A few months ago my father and I were sitting outside of a nice cafe under the shade having some coffee when he told me this analogy in regards to mental focus. I’ll try to convey the initial story and then build up on it.
Think about the power of sunlight.
When you put your hand under the sun, it feels nice and warm but nothing really happens. However, if you use a little magnifying glass and focus the light, it gets concentrated and now that same sunlight can burn your hand almost instantly. The concentration is so powerful it could even start a fire!
The same goes for your mental focus and concentration. Your attention span is precious and distractions are everywhere that keep your focus diffused and weak. You really need to hone in on what it is you’re doing to be effective. Focus is what’s necessary to make full use of your power.
Set a count-down timer for an hour and focus intently.
An easy way to increase your productivity is to work in sprints. Don’t try to run a marathon all day as that’s not very realistic, or healthy in this case.
Instead, take the role of the sprinter and charge through your work with great intensity one hour at a time without any distractions. You’ll be able to get incredible amounts of work done and your productivity will skyrocket the same way a magnifying glass amplifies sunlight.
If you check your favorite websites sporadically in between your work, your focus will constantly be diffused and it will take you (infinitely) longer to finish your work.
Use this fantastic website to use as your one hour timer: www.magicworkcycle.com
Remove the distractions; Practice “information fasting.”
Other than striving for super-productivity one hour at a time, setup an environment that fosters your attention:
Keep your desk clean and clutter free. Your brain is constantly processing information through its senses and determining what is important and what is not. If your desk is visually distracting, that external chaos will hinder your ability to focus.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is a very useful phrase to remember. When you need to focus on your work, put your phone on silent and throw it in a drawer or somewhere out of sight. If e-mail gets pushed to your phone, set it up so that you have to manually retrieve it instead of it constantly notifying you of useless things. If other unnecessary notifications are constantly forwarded to your phone, maybe it’s time to adjust those settings.
If you need to research on the Internet, use the technology more intentionally and with unwavering purpose. If you don’t need the Internet, physically disconnect the Ethernet cable or temporarily disable your wireless connection. When you unconsciously go to your favorite website and see the “Server Not Found” message you will be pretty shocked and will be forced to go right back to your work.
Subconscious-sabotage is real.
You know when you have a big test to study for but you’re procrastinating endlessly? Isn’t it interesting how you’ll magically become very creative at finding anything and everything to do that doesn’t involve studying for that test?
What about when you’re in the middle of something important and you impulsively open a new tab and load Facebook as if you were on auto pilot? Or maybe you decide to randomly get up and check if there’s anything new in the fridge for the fifth time?
These are all examples of things that purposely create delay in your work. They tend to happen automatically (and seamlessly) when you get to the “hard part” of your task. This is what’s known as subconscious-self-sabotage.
Your subconscious is often driven out of fear and wants you to stay in its comfort zone where everything feels safe and easy. Sometimes you may be so good at sabotaging yourself that you may completely abandon entire projects without realizing after weeks have gone by!
Please be aware of these habits because they are very subtle and easy to give into. Subconscious self sabotage is as real as the food you will eat in your next meal. Once you become self-aware of your habits you can gain control and grow faster than ever.
I hope this info helps some of you out there. It’s very important that we cultivate our willpower one solid-hour at a time and remove the distractions that fracture our attention. Smartphones, social media networks, and the Internet are only going to be more integrated within our lives so it’s probably best that we get a grip on these things before they cause us to waste too much time. I give a special thanks to my father for providing the analogy of the magnifying glass and jump-starting (or should I say, fire-starting) the subsequent ideas in my head.
What are some things you do to deal with distractions? What are some things you do to increase your focus?