Many of my conversations recently have been around attention and focus and wishing it was easier to keep them on track. Like many cognitive abilities, attention is a system that we can train to improve. Looking to increase your focus? With practice these three brain-based strategies can strengthen your attention skills.
Keep your ‘to do’ list out of your head. Expecting your brain to remember the ever-changing list of things you need to do in the future compromises your capacity for high quality thinking and reduces the available energy to inhibit, meaning to suppress reactions to impulses and distractions. When your ‘to do’ list is out of your head and safely captured for when you need it, more of your pre-frontal cortex’s available energy is present for the task at hand.
Break the addiction to incoming message sounds. Though you might not instantly stop what you are doing, the minute a device bings at you, your attention is split. Be honest here, once you hear that sound it’s pretty hard not to indulge that curiosity to know who it is, what they want, and what’s going on, isn’t it? Instead of training your brain to be easily pulled off task, train your brain to hold a focus. Start by turning off all incoming message alerts. You might be surprised to see how often you want to reach for your phone or to head to your inbox anyways. That’s the habit you taught your brain! Next, start working in 10-12 minute intervals without interruption. Then, reward your brain for that focus by spending dedicated time reviewing incoming information. Work your way to increased full attention periods of time and again offer time with your inbox or phone (or something else) as a reward for the focus. With practice, you improve your focus skills while also making a shift to reward your brain for the attention instead of rewarding your brain for the distraction.
Respect Your Ultradian Rhythm. Researchers have found that your brain best focuses in 90-120 minute cycles, called ultradian rhythms. Learning the signals indicating your brain is ready for a quick break, can boost your focus and attention during work cycles. We often experience this need for a brain break with wandering attention, increased frustration, a sense of restlessness, less alertness, and what many describe as just grinding it out. Working in ways that respect that your brain works best when there are periods of focus cycled with breaks has been shown to improve attention, focus, and productivity.
Good luc….look, squirrel!