Do you ever find yourself sitting down to work on a project for your job, study for an important test, or even just get a simple chore done, but find yourself almost immediately scrolling through social media for hours at a time?
While plenty of fun, social media can, unfortunately, keep us from being our most productive selves. Social apps are designed to keep users on them for as long as possible. There’s always a new, funny, or interesting thing to look at. We’re always getting new likes, comments, and notifications demanding our attention. Social media gives us a quick hit of dopamine every time we use it, which is why we keep coming back, and why it’s easy to quit working on a difficult task that may be causing us anxiety, and instead return to social media, which helps us not think about our responsibilities.
Losing focus can be a result of a distracting environment, not preparing yourself mentally for your work session, or not having the right systems in place to make sure you stay on task.
Luckily, focusing is something we can learn and practice. It may take time to build up your focusing capacity but through repeating focusing techniques, you can take back control of your own mind and become more productive. In fact, there are many simple things you can implement right away to start seeing results.
First, prepare yourself and your environment *before* you begin.
Before sitting down, opening up your notebooks and laptop, and busting out all your colorful highlighters — it’s important to prepare yourself and your environment for a long period of intense focus.
You can prepare by…
Writing out your to-do list the night before.
If you know you’re going to need to focus for a long period of time the next day, take a few minutes to write down a list of all the tasks that you want to accomplish. Make sure this list is as specific as possible. For example, instead of simply writing down “study Spanish,” write down something like “memorize 20 Spanish words.”
This way, when it comes time to actually focus, you won’t need to spend any time wondering what you need to do. You’ll know the specific task you need to accomplish, and you’ll be able to get straight to work.
Writing down your tasks the night before helps you prepare mentally because your brain will think about your to-do list as it sleeps and you’ll be ready to tackle your tasks when it comes time to start.
Next, make sure you get enough sleep.
Poor sleep can make it incredibly difficult to accomplish anything. Your mind doesn’t have the energy it needs for intense periods of focus. If you really have to focus on a project even though you’re running on low sleep, try taking 10-minute naps in-between tasks so you can start to regain some of your energy.
Then, choose a time of day to work when you know you’ll be at your most energized.
Some people feel super refreshed and energized early in the morning, others feel extra-focused in the evening. Pick the time of day to work when you are at your most productive, then schedule your day around that. This way, you’ll make sure you’re optimizing your focusing abilities.
Your environment is also incredibly important when it comes to maximizing your focus. To make sure your environment is optimized for productivity, you can…
Find the right place to work.
More extroverted people may focus well in a coffee shop with other people around. More introverted people may prefer the quiet of their home office. Find a place that works best for you.
It can also be helpful to change your workspace in order to stimulate your brain. If you always work in your bedroom, moving into the living room might help change things up and make you more likely to focus!
Have a clean workspace.
Remove any projects or items that don’t have to do with what you’re immediately working on. This way, you won’t be tempted to switch tasks midway.
Perhaps most importantly: turn off your phone or other distracting electronics and place them in another room.
The lure of notifications popping up on our phones can be a huge distraction. The absolute best way to stop feeling tempted to scroll through social media is to remove the distraction entirely. Turn your phone off and put it in another room or in a drawer somewhere you can’t see it. Removing it from your space will help tremendously when it comes to focusing on the task at hand. Like they always say: ‘out of sight, out of mind.’
If you’re working on your computer, you can also limit distractions by turning off notifications from other apps, putting your browser in full-screen mode, and hiding your bookmarks bar. This way, you only have the work in front of you to think about.
Right before getting to work, take a few minutes to do some breathing exercises, and look over your to-do list.
Prepare yourself mentally right before you start working. Thinking over all your tasks and imagining completing each one can make getting started much easier. It’s also very difficult to go from a scattered brain to a focused brain in a matter of seconds, so make sure you take the time to calm your mind before diving in.
While working, have a healthy snack and drink nearby.
When we’re feeling unfocused, we can be tempted to try quick fixes like caffeine or sugary foods. But becoming dependent on them to focus can have long-term harmful effects. Instead, try to nourish yourself with a healthy diet so your body has all the nutrients it needs to operate at its best.
Turn on classical music, nature sounds, or other calming sounds in the background.
Putting on some relaxing music is great for putting you in a focusing mood. Not only does it calm the mind, but it also improves memory and performance!
Finally, remember that hours and hours of focused work is an unrealistic goal.
A few weeks ago, I decided to try clocking all my hours while working from home. I was working a lot at the time and expected that I was probably working more than the typical 8-hour day. When I clocked my hours, I made sure not to include any breaks I took, and only put myself on the clock when I was really focused and productive.
After a few weeks of clocking my hours, I discovered that the actual time I spent being productive was typically between three and four hours a day. In fact, it was a miracle if I got five hours!
At first, I was appalled and frustrated. I thought I had been working so hard this whole time, just to find out I wasn’t even making the “normal” 8-hour work-day minimum?
Turns out, focusing intensely on work, especially creative work or anything that involves a lot of brainpower, is exhausting. During the day, I would take multiple breaks to keep myself feeling fresh. I would workout, have an hour-long lunch break, and sometimes I would just scroll on my phone. And it turns out, that’s totally normal and healthy.
Which is why it’s important to make sure you set realistic expectations for yourself for how long you can focus on any given task. You wouldn’t expect yourself to work out for 8 hours straight with no rest, so why is studying or doing mental work any different? They both actually burn a lot of calories!
So while social media and other distractions are a danger to your ability to focus, focusing for too long is also detrimental, and you may experience burnout. Make sure to give yourself plenty of brain breaks, move around, and don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself so you can get the most out of your productivity sessions.
Keep working on focusing for extended periods of time, and you’ll eventually work your way up to be able to focus for quite a long time. Just remember that focusing for too long isn’t always the best idea. Take breaks, stay healthy, and you’ll find yourself focusing like a pro!