In 2021, most people’s daily lives are so filled with to-do lists, technologies, and calendar deadlines that keeping your mind quiet and settling to a single task can be a challenge. We’re constantly stressing about what’s next, and modern corporate culture is all about packed daily schedules.
As a result, there’s one thing that’s becoming increasingly challenging to attain: a sense of focus.
What is focus?
Focus is the quality of concentrating on one action or task. It’s all about centering your attention and zoning out other thoughts, tasks, or environmental stimuli that don’t support what you’re trying to achieve at that moment.
There are two types of focus: “top-down” and “bottom-up”.
Top-down focus is the attention that’s planned and intentional, directed at a specific task or goal. If you decide to do something – i.e. turn off your VoIP cell phone service and meditate for 20 minutes – and complete that task, you’re practicing top-down focus. This is the kind of focus most people struggle with and wish they could achieve more of.
The second type, bottom-up focus, refers to involuntary, reflexive focus. It’s your brain’s knee-jerk response to stimuli, like opening your social media page every time you get a notification.
It can be internal or external. If you can understand the triggers that result in bottom-up reactions, you can learn how to improve your attention span and deal with your focusing troubles.
The five big reasons you’re having trouble focusing
I’ll do it later because my cat is cute/my pinky is sore/ the sky is on fire… Whatever the excuse, you just keep putting things off and giving yourself leeway to avoid giving tasks your all.
To deal with procrastination, you need to understand your triggers. What causes you to postpone? It may be a lack of motivation. You may want to do something else in that moment. Or it could be one of the other reasons on this list, like you’re exhausted because you haven’t been resting.
What to do:
- Identify the triggers that lead to you procrastinating. For example, if you’re not motivated, create a visual goal. This keeps you focused on what you want to achieve and how the task you have to complete affects that goal.
- Automate time consuming tasks by using technology. Consider the time it takes to say update your ecommerce inventory, it’s a system which is always changing and updating manually can take ages, however, with the best inventory management software, this can be a breeze.
A lack of direction
How can you have the motivation to do something if you don’t know what your end goal is? Having no goal or direction leads to you wondering what the point is. It causes you to lose sight of the importance of what you’re doing, making it easy for distractions to divert your attention away.
What to do:
- Create a clear goal. Make it physical by writing it down or finding an image that represents it. A great example of this is using a vision board that you hang on your wall to remind you of what you’re trying to achieve.
- Time-block your tasks. This helps you break your work down so you’re not overwhelmed. It also helps you understand the importance of each small task to the bigger picture.
- Give each small task a deadline to keep you on track for finishing up.
- Use a project management tool to streamline your tasks.
Not enough rest
It’s extremely difficult to focus when you’re exhausted. When you’re busy – which you probably are since you’re reading this article – it’s likely you’re finding it difficult to rest adequately. Sleep deprivation has medical repercussions, impacting the functioning of your brain and body and diminishing your focusing capabilities.
What to do:
- Get six to nine hours of sleep a night.
- Allocate breaks in your day to rest your mind via meditation, a short walk, or a nap.
- Create a sleeping routine. Do not use devices for at least 30 minutes before bed. Include calming practices like yoga, stretching, or breathing exercises to help you sleep.
Your work and rest spaces are intrinsically linked to your ability to focus. Most people are trying to learn how to make remote work productive without losing the restfulness of their home environment.
If this means you’re trying to focus in a full house, with lots of noise and activity, it’s possible the space may be overwhelming your senses. You need to find somewhere quieter and calmer where you can settle down to work.
A cluttered environment can also overstimulate and distract you.
What to do:
- Keep your workspace tidy. A cluttered desk and desktop can really affect the way you approach your task. Taking the time to organize your work station with cubby holes, pen holders or a desktop organizer can do wonders.
- Choose a quiet and controlled work environment. It can be difficult to focus when there’s loud neighbors or construction going on right by your window. Find an area that’s more peaceful and without distractions. While some can find a designated home office, other remote workers have found a quiet corner of their house or converted their closets into an effective work environment.
- Declutter before you start working. This is both for your device and work station. Having piles of messy wires next to you can really throw you off. Use organizational boxes to keep everything tidy. And when it comes to your device, organize your folders and regularly delete files you won’t need anymore.
Too much screen time
Gadgets, social media, and online platforms can all severely impact your rest and your brain’s ability to focus. Although devices can boost productivity, they also form a substantial part of the environments that result in bottom-up focus. Just look back to our earlier example re phone notifications.
What to do:
- Use screentime monitoring apps to lock apps and set screentime limits.
- During your productive time, use technology that boosts your focus and output. Project management software can help and so can calming white noise apps.
- Make a conscious decision to have some self-discipline.
- Put away devices you don’t need for work and invest in a virtual phone system so you can make calls from your work device instead of your personal one.
Begin your mission to focus today
As you can see, a lack of focus is a multi-layered issue. There are many reasons, in addition to the ones above, that can contribute to poor focus. These include mental illnesses like anxiety and depression (you may want to take a look at some healthcare resources to help with this) and lifestyle factors like stress.
The best way to figure out why you’re having trouble focusing is by having a candid chat with yourself. Reflect on your lifestyle and daily choices and be strict about personal actions and how they might be impacting your focus.
Do any of these five potential reasons resonate with you? If yes, take decisive action today to improve your health and lifestyle so you can focus on being your best self moving forward.