Focus is something a lot of us are in search of all the time. In a world that appears to thrive on distraction, focus seems harder and harder to achieve. Is it really that elusive though?
2020 can hardly be the poster child for better focus and productivity given the global situation, but if there’s one thing I learnt how to do better, it was training my mind to focus for longer periods of time.
I’ll be honest. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy considering how the monkey mind tends to flit from one idea to the next in quick succession. But after July 2020, my attention as well as my commitment to the idea of focus improved by leaps and bounds.
There is no secret here to what I did, so I’m going to break it down into how I managed to do it and 8 ways that this technique can actually help you.
Why I decided to work on improving my focus
In June 2020, I was on the verge of burnout and overwork and took two weeks away from work. Since my job involves being on social media and connecting with clients, this automatically extended to becoming a much-needed social media break as well.
I also briefly deactivated my Twitter account to see if that would help with improved focus.
In my mind, social media was the reason I felt overworked and unable to focus. This was a cause-effect correlation that is easy to make especially if you’re super active in the online space.
Now here’s the interesting thing. After I tested all of these things, it came to me that the problem wasn’t the social media apps or their ability to hook and lure us everyday. The biggest challenge of all was trying to find something/anything outside of social media that would engage me the way social media did.
Today I use all four of my active social media platforms- Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin- 5 to 6 days a week. But the difference is I turn them on with intention when I need to and turn them off with gratitude when I am done for the day.
I’ll explain how this came to pass.
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How I fine tuned my focus
The first thing I did when I deactivated/ turned off my social media apps for a fortnight was to write down my feelings when it came to these channels.
What did I feel every time I logged on to them?
- FOMO or Fear of Missing Out
- Comparison-itis or the idea that someone in your niche is doing better than you
- Impostor syndrome- that what you’re doing is not good enough
Once I had it all written out in black and white it became much easier for me to process the core basis for these feelings.
I always felt like I had been using social media as a way to distract myself from the task at hand instead of using it consciously for my business.
And almost as if the Universe was listening at this exact time (late June 2020) I came across George Kao and his principles of joyful productivity.
This is a book I recommend to every single person who feels overworked, overwhelmed and who feels like throwing in the towel when things get hard.
Kao’s book (as well as his detailed articles on the subject) taught me that I could do so much more deeply meaningful work every day and every week if only I learnt how to prioritise what mattered. What’s more, it would involve a renewed awareness of how we use the tools at our disposal.
Over the last 5 months, these are the things that have happened when I managed to fine tune my focus.
This article will be as much an insight into the lessons I’ve learnt as it will be about highlighting some key points from Kao’s book ‘Joyful Productivity’.
- Why I decided to work on improving my focus
- How I fine tuned my focus
- More energy for the right things
- You tend to plan out your days/weeks/months better
- You naturally avoid shiny object syndrome
- Lesser overwhelm
- More time to absorb what you learn
- You’ll actually see progress
- You stop comparing yourself to other people
- More time to spend with your family/friends
More energy for the right things
When you focus better, you tend to train your mind and your body to let go of those feelings of inadequacy and comparison that I mentioned earlier.
Let’s say you decide to log into Instagram to post an update for your audience. This could be a post on the grid, a story or an IGTV video.
Assuming you are doing this from the business perspective, it would take you anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes for this activity.
You do this and then log out of the app for the next 4 to 5 hours. Later in the day, you can come back and respond to the comments, answer the questions and also engage with other people in your network. This would again take anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes.
What does this do?
It allows you to use the app- a tool like Instagram- to connect with your audience and your network. It also ensures that you don’t go down the rabbit hole of distraction.
You tend to plan out your days/weeks/months better
All those plans you have for the weeks and months ahead and that are sitting in a drawer (virtual or otherwise), it’s time to get them out.
Better focus enables you to train your mind to plan things better.
What’s more, you’ll actually end up executing those tasks too instead of just planning them and keeping them in the space of inactivity.
There really are no rules when it comes to the length of your planning. Some people prefer planning by the week. Others can do an entire year’s worth of planning. The important thing to remember is to move from the planning stage to the action stage. That’s what better focus helps you achieve.
