Do you often find yourself scrolling mindlessly through the same five apps on a continuous loop instead of focusing on what’s in front of you? Like many, you probably wish you could concentrate better and be more engaged in the present, but how do you retrain your brain to focus in a world of distractions? The key is hyperfocus, your brain’s most productive mode and a phenomenon that occurs when a single task consumes your full attention. You’ve likely experienced it before — just think back to your last extremely productive work day where chances are, a number of things were true:
- You were likely focused on one task, maybe driven by a deadline.
- You were likely able to dodge distractions and quickly return your focus to the task at hand when your mind wandered.
- Your work was at a comfortable level of difficulty. Not so tough as to be intimidating, but not so easy as to be done out of habit.
- Once you overcame the hurdle of getting started, you experienced little resistance in continuing. The work was energizing and your motivation remained strong throughout the day.
It may seem like a happy accident that all these ideal conditions aligned, but you can enter hyperfocus mode any time you want. Focusing on one task at a time isn’t indulgent or impossible; in fact, it makes you more productive. Simply start by selecting a meaningful task, eliminate as many external and internal distractions as possible, and continually draw your focus back whenever your mind wanders. You’ll notice a common obstacle to entering and maintaining hyperfocus, though: distractions. So what are some ways to eliminate the ones you can control, and minimize those you can’t?
1. Employ the Rule of Three to set daily intentions
Each day, choose the three things you want to have accomplished by day’s end. There isn’t time for the minutiae of your to-do list — these slots should be reserved for your most critical tasks. This concept allows you to choose not only what is essential, but also what isn’t. As a result, you’ll be less likely to be distracted by worry or guilt knowing you’ve already prioritized your day.
2. Learn to fight “initial resistance”
Because we feel the most resistance at the start of something, it’s important that we remain focused with purposeful attention for at least one minute. Shrink your desired hyperfocus period until you no longer feel resistance to a task; even five minutes can be enough to get you started. Also, practice makes perfect. Incorporate at least one hyperfocus interval each day, and you’ll not only become accustomed to working with fewer distractions, but you’ll be motivated to continue when you see how productive you’ve become.
3. Use a distraction-blocking app
These ingenious apps prevent you from accessing a personally-curated list of websites that routinely derail your productivity. A timer, set for your desired length of hyperfocus, prevents you from accessing these sites and apps during that time. To access anything on your block list, you’ll need to physically restart your computer.
4. Disable notifications
On all of your devices, disable alerts for all the interruptions you can safely live without (and let’s be real — it’s most of them). When it comes to email, you can even reduce interruptions by turning on notifications for just one sender if you’re waiting for an important message or set it up to only receive notifications for a group of “VIP” senders. Only allowing for important notifications means you’ll both derail yourself less checking an app every two minutes, and worry less about missing something important.
5. Switch on “airplane mode”
Use of this function here on the ground can be a lot more effective than simply stuffing your phone in your pocket or moving it across the room. Try using it when having a conversation with someone or during a period of hyperfocus. It eliminates interruptions and lowers temptation to scroll through it mindlessly. When you switch out of airplane mode, you can deal with alerts on your own terms. Try turning it on every day from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., giving yourself extra distraction-free time at home.
6. Disconnect for a full 24 hours
This Sunday, take a 24-hour break from the internet and encourage your family to do the same. Reflect on your offline time afterward. Do you feel refreshed and recharged? Were you more focused and productive? How much were you able to accomplish?
7. Mind the gaps
That is, break the automatic impulse to scroll through your device during moments of boredom. Resist the urge to tap around on your phone while waiting in line or while in the bathroom. Instead, use these small breaks to recharge.
8. Make “distractions” and “to-do” lists
Start your day by making a to-do list, and keep a running distractions list for every thought, idea, or worry that threatens to derail you. These lists free up attentional space, allowing you to better focus on your chosen task, which gives you the control to deal with small tasks or distractions during a scheduled period. They also eliminate the guilt and worry over what you’re not doing, what you might forget to do, and whatever situation or scenario that’s weighing you down.
9. Start meditating
Nothing improves focus and mental clarity like a regular meditation practice. By practicing breathing meditation, where you return your focus to the breath each time your mind wanders, you increase your ability to control your attention. Over time, you’ll be able to focus for longer, your mind will wander less, and you can work with greater intention. Even just five minutes a day can make a difference in your ability to concentrate.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock