Have you ever sat at your desk and stared at a blank page on your computer screen? You know that you need to write something — maybe it’s an email, a blog post, or a proposal of some sort — but you just can’t seem to corral your mind and focus on the task at hand.
Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. In this post, we’ll teach you how to improve focus and concentration using six actionable tips. Let’s get started!
What Is Focus
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page and start with a definition. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to focus is to, “concentrate attention or effort.” No surprise there. That’s probably the exact definition you had in mind.
But it’s also worth noting that to really focus on something, we have to ignore or disregard everything else. Author James Clear puts it this way, “focus can only occur when we have said yes to one option and no to all other options.”
When it comes down to it, your ability to improve focus will determine how productive you are. It’s that important. But there are two kinds of focus, which we’ll explain now.
Big Picture Focus
Big picture focus refers to the large scale goals you hope to accomplish. A few examples include:
- Starting a business.
- Implementing a new marketing strategy.
- Saving up for a new home.
Each of these goals can only be achieved by focusing a significant amount of time and energy on them, usually over a substantial length of time. To accomplish your goals, you first have to understand what they are, and then take steps towards them each day.
Small-scale focus refers to your ability to concentrate on the immediate task at hand. For instance, when you sit down to write an article for your company’s blog, can you write it without allowing your mind to wander, checking your email, or scrolling through your Instagram feed?
Being able to improve focus at the small, individual task level will allow you to move towards your big career and life goals, much more efficiently.
6 Tips to Improve Focus
Now that we have a clear understanding of these two types of focus, let’s dive into our six tips to improve concentration.
1. Decide What to Focus On
The first step is to decide what to focus on. This tip falls under the “big picture focus” category.
Focusing on the wrong things won’t do you any good. But how do you know where to direct your efforts? There are two methods that we find useful:
The “2 Lists” Strategy
This strategy comes from Warren Buffett, famous investor, and billionaire. It’s a simple, 3-step process that will allow you to better determine your priorities and the actions you need to take. Let’s explore this in the context of improving your career.
- First, write down your top 25 career goals. When you’re ready to retire, what do you want to have accomplished? Take your time and really make sure you list the 25 things that are most important to you.
- Second, take a look at your list and narrow it down further. Circle the top five goals that are most important to you. If you could only accomplish 5 of the 25 things on your list, which ones would you choose? Again, take your time.
- You now have two lists. The list of five goals is what you focus on. These are the goals that are most important to you and all your energy should be spent accomplishing them. The other list of career 20 goals? These should be avoided at all costs. Give them no attention until you’ve accomplished your top five.
This strategy allows you to determine what you really want and then helps you stay focused on those goals. Anytime you feel your mind wander to something that isn’t on your top five list, you’ll be able to quickly realize it and put those thoughts away.
The Eisenhower Box
The Eisenhower Box is another great productivity framework that will allow you to understand what’s most important and where to concentrate your efforts. Here’s how it works:
- First, list every task that you must complete. You can do this on a daily, weekly or monthly level. In fact, you may want to do it for all three timeframes.
- Second, categorize each of the tasks you just listed into one of four boxes: important and urgent tasks; important, but not urgent tasks; urgent, but not important tasks; neither urgent or important tasks.
- Accomplish your tasks in accordance with the Eisenhower Box methodology. Let’s dive into that a bit more.
Important and Urgent Tasks: These tasks will help you achieve your big, overarching goals, and need to be completed in a timely manner. They should be accomplished first.
Important, but Not Urgent Tasks: Answering phone calls and emails tend to fall into this category. Though they need to be completed, they usually aren’t a good use of time and should be delegated if possible.
Important, but Not Urgent Tasks: These tasks are critical to achieving your goals, but don’t demand immediate attention. Unfortunately, most of us tend to put these tasks on the back burner. We shouldn’t. Instead, schedule a time to get them done and commit to it.
Neither Urgent or Important Tasks: Tasks in this category won’t get you any closer to your goals. They also don’t have any set deadlines. Because of this, these tasks should be eliminated from your to-do list.
The more time you can spend focusing on important tasks and not just urgent ones, the better!
2. Avoid Multitasking
Multitasking is a trap. While we are able to do two things at once — we can watch T.V. while we cook dinner, for example — we are completely unable to concentrate on two things at the same time. This is because of the way the human brain is wired.
When our minds shift focus from one job or activity to another, there is what’s known as a “switching cost.” This is the disruption our brains experience when our concentration is broken by changing tasks.
To improve focus, you need to stop multitasking. Studies have proven that it actually decreases productivity by 40% and can even temporarily reduce IQ levels by 15 points. Definitely Not ideal when working. Instead, focus on one task at a time.
3. Schedule Your Time Appropriately
Time management doesn’t exist. We can’t manage time, we can only manage what we do with the time we have. This is a small, but important distinction. Once we realize this fact, we can work to improve focus and productivity by better managing ourselves.
One of the best ways to do this is to simply understand the way you tick and schedule your day accordingly. For example, many people find that they’re more productive in the morning. Their minds are fresh and they’re able to do their most important, creative at this time.
If you work this way as well, then attempting to write your next press release or design a new website graphic in the afternoon probably isn’t the best idea. Instead, accomplish these tasks first thing in the morning and save responding to emails, doing interviews, and other such tasks for the afternoon hours.
4. Eliminate Distractions
This tip is incredibly simple, yet many people struggle to do it. To improve focus, simply remove any potential distractions from your office while you’re working. Turn off your cell phone, log out of your email and social accounts, shut your office door.
Whatever you can do to shut out the world and allow yourself to focus on the task at hand (and only that task!) for a period of time will be worth it. If you struggle to do this on your own, there are technology solutions that can help.
5. Prioritize Processes Over Events
This is another high-level, big picture focus tip. Many of us have a tendency to concentrate on events rather than processes. We want to start a business and we dream about seeing our company featured in popular entrepreneurship publications. Or we want to lose weight and imagine ourselves looking slim and trim on the beach.
The problem is that success in life isn’t a one-time event. Starting and running a successful business, the kind that gets written about in magazines takes dedicated effort over a sustained period of time. So does losing weight and building muscle.
In other words, success is a process, not a single event. But by focusing on and enjoying that process, you put yourself in a position to experience the events of your dreams. What does that look like?
If you want to look great in a swimsuit, learn to enjoy and focus on eating right and going to the gym every day. These habits will lead to what you want. Same thing with each and every goal you have. Processes trump outcomes.
6. Measure Your Results
Finally, to improve your focus, measure your results. Often times we lose concentration and our minds wander because we forget to look at the progress we’re making. It’s a lot easier to keep putting in hard work if we can see that it’s paying off.
One reason many of us fail to measure our results is fear. We’re afraid that if we track progress, we won’t like what we see. This is understandable, but can easily be overcome when we realize that measuring tells us where we are, not who we are. It’s not a judgment, but a tool.
Measure your results, learn what you can improve upon, and stay focused on achieving the goals that really matter to you.
Improve Your Focus Today!
Improving your focus and concentration — both on a big picture and small-scale level — is important. It will help you achieve your goals much quicker and with less hassle. Will it be easy? Of course not. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
So decide what your goals actually are. Then use the tips outlined in this article to improve focus and accomplish them. We know you can do it!