Do you have trouble focusing? It’s hardly surprising.  Sustaining focus can be hard in the age of mass distraction.

With the world wide inter-web and everything that entails at our fingertips constantly, plus the alluring, entertaining and highly addictive world of social media, these mass distractions grab our attention only to scatter and fragment it!

Multi-tasking and split-screen living is a way  of life, but being unfocused doesn’t feel good.


Noise

It’s a noisy world. Have you noticed. As an introvert that hasn’t had a TV for years and avoids most forms of media, I’m acutely aware of the noise and do my best to reduce my exposure to it.

As recently as the 1920s, silence was “the context of thought, conversation, and general existence,” notes Joseph Urgo, author of In the Age of Distraction.  Now this space is “colonized,” he writes. A realm of silence is as rare as a virgin forest and, to many of us, as eerie. “Inundated by perspectives, by lateral vistas of information that stretch endlessly in every direction, we no longer accept the possibility of assembling a complete picture,” asserts literary critic Sven Birkerts. “We are experiencing in our time a loss of depth—a loss, that is, of the very paradigm of depth.”  – Distracted

With too many options always, and too much noise everywhere, days can go by easily without having dived into anything of personal significance in any great depth.

The Myth of Multitasking

Some highlights from the book Distracted, which I recommend reading if the topic of focus interests you. 

📝When we multitask, we are like swimmers diving into a state of focus, resurfacing to switch gears or reassess the environment, then diving again to resume focus. This is a speeded-up version of the push and pull we do all day. But no matter how practiced we are at either of the tasks we are undertaking, the back and forth produces “switch costs,” as the brain takes time to change goals, remember the rules needed for the new task, and block out cognitive interference from the previous, still-vivid activity.

📝Executive attention is a precious commodity. Relying on multitasking as a way of life, we chop up our opportunities and abilities to make big-picture sense of the world and pursue our long-term goals. In the name of efficiency, we are diluting some of the essential qualities that make us human.

📝Once distracted, we take about twenty-five minutes to return to an interrupted task and usually plunge into two other work projects in the interim, Mark found. This is partly because it’s difficult to remember cognitive

So, multitasking is not effective or efficient. It sometimes provides the allusion that we’re in all places doing all things at once, but in reality we’re achieving less than we might have done as we spread ourselves thinly and flit backwards and forwards all day.

The Pomodoro Technique – A Simple Solution To Hone Your Focus

I’ve been struggling with my focus recently, but this technique I came across a few weeks ago has been working wonders.

The Pomodoro Technique is simple, effective, and free, I highly recommend giving it a whirl if you’d like to hone your focus too.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Write out a list of tasks you’d like to achieve today.  For larger projects break these down into smaller subtasks.
  2. Pick the most important one that you’d like to get done first.
  3. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  4. GO – get to work and focus only on that one task.
  5. When the timer pings, make a mark on a piece of paper to indicate that you’ve completed one pomodoro (if you’re list-ticking-lover like me you are going to get mega-satisfaction from this ALL DAY LONG)
  6. Once you’ve marked your first achievement, take a five minute break. Then go back to step one.
  7. After several of these you may wish to take a longer break. You’ll know when it’s time for you to take a longer break.

Sounds too simple to be effective right? And 25 minutes, that’s nothing!

Thing is, it’s 25 minutes of focusing only on the one thing you’ve agreed to work on.

No making a cup of tea, no quickly checking if you’ve any new emails, no quickly googling that question that your mind is a bit curious about suddenly, no flitting over to another task that suddenly seems more important/alluring….you state what you’re going to do, and you do it.

The beauty is that because it’s only 25 minutes, it’s pretty easy to stay focused. Whatever ‘emergency’ crops into your brain can easily wait 25 minutes.  So you can relax and get on with the task at hand.

