Until you know how to focus, you’ll never be able to think clearly, solve problems, make decisions, or remember things. Being focused is important but staying on a task is becoming harder and harder. A symphony of notifications can draw you out of whatever you’re doing at a moment’s notice.
Every time your mind wanders from your work, you have to waste time and energy getting back on track. A recent study from the University of California calculated that it took people an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get back to work after an interruption.1 This means that every time something takes your attention off your work, you lose nearly half an hour of your precious time.
Interruptions are bound to happen, but when they happen several times per day, you’ll waste lots of time and energy. In this guide, you’ll learn more about why it’s so hard to stay focused and what you can do to reduce distractions, be more productive, and increase your focus.
What makes staying focused difficult
Everything is more difficult when you feel sick or tired. If you haven’t been getting enough sleep, your mind is bound to wander.
Human bodies are meant to be in motion, many of us lead sedentary lifestyles. Not getting enough exercise is another common reason you might lose focus quickly. Exercised helps your body regulate hormones and process insulin. It also alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety.2 A British study found that people’s work performance were better on the days they exercised:
What you eat and drink can play a major role in your ability to settle into your work, too. Start by staying properly hydrated. About 60% of your body is water. If you’re dehydrated you’re going to feel sluggish, and your brain won’t be able to work as well.
Digestive upsets and imbalanced gut bacteria are disruptive no matter what you’re doing. An upset digestive system is uncomfortable, but it also prevents you from making use of all the nutrients in your food. This means that even if you are eating well, you may not be getting the nutrition that helps you focus.
For example, B Vitamins are essential for digestion and we deplete them rapidly when exposed to stress. A lack of B Vitamins will almost certainly leave you feeling foggy-headed.3
You know how hard it can be to focus when you’re worried about something else. Your limbic system, the epicenter for all your emotions and memories, attaches feelings to everything. Based on a study conducted by Bond University professor of management Cynthia Fisher, there are some common emotions at work shown to shape performance:4
The way you feel about your work can destroy your productivity and focus if you have a negative point of view. It’s worthwhile to take some time to get to know yourself so that you can figure out what triggers emotional reactions and loss of focus.
One of the best things you can do is infuse your life with positivity. When your work triggers positive emotions, you’ll be more interested in what you’re doing, and it’ll be easier to stay on task.5
We’re fortunate to have so much technology at our fingertips, but these advances are a double-edged sword. As you work, phone calls, text messages, emails, and social media notifications threaten to derail your focus.
A 2012 study from the McKinsey Global Institute found that people spend around 13 hours or 28% of their workweek managing emails.6 That’s not to say that all time spent on technology is non-productive. It’s just that most of us have a hard time compartmentalizing our inboxes and notifications so that they don’t pull us from other tasks. As mentioned, it takes a whopping 25 minutes and 26 seconds to regain focus on average. Distractions are costly.
Multitasking through the day
You may think you’re being more efficient when you multitask, but only about 2% of the population can effectively multitask.7 James Clear’s illustration has best described the myth of multitasking:
For the other 98%, they mutitask in three different ways:8
- Do two things at the same time.
- Switch to a new task without completing the original thing we were working on.
- Rapidly cycle back and forth between tasks, which gives us the illusion that we are among the 2% of effective multitaskers.
Human brains aren’t designed to do that kind of cognitive shuffling. People end up with a nasty build up of “attention residue” when they switch between tasks.9
If you’ve ever been distracted by thinking about something else you have to do while you’re working on another project, you’ve experienced the effects of attention residue. Constantly shifting between tasks can cost you about 40% or 16 hours of your workweek. That’s like tossing two days out of every workweek in the trash. 10
Multitasking can cause you to perform as though you’ve lost 10-15 points on your IQ score. No matter how smart you are, that’s a significant drop in…
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