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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT FOCUS!
Focus is perhaps the most precious and precarious thing in the world. Freely available to anyone, but impossible to retain for long. Especially in a world of infinite distractions.
Still, strive for it we must because nothing great was ever built on short attention spans. But first, let’s take stock of the challenge ahead of us.
In 2018, Udemy released an in depth “Workplace Distraction Report” in which 69% of fulltime employees surveyed reported feeling distracted at work. Furthermore, while 58% of respondents said they didn’t need social media to do their jobs, they still couldn’t resist the temptation to scroll through their accounts during office hours. Compounding workplace distraction.
Bear in mind, this was in 2018. Before the pandemic and before lockdowns had made work from home arrangements mandatory for majorities of us.
A more recent UK survey conducted by “Protect Your Bubble”, an insurance company, found that “only 15 percent say they haven’t engaged in non-work-related activities while working from home during their normal working hours.”
To be fair, engaging in non-work activities in one’s own home is inevitable in any remote working arrangement. The key is to strike a balance between productivity and comfort. And that balance isn’t easy to get.
We’re living in a world where travel and socializing is discouraged, which means many of us have only streaming and social media to turn to at home. An environment that puts us at the mercy of algorithms whose sole purpose is to monetize our attention spans and keep us glued to our screens.
In this context, it’s pointless to rail against the nature of 21st century media. We should instead try our best to cultivate better habits to regain the FOCUS that once drove our ambitions.
If we don’t make a conscious effort to reorient our attention where it could better serve us, we all risk leaning into the numbness of a pointless routine where we won’t even notice the precious time lost in our days before it’s too late.
“SCROLL WITH PURPOSE”
Naturally, the first step to regaining your focus is to avoid where it’s wasted most. And that’s usually on social media.
What makes aimlessly scrolling on social media so detrimental is that you’re often not aware of just how much time you’ve wasted there when you fall into the rabbit hole; how many hours you’ve lost in a futile search for stimuli or in a desperate attempt to avoid FOMO. It can truly be a bottomless pit, if you allow it.
Of course, getting you to quite cold turkey isn’t a sustainable option. Instead, we recommend you scroll with purpose.
Firstly, turn off push notifications on your social media except for those most relevant to your and your work. This includes “breaking news” and updates from your favorite accounts. If it’s not urgent, they’re just distraction you can come back to later.
As intrinsic as social media has become to our ability to research and stay informed, we need to recognize that education is “incidental” on these platforms. Their purpose is to commodify your attention. Just being mindful of this fact goes a long way to cultivating healthier, more productive usage of social media.
When we’re in the process of learning or upskilling, especially when we’re also rushing to meet a deadline, we have a tendency to open up several channels of information to collect as much data as we can. It’s the kind of information-gathering that helps us create a “big picture” quickly and efficiently within a short period of time.
If you’ve ever been a student cramming for a test at college, this is essentially the same strategy brought over into your careers. However, this technique doesn’t do much in the way of helping you consolidate knowledge.
The cramming never ends.
It’s purpose is to help you absorb as much data as possible and interpret it to suit a certain proposal without gaining much long-term knowledge on the subject. Short-term strategy for short-term goals.
In order to develop a truly comprehensive approach to problem-solving that lets you gain an in-depth understanding of a particular subject that can then be utilized in other areas, you need to “narrow your scope”.
You need to make a decision on what you think you need to learn and what skills you think you should develop at this point in your career to help you move forward and focus solely on that. By doing so, you’re making a commitment to learn something in-depth. A process that entails comprehensive learning in order to create specific plans for specific goals over a long-term period of time.
“Don’t Neglect The Physical”
When it comes to conversations about creating a more focused mindset, we have a tendency to talk about it exclusively as a mental challenge and leave out the physical. This is a mistake.
You are not a brain in a jar. Your overall physical well-being directly affects your capacity for a healthier, more productive mental outlook. Always remember that self-care is self-development.
This is especially true now with work from home arrangements becoming more mainstream and the line between the professional and personal blurring like never before. Make sure you maintain a daily routine that involves regular exercise, hydration and strictly observed rest hours. Also ensure that your home workplace is set up for optimum comfort.
A more focused mindset can’t be had without a healthy work/life balance.
At the end of the day, developing a more focused mentality demands a lot more than just tinkering with where you place your attention. It’s about leading a more disciplined lifestyle that puts you in greater control of your thoughts in a world where it’s easier than ever to go on “auto-pilot”.
It’s about being honest with yourself on what your priorities are and what the cost of ignoring them could be. More than just gaining focus, it’s about deciding whether what you’re focusing on is even worth your time in the first place.