I’m a writer, so focus is the number one factor that determines my own productivity. If I can’t find focus or get into the writing and thinking mode, I won’t be successful.
The problem is, finding focus is harder now than ever. Sometimes when I sit down to write, I find myself realizing that my kitchen needs to be cleaned or my email needs to be checked for the 1000th time, instead of sitting down to get the job done.
The routine for finding focus looks different for everyone, but everyone should have one. It’s important to know what works for you to find that state of centered attention—and it should consist of a few important things. Here are the main points to put on your checklist the next time you need to concentrate.
Find the Right Workspace
Before you hunker down to focus, make sure you have a comfortable, clutter-free, distraction-free spot to work. If you have an office or desk, this means making sure there isn’t a pile of papers on your desk, noise outside, or people talking to you while you’re trying to work (this may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised.)
Grab a comfortable chair, adjust the temperature so it is just right, and close the door, if that’s an option.
This doesn’t only relate to ensuring no one comes knocking on your door during your productive window. This also means silencing your cell phone (not just vibrate) and turning off notifications on your computer so you can just focus on the priority.
Even if it’s only for an hour at a time, find distraction-free slots where real thinking can occur.
If you are sitting down to an important task—in the right workspace and without interruptions—and you’re still finding it difficult to concentrate, you need to find a way to get centered. A short meditation or mindful breathing practice works well for me, but there are lots of ways to get centered. You can walk around the block, go for a quick run, dance your butt off to a good song, take a shower, or read an inspirational quote. It really doesn’t matter what you do, but knowing what works for you is an important thing, so you can put it into practice when you need to focus.
Here’s the three-minute meditation that helps me to reset my mind in short order. Try it for yourself the next time you need to focus.
- Set a timer for three, four or five minutes.
- Take a comfortable, tall seat and close your eyes.
- Begin to bring all of your attention to your breath and slow it down.
- Inhale for a slow count of five, pause at the top, then exhale for a slow count of five, pause at the bottom—matching the length of your inhale with the length of your exhale. Repeat three cycles.
- Visualize your breath: Begin at the base of your spine and watch your breath rise up the length of your torso all the way to your collarbone, and then watch it release as it winds back down the spine. As if your breath were an animation or elevator, keep your focus on watching it travel up and down the spine.
- When you feel the mind wander to your important task or to another place, just invite it back to focus on watching your breath as it trails up and down the spine.
- When your timer goes off, take three deep breaths before opening your eyes.