the next step.
Turn That Plan into Action Items
Last but not least it’s time to turn that strategy into action items. These are simple tasks you can get done one at a time. For example: with home ownership, this may mean paying off your credit cards, saving for a down payment, and all the little things you can do to come up with that extra money (like cooking at home more, or canceling your cable). For work- and business-related projects, this means breaking it down into small projects, tasks, or daily to-do lists you can work from.
Once you have those individual steps it will become much easier to focus on them one at a time and get stuff done.
Don’t try to do everything all at once. Creating a big plan without breaking it into smaller, actionable steps will leave you overwhelmed and less focused than ever.
Tools to Keep You Focused Throughout The Day
Staying focused throughout the day can be hard. There are some things you can do and some tools you can utilize that will make it easier to concentrate and get things done. Here are five tools that will keep your mental focus throughout your busy day.
Plans, Lists, And Outlines
One of the best tools to help you stay focused is a piece of paper and a pen. Use this to make sure you stay on track and always know what you should be working on. Make plans, draw up outlines and work with lists. A Daily to-do list or a checklist for a particular project can be a great tool to help you stay productive and focused throughout the day.
I try to create my to-do list as the last thing I do at the end of the work day. That allows me to start the next work day focused with an understanding of what exactly needs to be done.
Timers and Deadlines
Work will expand to fill the time you allot it. Because of that it’s important to set deadlines. Figure out how long it should take you to do a particular task, or even an entire project and come up with some deadlines for yourself.
A kitchen timer, or a countdown timer on your phone can also be very helpful. Set it for 30 to 45 minutes and get to work. When the timer goes off, get up, move around, give yourself a short little break and then sit down for another focused session of timed work.
It may be weird at first glance to think of exercise as a tool to help you focus, but it can make a big difference. Not only does it give you a bit of a mental break and is just overall healthy and good for you, a little bit of exercising throughout your workday also gets the blood flowing, makes you breath harder, and as a result, gets more oxygen into your system.
The next time you feel stuck, or unproductive, get up and move around. Do a few sit-ups or take a quick walk on your lunch break. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much of a difference it can make.
Clean Food and Plenty Of Water
What you eat is just as important. Eat a healthy diet and fuel your body with good, clean food. Don’t overdo it at lunch. You don’t want your body to be so busy digesting that big plate of pasta that you feel like you need an afternoon nap. Eat a healthy breakfast, keep it light at lunch time, and then enjoy your dinner.
Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration can cause headaches and keep you unfocused for hours on end.
Rest and Sleep
Last but not least, make sure you get plenty of sleep and enough rest and relaxation. You can’t stay 100% focused all the time. Give your brain a rest, do something relaxing you enjoy doing and of course get a good 8 hours of sleep at night. This will help you stay focused when it’s time to buckle down and get work done in a sustainable way.
Tight Deadlines Can Help You Focus and Boost Your Productivity
Deadlines are amazing. They are the single best thing for boosting productivity. I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself. When you have a project that you know needs to be finished by 3pm in the afternoon, your mental focus increases, your concentration skyrockets, and you get as much work done that day, as you do all week when you’re not under a deadline.
This is so common in fact, that there’s a natural law written about it. It’s called Parkinson’s Law and it states that – and I’m paraphrasing here – that work expands to fill the time allotted. If you have 2 hours to get a blog post written, it will take you 2 hours. If you only have 25 minutes because you want to head out to meet a friend for coffee, you get it done in 25 minutes.
The next question, of course, if tight deadlines cause reduced quality in work. They usually don’t, unless the deadline is so tight that you have to cut corners right and left to meet it. The majority of the time though, if the deadline is somewhat reasonable, it will help you increase your focus and concentration. That not only allows you to work faster and get things done more quickly, it also helps you produce better work.
There are a couple of reasons why deadlines help you to do better work. The first and obvious one is of course that when you concentrate on getting things done, you’re more focused. You work harder and the end result is better quality in a shorter amount of time.
Deadlines force you to cut out any and all distractions as much as possible. That means you’re interrupted less often and can keep a train of thought. Even more than that. Being focused helps you get into the “flow” where you’re totally immersed in a project and the work seems to almost do itself. You’re able to concentrate completely on the task at hand and do the best possible job.
