Our attention spans are dwindling, but focus is a muscle that you can build if you work on it. Pay attention: Here are eight ways.[PHOTO: FLICKR USER CHRIS CLOGG]
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study from Microsoft. That number has shrunk over the years due to our digital connectedness and the fact that the brain is always seeking out what’s new and what’s next.
“No matter what environment humans are in, survival depends on being able to focus on what’s important–generally what’s moving. That skill hasn’t changed, it’s just moved online,” writes Alyson Gausby, consumer insights lead for Microsoft Canada.
So what do you do when you need to focus on work–and not what’s moving around you? For most people, the first and most important step to increasing focus is to change the way you view it, says Elie Venezky, author of Hack Your Brain.
“Focus is a muscle, and you can build it,” he says. “Too many people labor under the idea that they’re just not focused, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you drop this mistaken belief, you can take a much more realistic approach to building focus.”
With a combination of mindset and tools, it’s possible to set up an environment that fosters focus. Here are eight tricks and tips for eliminating distractions and paying attention to what you need to do:
American Productivity and Quality Center, a nonprofit research organization. “Success comes down to embedding that focus into the flow of how you work,” he says.
Webb suggests taking time to identify what deserves your focus for the year, for the month, for the week, and for the day. Then look at your calendar and block time dedicated to focus.
meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier. “You won’t believe how much you can get done when you’re not always interrupting yourself to return emails.”
Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, French physiologist Astrid Nehlig identifies a connection between caffeine and cognition. While caffeine doesn’t improve learning or memory performance, Nehlig found it does increase physiological arousal, which makes you less apt to be distracted and better able to pay attention during a demanding task.
study from Cornell University found that workers are most productive and make fewer errors in an environment that is somewhere between 68 F / 20 C and 77 F / 25 C degrees. Another study from the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland says the magic temperature is 71 F / 21 C degrees. If you don’t control the thermostat, you can opt to bring a sweater or a fan.
Scientific Reports, having music playing helps you focus on your own thoughts. The catch? You had to like the song.
“Given that musical preferences are uniquely individualized phenomena and that music can vary in acoustic complexity and the presence or absence of lyrics, the consistency of our results was unexpected,” the researchers wrote.
Whether it’s Beethoven, the Beatles, or the Beastie Boys, turn it up and get to work.
study from the University of Illinois. Psychologist Alejandro Lleras found that participants who were given short breaks during a 50-minute task performed better than those who worked straight through.
The study examines a phenomenon called “vigilance decrement,” or losing focus over time. Taking a short break in the middle of a long task re energizes the brain.
“We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” writes Lleras. “Our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks, it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task.”
study from the University of Plymouth in England, doodling aids in cognitive performance and recollection.
“Doodling simply helps to stabilize arousal at an optimal level, keeping people awake or reducing the high levels of autonomic arousal often associated with boredom,” writes lead researcher Jackie Andrade.