How to Stay Focused
“Focus; I have to focus,” you mumble fervently as you stare bleary-eyed at the assignment plaguing your screen. The black cursor blinks back at you like a ticking clock, counting down as you try to force your brain to anchor to its task.
Students everywhere have had this moment. You’ve likely even said those very words, trying desperately to wrangle your spinning brain to hone in on the task at hand. Brendon Burchard, a popular personal development trainer, offers three actionable tips to help people amplify and maintain their focus through his video entitled, “How to Stay Focused.”
When trying to increase focus, the first thing we need to recognize is that the brain is a muscle. It gets tired, just like your biceps after too many curls. Therefore, the overall goal Brendon recommends for people wanting to develop their ability to focus is to make fewer decisions. Every decision we make-- from what food we eat, to what shirt we wear, to what picture we want to like on Instagram-- takes brain power. Brendon says, “As we know from neuroscience, and we know from productivity studies… the more decisions that we actually make, the more our brain becomes fatigued.” This is why many top innovators of our time like Steve Jobs wore a uniform of a black shirt and jeans every day. He knew that by giving himself one less decision to make, he was amping his brain power to make better, more focused decisions later.
Here are Brendon’s three practical tips to doing this:
Tip #1: Stop Browsing.
Brendon tells us that constant email checking, feed scrolling, and web browsing isn’t something one should limit because they’re time-wasters. They should be limited because of what they do to our mental development. Brendon puts it like this: “All these little things you’re focusing on are utilizing all your brain’s resources. And over a period of time when you stop browsing and go back to focusing on something, guess what? You tend not to be able to focus on one thing and get things done. You start multi-tasking and doing lots of things, but where your work isn’t really focused; nothing gets accomplished.”
Essentially, this is an issue because the brain learns. Actions repeated again and again become patterns. The result of consistent browsing is a brain that only knows how to focus when there’s a plethora of stimuli popping up, fueling the rush of dopamine you get when you have to make rapid-fire decisions on what to pay attention to, and what not to. As Brendon says, “The more that you aren’t FOCUSING on one thing at a time, the more problems you’re going to have later on to COMPLETE one thing at a time.”
Tip #2: Define Your Mission.
Brendon describes the trap most people fall into where they start their day without a strong intention because they have yet to define their mission. This makes it easy to spend a lot of time taking care of other people’s priorities, or tackling the easy requests that clogging one’s inbox or newsfeed. This creates a cycle where you end your day having done so much, but not accomplishing anything that really moves the odometer needle forward toward your mission.
Tip #3: Learn to Say No.
Brendon recommends that once you’ve written out and defined your mission very clearly, try temporarily saying no to everything that doesn’t serve it. While this sounds harsh or even selfish, Brendon tells us the purpose of this exercise is to get in the habit of critically analyzing how you spend your time and energy to ensure your day doesn’t get completely lost in other people’s lives and needs. Brendon says, “I want you to say no-- just at first-- just so you can check it against your mission… We have to have a greater idea of evaluative time and evaluative criteria in our life if we’re ever truly going to have focus.”
So there you have it: three tips to maximize your focus, so that the next time you’re hunched over that blinking cursor, you’ll have the mental stamina to press onward without feeling like screaming, “Aaaarrrgggghhhh!!!” a la Charlie Brown. What mission would you like to focus on today?
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