Are you easily distracted at work? Or, do you get your head down and plough through that never ending to-do list?
Perhaps, like most, you may be focused on some days, while on others many things interrupt and compete for your precious time, not to mention energy.
In fact, we seem to be living in an age of distraction – from the constant ping of messages and information updates to the seemingly unavoidable emails, phone calls and meetings, there are constant demands on our attention.
Real Focus, a new book by Capstone written in association with Psychologies magazine, succinctly summarises our work lives as being an “epidemic of busyness.” It provides you with tips, quizzes, case studies and advice to help you fight against the perils of multi-tasking and the lost art of concentration.
So, what can you practically do in order to become more focused and be in control of your time?
From knowing yourself to being in the flow
It starts with self-awareness. Self-knowledge is key to getting at the heart of what makes you tick and what really matters to you. It comes down to finding meaning.
Being ‘authentic’ is the message we hear often, but some people find it easier than others “especially in a work situation where we may have cultivated a persona without even really realizing it, perhaps in order to maintain an identity that is different from home.”
The book suggests creating meaning by asking yourself four basic questions: What’s important to you? (core values); what are you good at? (strengths); what excites and inspires you? (passions); and, what do you want? (vision).
But, how do you put it into practice? How do you make the leap from knowing something in theory, to make things a reality?
You are focused when being in the flow, the book explains. “Everything just works, meaning optimum productivity.”
Being in the flow does not mean that there is no effort involved. Quite the opposite.
“The key to flow is doing something that’s just about possible for us to achieve if we really put our minds to it.”
So, it’s about challenging yourself without trying to achieve the impossible. In fact, your skills need to be “well-matched to the task.” But, you also need “clear goals” and to be able to “focus on the journey.” Equally important, is the ability to be in the moment.
Living the moment is a feeling and experience that is individual to us all. But, as a guide, Real Focus suggests watching your life as it unfolds and noticing and appreciating what is there rather than what is not:
“See, when you’re trying to complete a task but half your mind’s on that awkward conversation you’re going to have at the end of the day? That’s not ‘being present’ (and yet, we spend an alarming amount of time worrying about things exactly like this). Focusing 100 per cent on what is right there in front of you is.”
There are some activities that can boost your ability to being more present. For example, practising mindfulness.
The best-selling author of Overwhelmed Brigid Shulte, who is cited in the book, says:
“With mindfulness you realize there’s no need to rush to the next moment, it will come automatically. And, you will probably get more done by concentrating on what’s happening right now anyway.”
Having goals is, of course, a big part of achieving real focus. “Goals give us a reason for travelling in a certain direction in our lives and spur us to keep chipping away.”
Yet, Real Focus wants to explain that even goals are not that useful if you do not have systems to help you get there.
“Think of systems as the foundations of what you do – freeing up more space in your head for wonderful creativity. Systems give you the freedom to do your best work and also to not continue to make the same mistakes again and again.”
You can also think of systems as habits. And, you can create your systems. The challenge though, is to create good ones!
Author Mark Forster, also cited in the book, offers some advice: “We are never going to be really focused until we’ve sorted out the basic systems by which we run our lives. The clues to watch out for are the words “always” and “never”. Never putting our car keys in a safe place. Always being stressed. Never completing our tax returns on time. Whenever you find yourself complaining with either of these words, you can be pretty sure that you have a faulty system.”
So, it goes back to knowing yourselves so that you can create habits that work for you and make your life easier.
Real Focus is packed with the latest research, experts interviews, and bite-sized tips. Each chapter also provides some tests to help you gain a better understanding of your personal goals and challenges as well as to relate what you read to your own experience.
Ultimately, the book encourages you to spend your time consciously as opposed to just reacting to the never-ending demands of our society. Indeed, how you choose to spend your time, and your ability to focus, can mean the difference between a productive life and a stressed one.