Attention span of a fly? This list will help you get in the zone.

Music versus photography

Are you considering taking a sick day so that you can get some work done?

Do you find your mind wandering as you scan through a spreadsheet or write a post for your blog?

You’re not alone.

Knowing how to prevent interruptions and avoid distractions is important, but those considerations become secondary if you’ve mastered the art of staying in focus. Here’s how to do just that.

14 tips to focus on

These tips worked for me and I hope that they will help you too.

1) Read the Little book of Flow.

2) Use software that emphasizes your work window and pushes everything else to the background like Jedi Concentrate on Windows (Vista/XP) or Expos? on OS X.

3) Schedule your time in small chunks. Each one should have a clear, verifiable, realistic objective of what to accomplish like ‘send CV to Google’ or ‘interview David Beckham’ and not ‘get work done’ or ‘continue to-do list’. It’s easier to progress on tasks when the end is in sight.

4) Take advantage of the short breaks between events in your schedule to do things that might otherwise become necessary later when you’re busy and ensconced, such as going to the bathroom or checking on your kids.

5) Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day to keep your body oxygenated and alert.

6) Delegate or trade tasks with those who will appreciate them more. A bored mind wants to be diverted.

7) Watch yourself (with both eyes :) ) and discover what conditions are required for you to get into your most productive state. Are you better in the morning or in the afternoon? Do your thought-intensive activities when your mind is most ready.

8) Exercise your mind as often as you can.

9) Try to enjoy what you do. Nobody’s mind wanders when they’re playing a fun game or enjoying a movie. Granted, most work isn’t fun as presented – be creative! As a Bar Mitzvah gift, I remember receiving a trash can basketball kit like the Nerfoop. Man, with that thing you never have enough garbage to throw out. I suggest you take off the net first because it will get really dirty otherwise.

10) Get a good night’s sleep and take short powernaps when tired during the day. A rested mind can focus more easily.

11) Improve your breathing. This also has the side of effect of increasing your intelligence. Amazing!

12) Exercise your body. Doing so will increase your lung capacity (see above), enhance your sleep patterns (see above) and make you feel better about yourself. An appropriate exercise regimen could involve the need to…

13) Learn Tai Chi or another martial art with a high level of meditative activity that will in turn strengthen your powers of concentration. My final semester at McGill University was the toughest since I was impatient to graduate and move to Israel. When I finally arrived in Jerusalem, I continued having problems focusing since my work habits had changed for the worse over the course of that semester. 6 months of Tai Chi later and I can now work with music blaring and babies screaming in the same room, or perhaps while sitting beneath a spaghetti intersection.

14) Finally – age yourself, or grow up! According to Wikipedia, the average attention span of a person is 3-5 minutes times their age, in other words, the older you are the easier it should be to stay focused. So forget your attention troubles for now and try again in a few years.

I tried to order the tips by increasing difficulty. Start at the top, see how far you can go down the list and then come back to tell us about your progress in the comments below. If you’ve tried all these tips in a serious effort without any recognizable improvement, you may have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Diagnose yourself and then see your doctor for advice.

Conclusion

Interruptions and distractions come in waves and if you’re not careful, they can knock you over and carry you away from where you began. With a little bit of effort and practice, you can become an expert at staying in focus while letting those waves pass you by.

Did you miss any other parts of this series?

  1. Prevent Interruptions,
  2. Avoid Distractions and
  3. Stay in Focus

Back in focus? Subscribe to JobMob via RSS or email and follow me on Twitter for more tips on supercharging yourself.


--Jacob Share