5 Tools and Techniques I Use to Quickly Gain Focus for Work
There are days when I hit the ground running, and then there are days when I either have trouble getting focused, or a stream of calls and distractions gets me off my game. For those situations, I have curated a set of tools and techniques I’ve found can quickly get me back to a state of productive flow. After using these with repeated success, I rely on them as my go-to tools and techniques to help me focus on what needs to get done.
If I feel scattered and am having trouble getting my thoughts in order, I find that a short meditation helps calm my mind and brings clarity. I decided to give this a try after hearing repeatedly that many of the most successful people meditate. I found it to be immediately effective. By quieting my mind, I’m able to stop the distracting chatter and improve concentration. Even taking as few as 5 minutes to meditate allows me to organize my thoughts more clearly and increase attention on my work.
Studies support that meditation improves focus:
- A study by Guiseppe Pagnoni, published in the Journal of Neuroscience in April 2012,found that the subjects who engage in regular meditation showed brain activity that suggests improved control of focus and concentration.
- “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment” – people “trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches”, and “were less fragmented in their work, switching among competing tasks less frequently and spending greater time on task….”
- Chris Baily has a post on his ‘A Life of Productivity’ site that lists several studies showing the benefits of meditation on focus.
I currently use Brain.fm and love it so much. Its intent is to improve focus through audio brainwave entrainment, and I find that by listening through my headphones, I not only block out external distraction, but the audio helps to quickly get me into the “zone” of extended concentration on the task at hand.
By studying the impacts of different sound frequencies and how these impact the brain, they have created a tool to shift brain waves toward the desired state. They provide various states: Focus, Relax, and Sleep. I have not tried the others, but I use their “Focus” setting almost every day. It gets me focused quickly, and I love that I can set it for varying lengths of time, depending on what I need.
They provide research findings on their site:
- EEG Analysis on Brain.fm (Focus) by Dr. Giovanni Santostasi, Neuroscientist at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine
- And provide more references here
I found a separate study – “A comprehensive review of the psychological effects of brainwave entrainment”, TL Huang and C Charyton – that concludes “preliminary evidence suggested that brainwave entrapment was an effective therapeutic tool, but further research was required.” I personally have found it to work wonderfully, and it’s become a go-to tool for quickly getting focused.
Sometimes I need to self-impose a deadline to force me to focus. If I commit to getting something done, I have an internal drive to meet that commitment. I have an accountability partner to whom I can make a commitment and set a deadline that kicks in motivation to stay on task. An example of how this works is that I tell my accountability partner that “I will send you a draft of the Rex presentation by 3:00 this afternoon” – and now I’m committed. My accountability partner knows my motives – we’ve been doing this a while. It’s not about him, but rather about me setting a deadline and sharing it to help me get focused. For this to work, it’s important to take it seriously and keep that commitment.
If I get stuck on something I need to deliver, I find that moving to a different work location can help. Choosing a location with minimal distractions is critical – going to my favorite coffee shop where friends are likely to stop by my table to say hello would defeat the purpose, so I choose a location in which I’m sure I won’t be interrupted. Changing my environment can help me get heads down focused and crank out the needed work.
Clear the Clutter
I’m talking about clearing clutter both physically and mentally. Cleaning off my desktop helps create a calmer mental state and reduces overwhelm that can my inhibit concentration. Additionally, creating a list of everything I need to remember helps also. I’m not trying to hang onto anything in my head, and can shift my focus completely to the task at hand. I’ve referenced my Kanban board here and putting the tasks I need to come back to on my Kanban board is helpful. Additionally, I might write down the top three things I want to have accomplished by the end of the day on a piece of paper – set it next to me – and don’t need to try to remember what my top goal for the day is – I just pick one and get to it. No cluttered thoughts about what I need to focus on.
These are activities I use to help get me in the zone. Other lifestyle factors are equally important for optimal brain function and I write about them more in-depth here: diet, sleep and exercise ensure that my brain is ready to support the “in-the-moment-focus” I need to get to. But for targeting my attention at the moment to really get focused on what I need to accomplish, these 5 tips are my current “go-to” strategies that work for me. If there are others that any of you have success with, I’d love to know! Please share!