Next week, I am teaching focus at the Test Guru Summit 23.
Most people think being able to focus is just about being able to concentrate on a task. And if they have no problem doing that, there’s nothing more to learn.
In my opinion, there’s much more to it than that!
Focus is a profound aspect of our lives: it’s a concept and a skill.
I divide focus into two layers.
First, there is how we create our world. And second, there is how we focus at a task.
Creating your World
Your experience of everything is dictated by what you focus on.
Sure, there is some objective definition of what is going on in the world. But what you process of that is decided by what you choose to focus on.
My favourite example is just thinking of a walk in a forest.
If you walk in a forest and focus on nature itself, you will feel connected and relaxed.
If you walk in a forest and focus on your smartphone, focus on all the overflowing todo-list, and keep thinking about all the annoyances in the world… you will just feel it’s annoying to walk in the uneven terrain, having to dodge all the twitches and whatever crap the woods is offering.
The same setup, two experiences. Because of where you focus.
Because you left out everything good.
“The ordinary everyday consciousness that we have leaves out more than it takes in. And because of this, it leaves out things that are terribly important. It leaves out things that would—if we did know them—allay our anxieties, and fears, and horrors.”Alan Watts
So, on the first level focus truly creates your world.
The second level is the “focus at work” here and now. And for that, I have a great protocol to share!
Five Factors of Focused Work
I like to think there are five clear categories that affect our focus skills.
And by introducing a bit of method to the madness, it’s going to be easier to get better (I’ll share how at the end of this post). The factors are:
Now, when you start to think about all the factors that affect your work through these categories, identifying individual things to either eliminate or improve becomes a breeze!
Let’s take a quick look at what these categories contain:
This is where you work. Does it support sustained attention? I’ve found noise to be the biggest think bothering my focus, but things like light and even architecture have an effect on how well you can work.
Are you stressed or anxious? Or do you even believe that you can achieve what you’re trying to do? All these things have a tremendous effect on your effort. Working on your mental state can be beneficial for your focus.
You have a lot of agency over your own behaviours, too. Are you splitting your work into manageable le sub-tasks? Are you single-tasking or pretending to be good at multitasking? Using good tools will go a long way in this category!
This is the big one. We’re all limited by our biology, but there are a couple of big ones to get right here. Or else everything else will fail. First, sleep regularly and aim for 8 hours per night. Second, keep your body hydrated. Fail to do either of these, and your focus will crumble.
This I’ve found to be the most controversial of the bunch. You’re going to have to say no. Imagine trying to dive deep into your work, just to notice your significant other sending you 10 WhatsApp messages, demanding for instant reply. Or, what if your colleagues are just constantly asking for your time and input when you are working on something important to you? Learn to draw boundaries around your focus time.
Improving by Tracking
There’s an easy way to start improving your overall focus.
For each category, think of how much is realistically possible for you on a scale from 1-10.
This is, in an optimal case, how well it is possible for you to e.g. sleep well. We all know how it goes with parents with small kids. Or maybe your work schedule is messy. Not everyone can do a perfect 10 in every category, and that’s fine.
Do this for every category e.g. in Google Sheets, and find out your current GAP. Your ideal state in every category, and your current state.
Here’s an easy sheet you can duplicate for yourself (i named if Focus Radar).
Then, you simply update it every month, after trying to intentionally work on the categories you do worst at. Or the ones that seem the easiest to improve. And you work on getting them closer and closer to your goal state.
As you do this, you almost accidentally get better at focusing.
And consequently, you get more done, stress less, and overall have more fun working.
And that’s really it! The easy way to improve your focus.
Let me know how it goes, and I’ll see you back here next week!