How To Focus And Improve Your Productivity

January 6, 2015

by Ravi Raman

Will you be able to FOCUS long enough to finish the post?

Focus is the hidden driver of EXCELLENCE. I find that more than any other ability, the ability to focus greatly determines my level of success and overall happiness in daily life.

The more focused I am, the more PRODUCTIVE I am. The more productive I am, the more successful my career is and the more time I have for leisure and exercise.

I am also HAPPIEST when I am focused. Focused on my writing. Focused on a sport. Focused on my yoga practice. Focused on helping a client though personal coaching. Focused on reading a good book.

Focused on solving a puzzle or game. Focused on playing with my dog or spending time with my wife.

Focus is the KEY.

However, I also find myself increasingly challenged in my ability to stay focused. My laptop and wifi connection give me instant access to unlimited amounts of information. Netflix tempts me, even though I live without Cable TV. I have a stack of books available to read. Too much choice is distracting.

Learn how to focus

Daniel Goleman has published a great book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence . In this book he delves into the details of what focus is, how is impacts our lives and how to get more of it. Goleman makes the following statement about focus:

“The good news on attention comes from neuroscience labs and school classrooms, where the findings point to ways we can strengthen this vital muscle of the mind. Attention works like a muscle – use it poorly and it can wither, work it well and it grows.

That’s good news.

Training is a familiar concept. We can train ourselves to be more fit. We can train ourselves to learn and be more intelligent. We can train ourselves to focus.”

The 3 types of focus

Goleman spends most of his book expounding on three different varieties of focus. Inner, Outer and Other Focus.

“Inner focus attunes to our intuitions, guiding values and better decisions. Other focus smooths our connections to the people in our lives. An outer focus lets us navigate in the larger world.

A leader tuned out of his internal world will be rudderless; one blind to the world of others will be clueless; those indifferent to the larger systems within which they operate will be blindsided.

What is even better; how we focus is the key to harnessing willpower, that key ingredient that is so crucial in determining the course of life.”

Improve your focus

The book contains a number of stories and research studies that provide insight to how anyone can improve inner, outer and other focus. I took notes as I read the book detailing a few of the methods.

  1. Listen to your intuition
  2. See yourself as others see you
  3. Listen to yourself as others hear you
  4. Beware of inner circles and the resulting groupthink
  5. Improve your willpower, it has a direct impact on focus
  6. Cultivate emotional empathy for those around you (“I feel your pain”)
  7. Understand where you are on the social ladder to see how you fit into the community
  8. Understand how you impact the greater community
  9. Build positive emotion, they increase your span of attention
  10. Consider how your actions impact the present and future to understand their importance
  11. Consider how your choices impact generations to come to further underscore their importance!

The role of mindfulness and meditation

Of all the points Goleman makes in his book, one paragraph stands out in terms of its benefit in building focus. This point speak to the value of mindfulness and meditation:

“Think of attention as a mental muscle that we can strengthen by a workout. Memorization works that muscle, as does concentration. The mental analog of lifting a free weight over and over is noticing when our mind wanders and bringing it back to target.That happens to be the essence of one-pointed focus in meditation, which, seen through the lens of cognitive neuroscience, typically involves attention training. You’re told to keep your focus on your mantra or a breath. Try it for a while and inevitably your mind wanders off.

So the universal instructions are these – when your mind wanders – and you notice that it has wandered – bring it back to your point of focus and sustain your attention there. And when your mind wanders off again, do the same. And again. And again. And again.”

I consider meditation the ultimate Life Hack. It is a shortcut to happiness, peace and a chance to tap into our inner wisdom and creativity to solve any problem.

Stay focused on the right stuff

Once you have built up focus and are marching towards a goal; you must ask the question: Is it all worthwhile?

Hopefully by thinking broadly about how the goal or task impacts others and the greater ecosystem in which you live, this goal will have already been deemed worthy.

Luckily, Goleman provides a last tip, from the Dalai Lama no less, on how to pay attention to the issues that are most important for us and for the world at large.

Goleman states:

“No matter what we are doing or what decision we are making; the Dalai Lama suggests these self-queries for checking our motivation towards a task:

Is it just for me, or for others?

For the benefit of the few, or the many?

For now, or for the future?”

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