Things have hit an all time low with my attention span. I can’t make it through a a Facebook video if there’s an advert halfway through. I’m out. It doesn’t matter how gripped I am on the original video, the moment that little timer pops up my brain has drifted off.
A lot of people struggle to keep focused for long periods of time or one one task at a time. But those with anxious minds can find it that bit harder to focus on one thing. The nature of anxiety means our brains are constantly whirring away, or focused on something that probably will never happen at some point in the future (thanks for trying to keep us safe, Brain!).
While having a short attention span when it comes to social media isn’t the biggest problem in the world, it certainly is an unhealthy one. Equally the more we train our brains to not concentrate for longer than 30 seconds, the harder it is to apply ourselves when it really matters. Be it work, a conversation, or even just a simple task like paying a bill. Our brains our so used to quick fix gratitication that if it doesn’t recognise an equally quick fix reward, chances are, you’ll either procrastinate or pick up that phone to get that little mindless, social media, serotonin boost.
So here are my top 5 tips for staying focused when it really matters:
1. REMOVE THE DISTRACTIONS!
Sometimes it is as simple as that. If you know you’re likely to drift off if the TV is on, or you have a tendency to pick up your phone every 2 minutes just to have a little scroll, remove the option.
Put away those phones, turn off Netflix, and make sure you have everything you need to get down to business. Get a cuppa, get a snack if you need one, pop on some music (nobody’s expecting you to work in silence!) and start smashing those goals.
2. DEFINE THE END GOAL
Very often the reason we struggle to focus is because we actually haven’t got the focus clear to begin with!
Our brain likes to operate using repeated and learned processes as much as possible. Therefore by setting an end goal it will automatically and subconsciously start to figure out the steps required to get there. Then you just have to start doing it! By defining the end result you need to or would like to achieve, you’re instantly setting yourself up for a win.
This works both on the bigger goal or task at hand, or smaller sub tasks as explained in our next step.
3. BREAK IT DOWN INTO SUB TASKS
It doesn’t matter how big or small a task/project is it can always be broken down into sub tasks. Depending on my level of anxiety at the time I have been known to break it down as far as “stand up > walk to kitchen > turn on tap” etc etc. Just to get the washing up done.
For bigger tasks breaking things down into 30 minute tasks or less can work wonders. It makes things seem much more achievable and therefore less likely to cause more anxiety than is necessary.
4. SCHEDULE IN ‘DISTRACTION TIME’
Although we’ll talk about rewards in a moment scheduling in 5-10 minutes of distraction time feels like a mini reward in itself. By working in the ’30 minutes or less’ increment style as mentioned above, you can allow yourself 5-10 minutes of whatever you like after each 30 minutes.
You have to be strict on only allowing yourself the scheduled time for distractions. I would strongly recommend not going on social media as these platforms are literally designed to get you to spend as much time as possible on them. Things like getting up to make a tea and open the windows, or taking a few minutes to stretch are ideal uses of your time.
Pop an alarm on so you know when your time is up, and make the most of it!
5. REWARD YOURSELF
My favourite part of all. Sometimes, you gotta take it back to basics. You do something good, you get a treat. Like a puppy. A super productive, focussed puppy.
Whether the treat is a literal treat (chocolate buttons once I’ve completed each sub task works miracles) or is just a little celebration and feeling of pride once you have accomplished your goal, it won’t take long for your mind to recognise the feeling of happiness and endorphins that are associated with achievements and following through with tasks.
Never be ashamed to celebrate the wins!
YAY! The fact that you even made it through this blog post shows that you can focus. Give yourself a huge pat on the back and go smash your next task… GO.