We’re all allotted the same number of hours in each day, yet some of us seem to get much more accomplished than others. Why is that? Some of it comes down to hard work, surely, but that’s not an entirely satisfying answer. Nor is it enough to point out that the many demands on our time are not equally distributed from person to person—that’s surely true, but even people with similar schedules and lives can see huge differences in their productivity.
One big factor in your productivity is a simple one: Focus. When your mind drifts away from the task at hand, or when distractions tempt you to leave that task entirely, you’re experiencing one of life’s endless challenges. How can you gain greater focus?
Your Lifestyle and Your Ability to Focus
If you’re having trouble concentrating and focusing on the things that matter most, the problem may have something to do with your health. In fact, it should be obvious that your health could be a factor. When we struggle to walk or start coughing, we start worrying about our muscles and our lungs—shouldn’t we do the same thing when we spot problems with how our mind is working?
It’s important to live in a healthy way that gives you every chance to focus properly. That includes eating well and exercising. Experts agree that healthy living isn’t just about staying skinny and keeping your body healthy; your mental health also depends greatly on these same factors.
Then there’s sleep, which is particularly important to your ability to focus. Experts recommend getting eight hours of sleep each night, and you can help ensure that you get that by giving yourself a dark, quiet, and comfortable sleeping space. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will help, too.
Caring for your mental health also means knowing when to take a break. Work/life balance is a crucial part of your overall mental health picture, and a failure to respect your own limits will lead to burnout—a condition with symptoms that look quite a bit like a lack of focus!
Passion and Purpose
A lack of focus can mean something other than a lousy night’s sleep or a lousy diet. There’s no denying that it’s easier to focus on things that we care about.
Sometimes, what we’d rather be doing is something distracting and frivolous. It’s important to remember, though, that video games and barrooms aren’t the only alternatives to late nights at the office. You may want to consider your long-term career plans and start looking for work that makes you care more, challenges you more, and rewards the sort of focus that you should always be bringing to your tasks. For instance, suggest pros who specialize in used cooking oil collection and recycling, you should start a business that helps the environment. Or maybe you want to pursue a political policy goal, organize a business that improves your hometown and its community, or go back to school in order to secure a more mentally challenging and higher-paying job.
Organization and Scheduling
Getting distracted is a lot easier when you don’t have your things in order. If you don’t have your next work task lined up when you finish your first one, you’re opening up an opportunity for distractions. The frantic way of working that comes with poor scheduling and time allocation is hardly the sort of thing that encourages focus.
Take the view that great focus is built, not born. Structure your workflow and schedule in a way that makes sense to you, and stick to it. You’ll find a lot of great options for calendar systems, to-do lists, and other time and task management systems online.
Focus and Attention Disorders
In many ways, the focus is something that we must cultivate and build. But we shouldn’t be too limited in our view of this, point out experts who offer counseling for kids with ADHD. There are, after all, attention disorders that make focus much more difficult to achieve and distractions all too easy to come by. ADHD is the most famous example. ADHD is complicated (and still not fully understood), but the upshot is that people with ADHD are simply not equipped to focus as effectively as those without the disorder. When they do focus, those with ADHD may “hyperfocus” on a task and drop all other responsibilities in favor of it—a dangerous thing, since the nature of ADHD makes it easy to focus on the wrong thing. If you believe that you or a loved one may have ADHD, pay a visit to a mental health professional to discuss the possibility.
Those with ADHD can still benefit (perhaps especially so) from the advice above, but it’s also important to remember that those with ADHD face challenges in focus that others may not have. It’s important to recognize the mental health aspect that could be in play so that you don’t unfairly blame yourself or others for a lack of focus.
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