I love family dinners. I enjoy the time we spend together, the noise, the many conversations that happen at once, the laughter, and the spontaneous dancing. My children and I are very energetic and loud. It’s how we’ve always been. That’s how we operate. I know our attention span is short and our energy high, and honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As much as I love being all over the place, having so many thoughts race through my mind all at once and getting the most random ideas at the least expected moments, one thing I really struggle with is when all that is happening in my mind affects my productivity. Getting things done makes me happy, putting that check mark in my “To Do” list and going on to the next item is pure joy to me. So finding that balance between embracing who I am and the fact that there’s a lot going on in my mind and wanting to get things done is a daily struggle, but as in any battle, knowing your enemy, being prepared and having strategies goes a long way.
There are a lot of studies that prove that our attention spans are decreasing, that’s nothing new. But just because something is happening doesn’t mean we need to go along with it. To improve our focus starts with a decision, for some of us it may be tougher than for others, but still there is a lot we can do.
Let’s get some ideas flowing:
Of course, first in my list… a “To Do” list: Lists are wonderful helpers for people who have a lot going on, people who think of things as they are doing other things and people who want to feel a sense of accomplishment as they complete a task.
Avoid dread: There’s this dangerous thing called “dread”. It’s that awful feeling that you get when you have to do something you really don’t want to do, so instead of doing it, you put it off and keep feeling terrible. The longer we wait to do the things we don’t want to, the harder it’s going to be to have the right attitude to actually get it done. Attitude is the first step for success.
Break big projects into smaller more manageable tasks: (and reward yourself): We have all heard this before, because it works. Many times we lose the little focus we have just thinking about the complexity of a job, but when you divide a “painful” project into “doable” tasks it all changes. It gets even better when you add “rewards” which in my case means I get to organize a shelf at our school’s supply closet after I finish a challenging assignment. Organizing makes me happy.
Walk, drive, or simply move: Sometimes the answer comes when you least expect it, and focus happens without even trying. I focus when I walk and when I drive. I have found that while walking or driving I can choose whether I let my mind wander or if I want to only focus on a specific issue that I need to solve.
Work beside someone: Some people find that it helps them when they have a working buddy.
Talk out loud: I feel bad if people have to work in my office, because I talk to myself all day. It is exhausting, but it works for me and I never have a boring moment.
Make time to focus on your passions too: Separate time to focus and dig deeper into things you love, things you are passionate about and things that make you happy.
Learning to focus is in part a decision, putting away distractions that can be controlled is something we can do right now and will definitely improve our attention span. The key is to know yourself. Some people can work with noise, music, distractions, and others prefer a quiet space. Some people like to sit on the floor, others at couches or at coffee shops. Know how you focus better, know what works for you. Be a “you” expert and see the difference. Elie Venezky, author of Hack Your Brain says that “focus is a muscle, and you can build it”. We are not victims of our genes or our surroundings. We can do more than what we are probably doing right now to strengthen our ability to focus and get things done and actually enjoy the process.