Six Ways to Deepen Your Focus
We’ve all been there. We finally sit down to get some work done, then it happens… The mind goes blank, interruptions abound, our attention shifts to that crack in the wall you never noticed before. Distractions invade our brains. You want to get that lesson plan written or that activity created, but how? Check out these six tips for deepening your focus and allowing those creative juices to flow.
1. Play music designed to support the brain in focusing
If you have never used music to deepen your focus, try experimenting with different types of music. These can be nature sounds, classical, white noise, soundtracks from movies, or even video game tracks.
Try to stick to tunes with no lyrics for your background music or search for alpha waves music on YouTube or Spotify.
Ultimately, choose what works for you. Whatever that is, use focusing music to block out distractions so you can be more productive.
2. Take regular breaks to stretch
I have been inspired by Rachel Hollis who touts the idea that “When you move your body, you change your mind.”
Another mentor (although we haven’t actually met) is Brendon Burchard, who suggests setting a timer to go off every 52 minutes or so as a reminder to stop whatever you’re doing and get moving. It can be a stretch break or a quick 5-minute walk. While it might sound counterintuitive, that mental break is a necessity to maintain focus.
3. Turn off distractions like your phone ringer and notifications
Computers and phones have settings available where you can turn off the notifications. I advise this on your phone for sure.
Don’t simply turn off the ringer – those pesky alerts can be distracting and will break your “OODA-loop” (observe-orient-decide-act). Every time you are distracted, you have to start the cycle over. While there are times when pattern interrupts can be of use, they are a detriment when you are trying to focus on a task.
Also, be mindful of distractions while you’re eating. Focus, rather, on the smell of the food. Slow down and notice the texture. Savor the taste. Not only will you enjoy this more mindful experience, but also your digestion will thank you.
4. Set a timer and commit to focusing on a particular task during that time
If this is new to you, start small (like 10-15 minutes) and work your way up to longer periods of time. I like to break my day up into one-hour chunks. Block out distractions like notifications on your phone or computer. Play music (without words) to help you concentrate. The Calm app has some great “focus music”.
When the timer goes off, take a minute to stretch or to take 5 slow mindful deep breaths. Then set an intention for the next task. These last two things have become a part of my routine, and they’ve increased my productivity immensely.
Another alternative would be to try the “Pomodoro” single, recently added to the Balance: Sleep & Meditation app. Users can choose to run the single for 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 2 hours, with each time option providing focus for 25 minutes followed by 5 minutes of a short meditation and stretch break. Once a time is selected, you have the option of various background sounds (such as rain or singing bowls) or silence. This technique of working intensely followed by a short break is referred to in the app as “spotlighting” and promotes focus on one thing while letting everything else fade into the background. I used the Pomodoro single in the app several times this week and noticed better control at keeping my attention focused as well as being more mindful and intentional with the task at hand. What’s even better is that the Balance: Sleep & Meditation app offers a full year of premium access to new subscribers. Why not give it a try?
5. Do one thing at a time
Multitasking is a huge nemesis for me! After listening to such influencers as Ed Mylett and Tom Bilyeu, it’s finally sinking in how much mental energy is wasted switching between tasks.
We see it every day. Watching tv while we eat or swiping back and forth between computer screens to work on multiple projects.
Your brain is less effective jumping around so much. It constantly has to re-orient to the new task, and your focus starts over. Minimize distractions as much as possible.
Try and focus on one thing at a time. Choose one task and complete it before moving on to the next.
One of my yoga mentors taught me the Sanskrit mantra “Pade Pade” which means “step by step”. I use that idea in a variety of projects.
6. Before beginning a new task, rest the brain with a short meditation
Meditation does wonders in so many areas. For this particular tip, think of using a short meditation to clear your mind so you can focus more easily on an upcoming task. It can be as short as one minute of closing your eyes and repeating a phrase like “let it go” to yourself. Maybe you take 5 or 10 deep breaths, concentrating on something positive on your inhales and getting rid of something negative on your exhales.
If you’re new to meditation or not sure where to start, I highly recommend the Balance app (new users get an entire year of premium access for free). Over time, the meditations adapt to you based on your feedback for a more personalized experience.
Experiment and find something that works for you. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, fancy, or involved – just be sure to take a moment of quiet and focus on your breath and positive thoughts.
You don’t have to do these all at once. Start small. Choose one tactic and see how it goes. If it works for you, then great! Keep doing that. If it doesn’t, pick something else on the list. And remember, your ability to focus will change throughout the year. Just because one of the suggestions above doesn’t click right away, be open to revisiting it at a later date. You may be surprised how your mood and your ability to focus shift with the seasons. Pade pade!