Think about how you can build deadlines into your work flow. These can be self-imposed ones where you give yourself a set amount of time for each task on your to-do list, or you can ask your boss, client, or project manager to set deadlines for you and hold you to them.
I’ve started working with accountability partners who help me to get my rear in gear. It has done wonders for my productivity.
No matter how you do it, I encourage you to experiment with deadlines, so you can see for yourself how much they can help you focus, concentrate, and do your best work in the shortest amount of time.
Using the Pomodoro Technique To Keep Your Focus
Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? It is a time-management technique that helps you improve mental focus and concentration. It allows you to get more done in less time and work very efficiently.
I have used this for a while now and it’s amazing how well it works. I’ve gotten more work done by including the scheduled breaks than by working straight through.
The technique was first developed in the 80’s and is named Pomodoro (tomato in Italian) because of the cute tomato shaped kitchen timers that were all the rage for a while. The idea is to utilize a timer to force yourself to focus and concentrate in short bursts. It’s a practice well worth trying for yourself. Here are the basics for getting stared.
To give this a try, you need two things. You need to know what you should be working on. A bit of planning and a written-out to-do list will come in very handy. Then you need some sort of countdown timer. You a can use a kitchen timer, your watch, the count-down timer on your stove if you’re working at home, or an app on your phone. What you use doesn’t matter as long as you have access to a timer that you can set in 25-minute intervals.
Get comfortable at your desk, make sure you have everything you need, and then set a timer for 25 minutes. Work completely focused on the task at hand for those 25 minutes. Don’t get up to go to the bathroom, don’t check email, and don’t let anything distract you from what you’re working on. Just buckle down and focus for those 25 minutes.
When the timer goes off, wrap up your thought and then get up and take a short break. Walk away from what you’re doing. It’s helpful to actually get up and get some blood in your legs. Go get a glass of water, fix a cup of coffee, and if you have to check on those pesky emails. Try not to spend more than 5 minutes on your “break”. Then set a timer and work completely focused for another 25 minutes.
Rinse and repeat until you’ve gotten through three to four sets of 25 minutes of working and 5-minute breaks. At this point it’s a good idea to take a longer break and get away from work for a bit. Take 30 minutes to go grab lunch, take a short walk, or take care of a load of laundry if you’re working from home. This break will give your brain a rest and gets you ready for the next session of three to four sets of “pomodori”.
Encouraging Mental Focus in Others
As your learning more about mental focus and are working on your own mental capabilities to concentrate harder for longer periods of time, you may be wondering if you can get everyone else on your team to do the same. While you can’t force anyone to give mental focus exercises a try, you can certainly encourage them to do so.
Start with a little education. Share what you have been doing and why things like using a timer, a to-do list, and being careful about planning and prioritizing has helped you get more accomplished in a shorter amount of time. You can even go so far as gifting your employees and colleagues’ books on the topic you’ve found helpful or buy a kitchen timer for everyone on the team.
Next, it may be a good idea to offer an incentive to work harder and get more done. This could be in the form of a bonus if a project gets completed ahead of schedule, or you can let everyone out early on Friday if the work is done. Think about what motivates the people around you and what you are able to do for them.
Listen to your team and those working with you. You’ll learn a lot about what motivates them and what you can do to help them increase their focus. Don’t assume that what’s working for you will work for them. Suggest alternative methods for increasing focus and help them find their personal motivation.
Above all don’t try to force it. Keep it fun, and maybe even try making a little competition out of it. If you’re using the Pomodoro technique for example, keep a board in your workplace where people can jot down how many “pomodori” they’ve done today. Or keep track of where you’re at with a project along with the upcoming deadlines. That alone will start to motivate your team to work harder and get more done in less time. As one or two people around, you start to adapt the mental focus techniques you share with them and they start to see results, others will be more likely to jump on board.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to lead by example. Make sure they see you use that kitchen timer yourself, and get things done in a very timely manner. Show them how much extra free time you have to take a long lunch or take off early on Friday as you’re putting in the effort to improve your mental focus.