Getting Into Focus

Finding meaning and purpose to increase your attention span

In 1953, engineer Colin Cherry conducted an experiment to determine how well people could filter out multiple auditory stimuli.  He had his subjects simultaneously listen to two conversations – one in each ear through a set of headphones.  They were each told to repeat, as accurately as possible, the conversation in one ear, and to ignore the second conversation.  From Cherry’s experiment evolved the phrase, the “cocktail party problem”, a scenario in which we’re challenged to filter out unwanted noise in order to effectively engage in a one-on-one conversation.  This experiment was one of the first known experiments in the scientific community addressing the struggle to stay focused.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Small business owners are challenged daily to effectively manage multiple tasks and responsibilities.  It’s been said that adults experience about 3,000 thoughts a day – from email, texts, social media, radio, television, books, newspapers, magazines, emails, phone calls, signage, meetings… it can feel overwhelming.  Yet, to be successful – to realize fulfillment in your personal and professional life – you have to stay focused. And it begins by prioritizing.  Only you can determine what is in your best interests – what is needed, and what isn’t – when to say “yes”, and when to say “no”.  Realize what is meaningful and important in your life – and what isn’t.

Focus, or attention, is a conscious effort.  It requires self-discipline.  You have to be intentional.  You have to be purposeful in your actions.  Ask yourself, “Why am I taking on this project or task?  What do I wish to accomplish?”

The Life Wheel

One method to find meaning and purpose, or intent, and thus improve your focus or attention, is to develop a life wheel.  Picture yourself as the hub, and the various aspects of your life along the rim of the wheel, connected to you by wheel spokes.  These aspects may include occupation, financial, spirituality/religion, relationships, health/wellness, and hobbies/recreation.  Set goals and objectives for each aspect. Then ask yourself, in your daily activities, “How do these activities allow me to come closer to reaching my goals and objectives for the various aspects of my life?”

10 Practical Habits to Improve Focus

In addition to finding purpose and meaning in your daily activities, try these daily habits to improve your focus and attention:

  1. Take the time to carefully plan and schedule your day.  If you participate in social media, schedule blocks of time to get on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.
  2. Avoid the temptation to immediately respond to emails.  They’re likely not urgent.
  3. Set boundaries – develop the habit of saying “no” – to others, and to you.
  4. Recognize that multi-tasking doesn’t work.  Busyness is not in itself an objective.  Quality costs nothing.
  5. Know your limitations and level of energy.  Don’t over schedule yourself.  Give yourself short breaks throughout your day
  6. Take on a new hobby, or learn and develop a new skill – a musical instrument, perhaps – for which focus is inherent to developing that skill.
  7. Simplify your life and your environment – shed yourself of things, and, sometimes people, that drain you, or provide no meaning or fulfillment for you.
  8. Within your work environment, minimize what’s within your realm of vision.  For example, keep only 2 or 3 tabs open from your Web browser on your computer.
  9. Spend 15 minutes daily in quiet time – meditation, for example – to clear your mind, calm yourself, and to get clear.
  10. Take on the more challenging tasks and problems when you are at your peak level of cognitive ability.  Save the easier, more mundane tasks, for when you’re not.  Otherwise, you mind is likely to wander towards something easier.
About Dean Long

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