3 Ways to Focus Despite Your Lack of Focus

Here’s a radical statement: distraction may not be your enemy
“Distraction” has become a dirty word in our modern culture. We see it as the enemy of productivity – something we need to fight to overcome at all costs.

So we get to the end of the day, with only one task checked off a list that’s as long as our forearms… And we beat ourselves up for having gotten distracted again.

But what if being “distractible” could also be a positive quality? If that sounds like crazy talk, read on. You may be in for a surprise!

Multiple studies have shown a link between creativity and distraction
At least two separate studies have shown that being highly creative and highly distractible go hand in hand. The working theory is that people who focus easily have good “sensory filters” that block out external stimuli that aren’t relevant to their current task at hand. Those of us who are more distractible, however, have filters that leak, so that irrelevant information gets through far more often.

Our “leaky sensory filters” can actually be useful though, because every now and then, the allegedly irrelevant information isn’t. In fact, that extra information can sometimes help us to make connections and come up with solutions that someone with a better filter just couldn’t see.

That’s probably why the more distractible students in that second study were often the ones with more creative achievements.

It’s great to know that getting distracted isn’t always a bad thing. That said, nobody would argue that there are also times when it’s less than ideal – for example, when you’re on a serious deadline. So how can you make it easier to focus? Try these three tips:

1. Make your self-talk work for you, instead of against you
It’s one thing to acknowledge that, all other things being equal, you’re easily distracted. It’s another to describe yourself – as one creative entrepreneur I know occasionally does – as having “the concentration span of a goldfish on caffeine”.

Rather than telling yourself you simply aren’t capable of focussing, why not use more empowering self-talk? Try something like, “Even though I get distracted easily, I can focus when I really need to.”

2. Take regular breaks where being distracted is OK
Rather than trying to force yourself to concentrate for a single, extended period; consider splitting your day into a series of intervals with breaks between them. There’s actually an official productivity method – “The Pomodoro Technique” – based around working for 25 minutes, taking a 5 minute break, and then rinsing and repeating.

It’s far easier to concentrate when you know you’ll only need to do it for a short time. And then, when the focus interval’s over, feel free to be as distracted as you want (just make sure you’re ready to start the next interval when it’s time!)

3. Keep track of your successes
The best ammunition you can give yourself to support the self-talk we mentioned in Tip #1 is evidence that you’ve focused and completed projects before. Start by looking back over your life. What achievements can you identify? Maybe you’ve finished a 5k, given a presentation at work, or finished knitting a scarf for your aunt.

Whatever they are, make a note of them in a journal or computer file that you use specifically for recording your successes. Then, every time you achieve something new, make sure you write it up in your success log. Refer back to the log regularly whenever you start to doubt your abilities.

How do YOU deal with distraction?
Everyone has their own favorite techniques for dealing with distraction. I’ve listed three of mine above, and now I’d love to hear about yours.

Take a moment to reflect: how easily do you get distracted when you need to focus? How do you deal with it when that happens?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Felicia Baucom
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