Focus is one of the main aspects when it comes to productivity. Even if you have great goals and you’re very organized, you can’t get much done if you don’t focus on it for extended periods of time.
The more focused on your work you are the more efficient you’ll be. Meaning you’ll need to spend less time working and you’ll have more time enjoying your favorite things.
In this article, instead of talking about how to increase focus directly, I want to talk about eliminating the things that rob us of it in the first place. And instead of focusing on the obvious superficial stuff like e-mail and social media distractions, I want to go to the core of the issue — all external stimuli.
Types of Distractions
As far as our attention is concerned we have two types of distractions: external and internal.
The internal distractions are mostly the things that bounce around in our brain like random thoughts, memories or dreams. That’s what most meditation practices tend to focus on: disciplining our monkey minds to be more focused and calm.
The external distractions are things that we pick up from the surrounding world through our senses. They are the things that we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.
The more of that sensory input we get, the higher the chance is that we get distracted and lose our focus. The more input we get the harder we have to work to stay focused and ignore all the distractions. Luckily, taking care of the external input is much easier than the internal one. You don’t have to sit under a tree for 25 years to be able to create a focused external environment.
So instead of working so much on how to stay focused while there are so many distractions around, let’s nip the problem in the bud and start eliminating those before they even happen. Let’s take a look at each of our senses individually and how we can limit the number of stimuli that get through.
Our sight is by far the biggest bandwidth input that we have as humans. We can take in much more information through our eyes than the other senses.
But along with that all-important information also comes a lot of “junk” that we don’t need. And with that junk come a lot of distractions and interruptions every day. So how can we filter out the visual junk out of our working place so we can minimize the distractions?
If you are at your workplace right now stop for a second and take in everything visually (if not picture it in your mind’s eye). Focus on the objects on your desk, on the wall, on the floor, on your computer desktop, in your browser. How many of these things actually help you every day? Do you really need it every day?
The more junk you have all around you the harder time your brain is going to have focusing. The more work it has to do to filter out all the important things from the clutter. Why not save your brain the work by always decluttering and cleaning your workplace?
That’s another sense through which a lot of junk comes in. Our brains have to work extra hard to filter out the unnecessary things we hear as well.
Luckily this one is easier to deal with since most people don’t actively need it for work. Our sight is critical for most jobs out there and we can’t get anything done effectively if we completely block all the input. Not so with hearing, most people won’t be any less effective if they completely block it.
The great thing is that when you block it completely, all the clutter that comes through our ears is gone. Again that’s a lot of work that your brain doesn’t have to actively do. Instead, it can reallocate that brainpower somewhere else.
For me personally, that is one of the biggest factors for focus. When I put in earplugs or a good pair of earphones I can actually feel a physical relief. I’ve done it for so long now that when I put on my earphones it’s a queue for my brain to go into a focus mode.
Even if the sound is not a 100% isolated, the reduction of the volume still helps a lot.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use the sense of touch to group all other senses that we experience through our cells like temperature, weight, pain, moisture, movement, etc.
Some of those are easier to limit or “turn off” than others. You can always close your eyelids and block the stimuli that enter through your eyes, but it’s not so easy with the sense of touch. Save when you are asleep, your sense of touch is always “on”. There is no physical switch that you can use like your eyelids to stop feeling touch.
So since we can’t directly turn off the sense, what can we do to limit the external stimuli instead?
Is the temperature in your workplace always optimal so you don’t get distracted by feeling hot or cold? Are your chair and desk good enough so you don’t feel pain or stiffness? Are your clothes comfortable enough so you don’t feel any irritation or chafing?
What are some of the other touch related stimuli that often distract you?
Create Your Own Filter
I’m not going to address taste and smell since those have much less impact in our daily environment, except of course if you have a co-worker who doesn’t like to shower very often. 🙂
Hopefully, by now you get the picture and you can think of your own examples for sensory inputs that rob you of your attention and focus.
The main idea is to filter out the external stimuli as much as you can, so your brain doesn’t have to. It’s going to take a lot less effort to figure out how to remove the stimuli completely, than for your brain to have to deal with those every day.