Personal Musings On The Technique

  • Putting a timer on gamifies my day as I’m working against the clock to see just how far I can get in 25 minutes. What can I achieve? When there’s no time-frame, or any sort of pressure, it’s too easy to dawdle and not achieve much. This also doesn’t feel great.
  • When the time pings and I get to make a mark in my diary I get a sense of achievement. I appreciate this will only work for certain geeky types, the types who love making lists and ticking things off said list. For you my friend, this method will bring you great joy and satisfaction.
  • Linked to the above point is seeing the  progress I make throughout the day. Rather than the day stretching ahead in one long workday that feels like forever, breaking it down into 25 minute chunks makes it go much more quickly as each section of the day is so small and I have a regular sense of accomplishment and moving steadily from not having done anything to having achieved various things that move me towards my overall goals for the day/week/month.
  • I keep a post-it note next to me, so when distractions pop into my head, like, I need to put some washing on/make a doctor’s appointment etc…I can pop them down and know I’ll deal with them later.
  • After 25 minutes, in the five minute break, you can schedule things you enjoy, like a quick stretch, a tea break,  email checking etc….
  • Getting into motion is the hardest bit, but once you’re in motion because you’ve rationalised with your brain that it’s only 25 minutes, which is easy-peasy, then oftentimes, when the timer goes off you may be well in the flow of things and not want or need a break. I often set the timer again and just keep going, and then have a longer break when it makes sense.  This is newton’s law of motion “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion at a constant speed and direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force” This technique is a wonderful way to get you into directed motion. Once you’re going, it’s easy to stay in motion. And if you need a break to check what you’re 10,0000 friends on social media are up to, well you only have to wait 25 minutes at most.

Have you tried this technique? I love the simplicity and it’s made my day a lot more focused, which makes me feel happier.

Try it and let me know what you think.

Aromatic Anchoring

If you want to make this technique even more effective I recommend building some aromatic anchoring into the process.

Here’s how to:

Pick an oil that is going to be your focus scent. You can pick any that appeals to you but I recommend one of two categories.

Grounding/Centering Oils: If you’re an anxious type, who thinks at the speed of light, if you find yourself always thinking about 20 things down the line instead of the thing you’re currently working on, grounding and centering oils might be best to help you stay anchored to the task at hand.  Vetiver would be my top recommendation in this category. There’s lots of research about how this one helps with ADHD and improves concentration. Other wood oils might be great too.

Uplifting/Energizing Oils: Such as Citrus, Lemon being a great one, with its crisp scent it can signal to the brain to focus clearly on one thing. Peppermint is awesome too, that’s my focus oil. The freshness of peppermint helps me feel clear-headed and gives me a real sense of ‘right, let’s crack on with this’.

I roll my oil, peppermint, around my hairline right before I press ‘go’ on the timer.  

The more you do this the more you  lock in the aromatic anchor and help your brain associate whatever scent you’ve opted for with ‘focus time’.  

Soon smelling the chosen scent triggers your brain to drop into the zone of focus. It’s Pavlov’s dogs basically.

Stay fired up and focused and let me which oil you pick. I love a good oil tale, always.

Recommended Reading

Distracted: Reclaiming Our Focus in a World of Lost Attention

Super interesting and insightful account of the art of focus, how it’s changed over the years, what the current assaults on our ability to focus are, and why it matters that we care and do something about it!

The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember

A fascinating account of how our  environment and the tools and technology that we use to interact with the world, from books, and clocks, to the internet, shapes our brains, and in effect shapes us as humans.


Some snippets:

  • There is no Sleepy Hollow on the Internet, no peaceful spot where contemplativeness can work its restorative magic. There is only the endless, mesmerizing buzz of the urban street. The stimulations of the Net,
    like those of the city, can be invigorating and inspiring. We wouldn’t want to give them up. But they are, as well, exhausting and distracting. They can easily, as Hawthorne understood, overwhelm all quieter modes of thought.
  • One of the greatest dangers we face as we automate the work of our minds, as we cede control over the flow of our thoughts and memories to a powerful electronic system, is the one that informs the fears of both the scientist Joseph Weizenbaum and the artist Richard Foreman: a slow erosion of our humanness and our humanity.
  • It would not be rash to suggest that as the Net reroutes our vital paths and diminishes our capacity for contemplation, it is altering the depth of our emotions as well as our thoughts.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World


This is the ‘what-the-hell-to-actually-do-about-all-this’ book. How to spend more time in deep, meaningful work and less time surfing the internet and the surface of life! I really enjoyed his latest book, Digital Minimalism, also. Just thought I’d insert another book recommendation in here. Never can read enough books!

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