Research shows that a typical adult faces 100,000 words of information per day.
This information is coming through conversations with people we meet, things we read and shows we watch. With this deluge of data coming at us, it is no surprise that one’s ability to focus is a vital skill.
We push to distraction at work and in our lives. While it is possible to harness willpower to improve your concentration, willpower is finite. How then can we improve focus to both enhance our productivity and feel in control of our daily efforts?
Dr. Edward Hallowell has answers! His books, Driven to Distraction and Driven to Distraction at Work are full of practical and proven techniques to regain your ability to focus on what matters, reclaim your free time and achieve a productive mental state.
Dr. Hallowell is a unique voice when it comes to the field of productivity, as his decades-long career is solely focused on helping people train their attention.
Instead of relying just on theory, he relies on proven strategies that he has used with clients to help them overcome severe attention-deficit disorders.
If you are at all interested in improving your ability to focus at work, I highly recommend reading his book, Driven to Distraction at Work. In reading the book myself, I learned that overcoming distraction has two prerequisites:
- Getting clear on what is distracting you
- Committing to overcome the distraction
The rest of this blog post goes deeper into these two points.
The Six Most Common Distractions At Work
Dr. Hallowell identifies the six most common distractions at work and provides clear guidance on how he has worked with countless clients to help them avoid their attention stealing tendencies. These common distractions are:
- Screen sucking
- Idea hopping
- Playing the hero
- Dropping the ball
Does any of these distractions resonate with you?
Screen sucking is a huge one for me!
For this malady, Hallowell recommends substituting real human connection for the superficial and false connection that our connected devices and social networks can give us. The idea of this substitution is to provide the stimulation we are looking for (real connection) in a way that serves us (meeting other humans) while avoiding the distracting trap that emailing and messaging can trigger.
Likewise, for all the everyday distractions, we can overcome them by understanding why we are attracted to the distraction in the first place, and if it is not helping us, satisfy the need we have in a more fruitful way.
For example, instead of wasting energy and being distracted by “worrying”, we can channel that energy into getting all the facts and information about the thing we are worrying about. Since “worry” is often driven by a lack of information and uncertainty, addressing this need will often alleviate the worry.
What else can we do to overcome these distractions?
Read on to learn more.
Five Elements To Overcoming Distraction At Work
Dr. Hallowell focuses on five essential elements that must be addressed to improve focus and overcome the frequent distractions we just covered:
- Energy: Our brain needs nourishment and plenty of energy to stay focused. This means diet, sleep habits and exercise play a huge part in your ability to focus. Like fuel in your car, you cannot run at a high level without consistent and adequate energy levels.
- Emotion: Our emotional state significantly impacts our ability to learn, our motivations and our willingness to focus on a task for extended periods of time. Cultivating positive emotional states, and channelling them around your work, will create stronger engagement and focus.
- Engagement: You need to be interested in something to focus on it. Why are you doing what you are doing? What will you learn by finishing your task? What fascinates you about your work? What new or novel activity can you do to peak your interest? Tap into what interests you in your tasks, and engagement and focus will come along for the ride.
- Structure: Structure is about how you shape and schedule your day and the rules and tools you use to help you get things done and manage your projects, team members and time. Structure is also about boundaries, the things you will commit to doing (and not doing) to make sure your time is spent on the most useful things. Without clear structures, focus is impossible.
- Control: Dr. Hallowell mentions that most of us waste at least one hundred and fifty minutes a day without even noticing we are doing it! I would say this is an understatement 🙂 . Control is about taking back your attention, and not letting any poor habits you have developed unconsciously run your life.
By being aware of these five elements and fine tuning them, you can overcome anything that is causing you to be distracted and lose focus.
I recommend checking out the book, as it goes deep into each of these elements, with case studies that demonstrate how to implement these ideas on the job.