I have this strange relationship with focus. There are times when I’m hyper focused and can be so absorbed for hours that I forget to eat. Then there are other times I can barely sit still for 5 minutes without my brain spinning off into various tasks.
At one moment I’m sorting through laundry, five minutes later I want to hear a song and I’m surfing through Spotify to locate it. As I’m singing along, a grand idea for a class I want to teach pops in my mind so I hop into Evernote to capture my thoughts.
An hour goes by and I wake from my flurry of inspiration, realizing my laundry is still unsorted.
Since my college years, I’ve been my own test subject trying to demystify what it takes for me to stay focused. I’ve tried it all.
The reality is that there is no one size fits all focus wands.
Everyone has a unique way of creating. Our body and brain chemistry affects our focus as well as our emotional well-being.
Through my trials and tribulations, I’ll share with you my arsenal of focusing tools.
1. Know your personal body rhythm. For one month, track your energy levels. Look for when you have the most energy, when you don’t, and when you begin to trail off during the day or spike back up. Also during those times, track what you’re doing as well as any emotional states you’re experiencing throughout the day.
Morning time is when I have the most energy. I like to tackle work that requires the most focus for me at this time. Early afternoon is when I taper off and then I’ll get a surge of energy mid-afternoon into the evening.
There are also times when I’m hyper energized late at night and I’ll work on creative projects during those hours too. There’s something mysterious painting or writing at 1am.
I also have noticed that when I’m experiencing emotionally challenging times, my focus is way off. So I tend to give myself a little more room if possible and rather than filling my plate up with more to do, space is necessary for me.
2. Know how the ego works. The ego likes to distract you from doing what needs to get done. It will search for instant happiness and whisper sweet nothings into your ear about how it’s no big deal to get back to your project tomorrow. Be hyper aware of how your ego tricks you with it’s treats.
3. Eat for the brain. Over the years my body has been really hyper sensitive to food. And when I’m eating super healthy with tons of greens, my focus and energy levels are fantastic. Especially when I’m juicing regularly.
A neurology study in 2006 showed that people who ate two or more servings of veggies daily, especially leafy greens, had the same mental focus of people five years younger.
Feed your brain and body with veggie love.
4. Make a daily list of what needs to get done. Either the night before or in the morning, make your to do list. Think about what are your necessary priorities for the day including the ones that will move you towards you bigger goals. I aim for 3 – 6 to do’s a day depending on whatever else is on my schedule.
5. Say FOCUS out loud. When I’m in the middle of something and my brain starts to wander off and I trail into a new task. When I catch myself I say FOCUS CHRISSY out loud. And remind myself out loud what I’m doing. Yes, basically I talk to myself.
6. Anoint yourself with essential oils. Peppermint and rosemary oils have been shown to improve focus and mental concentration. I like using peppermint and the Focusing blend from Rocky Mountain Oils.
Just add a drop or two into your hand and take three deep breaths while saying the affirmation “I am focused and free.”
You can also massage a tiny amount onto the back of your neck. Be careful though, if you have sensitive skin it would be good to dilute the oil with coconut or olive oil so it doesn’t burn you.
7. Crank up the tunes. In this excerpt from New York Times article “The Power of Music, Tapped in a Cubicle” shows the positive effects of music on productivity and focus.
“Dr. Lesiuk’s research focuses on how music affects workplace performance. In one study involving information technology specialists, she found that those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn’t, because the music improved their mood.”
I’ve been hooked on listening to music from the website Focus@Will. They provide a variety of music specifically created to enhance your brain’s limbic system to create more attention and focus. I love listening to it when I’m working and I have definitely noticed a greater amount of focus during the times I do.
8. Lock yourself out of the internet. I love using the Self Control App. It completely shuts you out from any website you manually list on the application for a certain amount of time that you choose.
Even if you shut down your computer or try to uninstall the app, it still won’t let you back in until the time runs out. I use it everyday to minimize my monkey mind from surfing the web when I’m trying to get things done.
9. Use a timer. Set a kitchen timer to 25 minutes or whatever time you feel you want to get a specific task done and go. Focus on thing only at that time. I’m amazed at how this simple gadget has changed my life.
10. Eliminate distractions. I’ve turned off all notifications on my cell except for text messages. I also don’t have my chat on unless I need to chat with someone specifically.
And in serious times of focus, I turn my cell phone off or keep it far away from me in another room to avoid any temptations to use it to watch YouTube videos after I’ve locked myself out using the Self Control App above.
11. Meditate. I know, I’m going there again. But meditation has so many benefits including improving your focus.
In this article on “Your Brain on Meditation” reveals a study using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine to show the physical changes of the brain from meditation.
“In a study published in the journal NeuroImage in 2009, Luders and her colleagues compared the brains of 22 meditators and 22 age-matched nonmeditators and found that the meditators (who practiced a wide range of traditions and had between five and 46 years of meditation experience) had more gray matter in re-gions of the brain that are important for attention, emotion regulation, and mental flexibility. Increased gray matter typically makes an area of the brain more efficient or powerful at processing information. Luders believes that the increased gray matter in the meditators’ brains should make them better at controlling their attention, managing their emotions, and making mindful choices.”
A simple way to add meditation into your day is to spend ten minutes focusing on your breath, breathing in light, and breathing out all thoughts and lower level energies.
It takes commitment to build your daily practice but if you stick with it you’ll definitely see a positive change not only in your focus but in all areas of your life.
12. Use visuals. Having visual reminders of your goals or intentions and how you want to feel is a powerful tool to stay focused on your vision. You can go as elaborate as creating a vision board or simply having a list of what those are hanging on your wall by your desk.
I like to create wallpapers for my desktops, and hang things on my walls to visually remind me of what I’m creating, my purpose, and the feelings I want to embody in my life. Review your visuals daily, spending a few moments to revel in your visions and feel the excitement of that in your body.
Now for you, how do you stay focused? Are there any tips and techniques you’d like to share? Tweet me your insights. I’d love to hear from you.