Read about how I plan my blogging and social media goals for 90 days at a time.
You naturally avoid shiny object syndrome
I’m sure you’re familiar with this idea. You start working with a great deal of energy on one topic. Then you read an article or hear about a course from this other person and switch tracks midway. Net result is that you focus on neither idea long enough for you to see results.
In early 2019, I came across and devoured James Clear’s Atomic Habits. I fell in love with the book so much that I began to recommend it to every single person I came across, even people who weren’t readers.
It was also the year that I officially gave up adding refined white sugar and started ( and stuck) to a regular fitness regimen.
That year, I really didn’t focus on much else. It was a revelation on how the power of focus can fundamentally change one’s approach to life and work.
When you focus on one thing (or a few very important related things) your mind naturally starts to feel calmer.
Even better is the idea that you will start prioritizing things like a sound night’s sleep and good habit as a sort of default response.
The thing you’ll learn about mindful focus is that it allows you to let go of things that you cannot control and instead learn to concentrate on things that you can control.
More time to absorb what you learn
Remember how I mentioned James Clear earlier? He was the person whom I chose to follow and learn from in 2019.
For 2020 (and for the foreseeable future) that role is assumed by George Kao.
It doesn’t mean I will never learn from other people and their ideas. For instance I regularly follow writers and leaders like Susan Cain, Carol Dweck, Brene Brown, Cal Newport, Leo Babauta and others.
But I will tend to absorb and retain information better if I act on the principles that one of them teaches for an extended period of time. Think of it as studying a particular poet/playwright for a research paper or your PhD.
The only way you’d improve is if you were to dive deep into the works of the artist and absorb what they have to share.
You’ll actually see progress
Here’s the most practical outcome that happens when you learn to improve your focus. You’ll see growth happening almost automatically.
I saw this happen, first-hand, with my business, in 2020. When I trained my mind to focus on things that actually mattered, my monthly income went from X to 4X in just 4 months.
The crazy thing is I was actually working shorter hours than before. I was also sleeping better, working out more regularly and even finding more time to read- something I hadn’t done in over 2 years!
The beauty of focus is that it takes you away from the idea of working too hard and instead puts it back where it belongs: Working with intention and gratitude.
You stop comparing yourself to other people
I don’t remember who it was that said it, but it’s so true. When you are busy working on your own goals, you don’t have time to check if other people are ahead of you.
My biggest roadblock when it came to enjoying my work as a social media coach was overcoming the idea of comparison. Focus helped me make peace with who I am, what I stand for and the values that I hold dear.
In fact, the strangest thing has happened in just the last 5 months of using Instagram regularly.
Despite not using hashtags or posting at the most optimal times or following a large number of accounts, I’m getting better engagement from my tribe, more networking opportunities and more insight into how I can truly use this platform as a positive way to promote my business.
More time to spend with your family/friends
This may be the best thing ever to have come out of better focus this year alone.
Keeping very clear but distinct boundaries between work and home ensures that I have way more time to spend with the people I love.
In fact, it was amusing to my husband when he called out to me one Sunday evening to ask me what I was doing and I responded with, ‘Nothing.’ 🙂
I actually have time to sit still and get bored these days, an activity I highly recommend if you’d like to improve the quality of your life.
Focus isn’t elusive. Distraction isn’t insurmountable. Take it from someone who’s been through it and can vouch for the fact that it works.
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Before you go, check out these different resources that I recommend for you to improve your focus:
- Focusmate: A productivity app with accountability that helps you work in 50-minute blocks to achieve your goals and work through your to-do lists for the day.
- Joyful Productivity by George Kao: The Book that will help you put the focus back where it matters and improve the way you do work with both joy and efficiency.
- Atomic Habits by James Clear: The only book you will ever need to work on your habits and ensure that you stick with them for life
- The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan: If your mind is split in different directions, this book will help you find your one thing.
- Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey: The book that will teach you how to improve your focus. This one is pretty good since it chalks out different exercises you can implement to see results in the short term and the long term.
- Mindful Time Management for Joyful Productivity: A Course by George Kao that will help you fine tune your focus and do things with deep joy.
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I’m a blog & content coach with over 13 years of writing, blogging and social media experience.
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