Pay Attention. Focus. How?

Our attention is being diverted in countless directions. Only it’s not the usual noise buzzing in the background. The issues are big and complicated and we’re feeling stuff. 

The problem with attention fragmentation isn’t just a drop in productivity. Attention fragmentation increases anxiety (a lot), errors (a lawyer’s nightmare), the time it takes to get stuff done (our most precious asset) and exhaustion, zapping our energy. Attention fragmentation also shortens our emotional fuse, making patience a rare and valuable commodity. 

Enter attention training

My experience is what I agree to attend to.” William James

Though it was written more than 100 years ago, this powerful quote reminds us that we’re both in charge of our experience by what we agree to attend to, and we design that experience by where we, in fact, place our attention.

Here are five steps to train your attention, and put an end to fragmentation, so that you focus, get stuff done, and feel better.

1. Get your timer.

2. Identify what matters most right now.  If there are several competing items, list them out, but no more than three or four. 

3. Choose one to start.

4. Choose a time frame for which you can realistically focus without interruption (not necessarily complete the matter). This time frame is a construct to train your attention. You’re in charge. Give yourself permission to do nothing else but attend to the work in front of you for that limited amount of time. This is a way of using Parkinson’s Law–“work expands to fill the time available for its completion”–to your advantage. I generally use 30-45 minute blocks, but shorter blocks are excellent, too. If 15 or 20 minutes is your ideal focus block, that’s outstanding. Use that. Focused work for 20 minutes stacked throughout the day is far more efficient and effective than hours of compromised attention. You can always keep going if you’re in flow when the timer runs. 

5. Once you begin, actively NOTICE and NAME interruptions, distractions, or when your attention wanders. Our brains self-interrupt; we need to notice it to mitigate it. [You won’t always have to do this; this is the actual brain training, though I still find it useful.] If you are interrupted, rather than simply divert partial attention to the interruption, make a DECISION to either engage with the interruption fully or to return to the matter at hand. This is important! This puts 100% of our attention where it belongs and prevents the drain of thinking about competing demands. 

Attention training reduces anxiety, increases cognitive capacity, enables flow, and conserves energy. At the end of the day, we’re more alert and available for what lies ahead. Use this process for breaks or other parts of your life where it makes sense, to maximize those experiences.

One more note: cognitive work uses energy. Your brain, the organ that does your thinking, needs fuel to function and the wrong foods can interfere with our best efforts. Brains run on good fat, water, glucose (not sugar which lowers cognitive capacity and increases stress) and oxygen. Before starting important work, eat real food (which provides the glucose and fat), keep water at your side, and keep breathing below the heart. Download our free infographics as a simple way to support your hard work. 

Questions about this? I’d love to hear from you! 

Dare to thrive, especially now.