5 Exercises for Improving Attention and Focus
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
Practice these now and use them at times you're having problems concentrating.
1. Zen meditation breathing
My number one recommendation for permanently improving focus is daily meditation practice, but realistically, I know most people simply won't do that. However, if you use the technique for just a minute, it can reclaim your focus and return it to your present task. When you're in the middle of a project and you find your mind wandering too much, or you are interrupted and lose your flow, you can empty your thoughts and find your way back.
All you have to do is breath in and do nothing; breathe out and count "one." Repeat, counting from 1 to 4 and then start again from 1, for a mere sixty seconds. Yes, your mind will wander again while you're doing the exercise. Just bring your mind back to the exercise and keep going. It breaks up the jabber-jabber of the "monkey mind" so you can get on with your work. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
You are going to be wandering into visualizations anyway, so why not practice a visualization that will help get you back on track? Most people think visually, i.e. make moving pictures of what's in their minds. The more vivid and compelling the mental video, the more impact it will have.
Pre-set yourself with a high impact mental video (visualization) that includes:
• what you will be doing in your task
• your motivations for the task
• good feelings that will keep you motivated
• what you want and expect as results and
• good feelings you expect from the completion of the project.
By playing a motivational video in your head up front, you'll have images that support completion and interfere with distracting images as you are trying to concentrate.
3. Desk Clearing
Have nothing on your desk that you do not need for the immediate project. This is something that should be a permanent practice in your office, but at least try the technique the next time you're having trouble concentrating. You can just sweep all desk contents into a Banker's box and hide it under the desk until you're finished. To make it permanent, get a mobile file cart to set beside your desk and keep things handy but out of immediate visual contact.
If you are not already a member of the Clean Desk Club, just practicing this exercise may amaze you with how distracting desk clutter can be.
4. Writing Pad
Work only on one subject. If an irrelevant idea or urge comes to you, write it down briefly on a pad handy next to you. It keeps you from being distracted on a project by ideas and interruptions-- you know you’ll remember them later. It doesn’t have to be a physical pad, it can be notepad or other text software
5. Set a Timer
Nothing focuses like having a deadline. This exercise is another that you should make a regular technique. Perhaps if you practice it a few times, you'll like it and adopt it.
It works best if you break your project down into segments that can be done in short times: 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc., with no segment longer than 30 minutes. Thirty minutes is about the limit for keeping good focus. Then take a brief break (1 or 2 minutes should be enough, but it depends on how long you've already been working).
A sense of urgency, even artificially imposed, is one of the most powerful forms of getting focus.
C.S. Clarke, Ph.D. is a psychologist and publisher of Superperformance.com.® Superperformance.com publishes human performance and self-improvement articles, link directories, e-books, and many other tools for improving human performance and productivity, for career development, and for personal achievement. Superperformance ® is a trademark.