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We all lead busy lives, dividing our time and attention between our health, work, family, and relationships. Inevitably, we end up trying to keep everyone happy, so, despite doing a lot, we struggle to get important things done.
Often, the reason we fail to be productive has more to do with our focus and energy rather than a lack of time. Most of us instead find ourselves repeating similar tasks over and over, which leads to distraction and procrastination. Without learning to direct our energy and attention well, no amount of time will ever be enough to do what we must.
Why do we struggle to focus? We’ll address that question soon. First, though, we need to define focus and find out its relationship to productivity and intelligence.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
What is Focus?
Focus is the ability to concentrate on one task, to the exclusion of all else, paying attention to that task and things related to it. Most think of focus only as a measure of how hard you can concentrate, but in truth, that is only part of what focus is.
Different people need different things to help them focus. Some need a neat workspace and absolute silence, some need music or background noise, whilst still others need personal photos and mementos around them to help them work effectively.
Thus, to create a productive work environment, you must work out what is best for you, even if you must put in a little effort or spend some money. The relationship between focus and productivity is crucial, as is that which exists between intelligence and focus. We can best understand what focus is by looking at each in turn.
Productivity and Focus
You are not going to become productive by chance. Focus lies at the heart of productivity. If you want to get everything done, you need to plan and have sufficient drive to achieve what you want.
Productivity is not about how well your workspace is organised or how many tasks you complete. It centres around achieving the best outcome in the shortest possible time. If you are focused, you use your energy more efficiently. If you can focus well, you are likely to get a good outcome regardless of the time you have available. That is why people who have an excellent ability to focus are often high achievers, who can extract maximum benefit for their efforts, even when they have limited time.
By contrast, when your attention is split between various things, you cannot fully concentrate on any single thing. Our brains are not designed for multitasking, even though society has made many of us believe that we can focus on multiple things at once.
Intelligence and Focus
Intelligence is being able to interpret and apply what we know or can find out so that we can influence our environment. On average, intelligent people have an increased ability to focus.
Your ability to focus is an important indicator of intellect because concentration involves what you notice and overlook, what you think about and what you do not, as well as what you believe about the world around you. How well you can focus is also determined by how quickly you can absorb information and how well you can remember something. Even if someone intelligent struggles to concentrate, this can be made up for by perseverance and mental fortitude.
Now we know what focus is, it’s time to explore why so many of us find maintaining our concentration so difficult.
Why We Struggle to Focus
We have all experienced a lack of concentration at some stage. We know that it can make us anxious and stress us out because we are putting more pressure on ourselves, and we soon find we have less time to complete an important task. But if being able to concentrate is essential if we want to manage our day well, why are there times when we just can’t seem to focus?
Here are some possible reasons.
You are confronted by digital distractions
We are all constantly surrounded by distractions and technology, which can hinder our ability to concentrate. We must now contend with mobile phones, social media, and much more technology in our lives which takes our attention away from things that truly matter.
You could be trying to multitask
If you bite off more than you can chew, you may find you cannot concentrate on what you’re doing. Overburdening yourself and trying to do many things at once can make you anxious and stressed, which we will soon see can cause you to lose focus.
You are affected by stress and anxiety
Being anxious or stressed can cause you to be preoccupied and worried and you may try to protect yourself by distancing yourself from reality. This withdrawal from the present moment can make it difficult to focus. This can happen if you feel overwhelmed by work and can damage your productivity.
You dislike the work you are doing
When you dislike the work you are engaged in, it’s hard to give your whole attention to it and put in your best effort. That is why there is merit in the advice to find something you enjoy doing if possible because it is easier to concentrate on something you enjoy than something you don’t.
You have a poor diet
Struggling to focus could be a result of a vitamin deficiency in your diet. A lack of Vitamin B can cause brain fog and a decreased capacity to concentrate. Vitamins C and D also support focus, so a lack of any or all of them can affect your ability to concentrate and slow cognitive function.
If you believe part of the reason you struggle to focus, pay attention, and see if you experience any of the symptoms. If you do, don’t dismiss them out of hand. Instead, you may want to consider how you’ve been feeling recently and if changing your diet may help improve your focus.
You are not getting enough sleep
To function as it should, the brain needs sufficient rest. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will have poorer memory, pay less attention to detail, and find it harder to concentrate. A lack of sleep can make even the most routine, everyday tasks seem an effort.
So, it is vital that you get 6-9 hours of sleep each night, not just for your health, but also if you want to be able to focus on tasks you have before you and be truly productive.
You have a hormonal imbalance
Biochemistry is hugely important to the function of your brain. Thus, if you have a hormonal imbalance, it can cause a range of symptoms including irritability, stress, depression, and aggression. All of these can have a negative impact on your focus and impair cognitive function.
A severe lack of focus may indicate you have mental health difficulties
People suffering from conditions like PTSD or ADHD may often experience a lack of focus. So, if you think frequently not being able to focus could be related to your mental health, you should go and get it checked out.
Now you know some of the reasons you may have difficulty focusing, let’s turn to some of the things you can try to improve your capacity to concentrate.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Focus?
Here are just a few techniques you can try if you find yourself struggling to focus and get stuff done.
- Organise your day into separate 30-minute chunks.
- Break large or complex tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. If a task seems so large as to be insurmountable, you are more likely to procrastinate. If you leave something until the last minute, your focus will be impaired due to stress and the extra pressure you’ve put yourself under. So, start early and start small.
- Conquer your most challenging task first. If you manage to do this regularly, you will begin to feel more confident, and your productivity will soar.
- Use the Pomodoro or Flowtime Technique to help stay focused and become a master at managing your time.
- Jot down thoughts you have when you’re working on something, so they don’t distract you for long. You can use a notepad and pen to do this. So, whenever you think of something unrelated to your current task, quickly write it down and get right back on track.
- Work with someone else. You’ll know you’re not working on something alone which can alleviate stress and make it easier to concentrate because it seems less overwhelming. By working together, you make each other accountable and push each other to work harder.
- Only check your emails and messages at pre-set times throughout the day, so that you have less chance of being distracted while in a state of flow. That way, you are controlling your day, rather than letting the tools you use control you.
- Think of the negative consequences both you and others will face if a task is not completed. Doing that is a fantastic way to maintain focus and finish things off, in an effort not to disappoint those around you.
- Listen to music that complements the work you’re doing. Music can help increase your focus if it’s the right sort of music and if you listen to it under the right conditions.
- Take some exercise if you find you can’t concentrate. Even a small amount will help you get rid of any restlessness you may be experiencing and give you that extra spurt of energy you need to continue. The exercise doesn’t have to be intense; it can be any activity that will increase your heart rate and level of alertness. It can be particularly helpful if you have a difficult task to undertake.
There you have it. We’ve covered what focus is, and how it is interwoven with both intelligence and productivity. Hopefully, you have more of an idea of why you struggle to focus and what you can do if you’re worried that the difficulty you have concentrating goes beyond what is natural. After reading this, you can apply any of the tips given to help you get back on track in no time at all when you do become distracted. That way, you will be able to remain super productive.
Do you have a unique way to stay focused that we haven’t mentioned here? Feel free to share it in the comments.