Our ability to stay with one topic is constantly in jeopardy, sometimes due to factors that we can control and sometimes to those we cannot.
Anyone who has sat to meditate is aware of how the mind likes to bounce around. It’s similar to having a front row seat to some kind of cirque du soleil situation. Our ability to stay with one topic is constantly in jeopardy, sometimes due to factors that we can control and sometimes to those we cannot.
Chris Bailey, author of HyperFocus: How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction spent a year doing intensive research on how we focus, and more importantly, how we can focus better. Focus can make us more productive, but the truth is, it can also make us more present. When we learn to tune out the constant pings and bells of our lives, we can be more aware of each moment, and have the opportunity to fully interact with the here and now.
According to Bailey’s research, there are two main types of distractions: those we have no control over and those we do have control over. For those we can’t control, it’s really about learning how to return your focus once you’ve been distracted, Bailey suggests on paying the most attention to those you can control. In the context of work, being able to focus ultimately means being able to be productive.
In our working life, there are essentially two types of work that needs to be done. The first benefits the most from distraction free focus. Becoming completely absorbed in your work will allow you to complete important tasks with the full benefit of your focused attention - this is how you enter the state of flow. Your mind may resist going deep initially, so it’s vital that you remove “every object of attention that’s potentially more stimulating and attractive than what you intend to do, you give your brain no choice but to work on that task.” Bailey suggests installing a distraction-blocking app on your computer that does not allow you to browse for a certain amount of time, putting your phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode and using noise-canceling headphones, especially if you are trying to work somewhere noisy.
Since it takes about twenty minutes, (sometimes longer), to get back into your flow once you’ve been interrupted, it’s important to limit what you expose yourself to. Since it’s not alway possible to go into complete distraction-free mode, you have to choose what you allow in, in essence, what is worth losing those twenty minutes. Things like emails, meetings, texts and social media can all be put on a schedule. Bailey suggests turning off all alerts on your phone so you don’t have a constant pulling of your attention. With our phones as smart as they are, you can always specify if there are people you always want to be able to reach you, and set their contact up that way. He makes two specific phone suggestions that can help you train your brain to focus:
- Mind the gaps. If you look around you when you are standing in line or waiting anywhere, you’ll probably notice people looking down at their phones, mindlessly flipping through social media. Bailey suggests that you “use these small breaks to reflect on what you’re doing, to recharge, and to consider alternate approaches to your work and life.” You can also turn these moments into opportunities to become completely mindful, immersing yourself in the sensations of the here and now.
- Create a “Mindless” folder. Notice where you get lost the most on your phone or computer. Now take all of those apps and put them in a folder labelled “Mindless.” Simply seeing the name of the folder could trigger you to make a different choice when you absentmindedly open one of those apps.
We now know that when you become mindful, your also become happier, which is also true of spending time in a state of flow. As we train-and also help- our brains to stay focused and absorbed on the present moment, we allow ourselves the opportunity to be more productive and also to be in state where we experience all of what life has to offer, and as a result, enjoy more of it.