GETTING FOCUSED – THE ART OF DEEP CONCENTRATION
We all know that completing daily tasks can feel tedious and uninspiring. Whether it’s study, writing reports at home or doing a range of tasks in an office environment, efficiency and time management are everything. However, it can be difficult to keep daydreams, distractions and worries at bay. Getting into flow and exercising deep concentration is key to working effectively, feeling energised and deeply satisfied. Focus is a muscle, and the following tips will help get you flexing and strengthening.
PRACTICE MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION
Your focus and attention is not a fixed characteristic, it is finite, like a muscle that tires. Simply deciding to focus when the need arises isn't going to work unless you have had the right mental focus, training and practice.
The best way to improve focus is through practicing mindfulness and meditation. Just 10-20 minutes of present meditation and focusing on the breath can form new neural pathways that aid the ability to focus on a single task. The repeated use of a circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes that begin to wrap layers of myelin around neurons in the circuits. Basically, it cements the new information in your brain.
However, if your brain is firing too many circuits at the same time (e.g you're studying for exams and Instagram is open in the next tab), it fails to isolate a specific circuit and your brain fails to retain any information. Imagine trying to specifically build your bicep muscles whilst doing a bench press. Your arms may be used a tiny bit in the process but lets be honest, It’s not going to happen. By getting your brain to fire the relevant neural circuit over and over again, in isolation through meditation, you are making presence and focus a reflex.
First things first, eliminating distractions is key. In today’s world distractions are everywhere making trained focus difficult to achieve and a competitive advantage in any line of work. It’s no wonder we struggle to concentrate when our brains are constantly bombarded with mental junk food. It may be tempting to tell yourself that you can fully focus on those reports while Netflix is on in the background (we’ve all been there), but this simply isn’t possible for deep concentration.
Just the sound from your phone can leave your fingers itching and make your mind wander completely from the task at hand. You see your phone out of the corner of your eye and think ‘there’s no harm in just one little peek.. right?’ Wrong! The effectiveness of your focus compounds with time during a session of focused work and any breaks can take you back to square one. Ever written a paper in one go and noticed it got better as you went? Switching your attention to distraction leaves you with residual when you attempt to go back into focused work.
Depending on your circumstances it can be near impossible to unplug completely; there are some calls you just have to take. But if you can try to avoid your phone while you are doing a stint of highly concentrated work and then take a little break.
SET UP THE RIGHT SPACES AND ENVIRONMENT
Setting up the right workspace is essential to eliminating distractions and getting down to focused work. This should be a room, desk or corner only for work where no excuses or intrusions are allowed. This space allows you to treat each focused work session as a scheduled meeting with your own commitments. Don’t make it your bed or any other place you associate with relaxing. When you enter this space ensure you are fully prepared, fed and have water and a REIZE next to you. This ensures you don’t have to jump up mid work to get a beverage.
TRACK YOUR PROGRESS AND REWARD YOURSELF
Set goals for yourself. Keep track of how many bursts of deep concentrated work you do per week in order to motivate yourself. Start by doing 45 minute sessions with breaks. Be honest with yourself and only put down truly focused 45 minute sessions. Celebrate and reward yourself when you hit your goals. Tracking your progress allows you to see that paper or report as a process, rather than an end, encouraging you to strategically work towards a deadline rather than having that last minute rush. You will become more present and motivated!
WINDING DOWN AND TAKING BREAKS
Recharging is vital to focused work. Hanging out in nature is one of the most effective ways to mentally recharge. This is because nature has what is know as ‘inherently fascinating stimuli’, meaning that in nature there is just enough stimulation for your mind to remain engaged without becoming bored and seeking distraction. The stillness of the natural world means your attention reserves will not be drained, allowing for a happy medium for your attention reserves to recharge. In fact, any task that involves light levels of engagement that can be done peacefully without over stimulating your mind, is just as effective . E.g listening to nice music whilst doing chores or perhaps some light exercise.
Taking a nap is also a fantastic focus recharger. 20 minutes is often the recommended amount of time for a nap, as it energises without leaving you feeling groggy. For an even better result, try drinking a REIZE just before taking a nap, that way by the time your 20 min nap is over, your energy boost will have kicked in full force, leaving you feeling extra recharged.
Written by Amber Jacobs