5 techniques to improve your focus.

I used to struggle with my focus a lot. And I still do from time to time. But it got better. If I wanted to focus on what I was doing, I would easily get distracted. Sometimes my focus was so off that I didn’t even start doing what I wanted to do.

I spent a lot of time planning. I was psyched to learn, to read, to work on personal projects. But when the time came, I couldn’t focus. All the excitement went away and at the end of the day, I felt bad because I didn’t do what I said I would. This mostly affected my learning and my learning projects which I do on the side.

Our focus can be so fragile.

So I tried different techniques and strategies to improve my focus. These are the five techniques that helped me the most.

0. no brainer

The no brainer strategy, the one I don’t count to the five techniques, is to just get rid of your phone for the time you want to focus. Mute your phone, turn off the TV, get rid of obvious distractions in your environment.

1. timeboxing

Our focus is time-dependent. We might start with high focus but over time our focus will decrease bit by bit. So it might make sense to focus for a bit and rest for a bit afterwards.

Timeboxing allows you exactly to do that. Simply define a time for which you want to focus.

How long do you want to learn? How long do you want to read? How long do you want to work on a personal project?

One popular timeboxing technique is the Pomodoro technique. You focus for 25 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes, and repeat the process.

I personally find 25 minutes too short for learning. I feel like I’m only fully immersed and focused after 25 minutes. So stopping after that makes no sense to me. I’m personally using a 52–17 minute timeboxing technique. After 52 minutes, I often need a short break. I take a short walk or get a glass of water, drink some coffee, or chat with family and friends.

Test different timeboxing intervals. See what works for you.

Timebox once a day or multiple times per day. It depends on what you want to do and how often you can take time to be fully focused — we all have other tasks to do during the day.

The benefit of timeboxing is not only to focus, refresh, and focus again. For me at least, timeboxing helps me also to dedicate a certain time to be in focus mode. It helps me take on the responsibility of being focused.

Every time I want to get distracted or take a break, I check the time and know that it is not the right time now to get distracted. I have to go back mentally and keep being focused.

While timeboxing, I also know that my time to get distracted and take a break will come. I know I won’t be completely exhausted.

At each break and finally at the end of the day, you have this nice feeling. You just feel great because you took the time to focus and actually did it.

2. dump vague thoughts

One thing that can distract us the most are our own thoughts.

Vague thoughts seem to wait until we want to focus. And then, they start bubbling up. You want to focus but you start thinking about cleaning the kitchen. Or you remember that you wanted to call your parents. Or you realize that you still have to finish writing an article. You might even think about your past and future and get completely lost in thoughts.

Ignoring these thoughts doesn’t work. They will bubble up again. They might even come back with a higher intensity.

So instead of ignoring these vague thoughts, dump them. Keep a notepad on your desk and write the vague thoughts down. Vague thoughts, vague ideas, vague tasks. Whatever tries to break your focus.

Once written down, your brain knows “Ok I don’t have to remind him/her anymore, the thought is now stored somewhere else.”. And you can go back to being focused. After your timeboxed focus session, go through your list of vague thoughts. Now is the time to deal with them.

3. define the “whys”

Another reason why we struggle with our focus is that we don’t start focusing in the first place.

The day before, we knew we wanted to learn, read, work on a project. But when the day actually comes we find reasons to avoid doing it.

To combat this, define reasons why you want to focus.

Define why you want to learn. Define why you want to read. Define why you want to work on a side project.

Defining reasons will create more attraction within you and allow you to focus. Your “whys” will build more attraction and destroy distraction.

The opposite of distraction is not focus but attraction. — Jay Shetty

4. define questions

This one helps you especially to focus while you are learning or reading.

Define questions before you start learning or reading. What are you looking for? What do you want to learn? What do you expect to get out of reading this book?

If you formulate questions, you will open up small spaces in your mind. Your mind gets annoyed by questions and these small open spaces. It wants to find answers. It wants to puzzle and place an insight into the open space.

If you don’t have any questions, skim the material — book, video, podcast — -and write down questions that come up. You don’t have to find the answers yet. You first have to find the questions.

Questions will refine your focus. This way you are not learning or reading aimlessly. You exactly know what you are looking for.

5. mental focus follows visual focus

This is a technique I learned from the Hubermann Podcast. Our mental focus follows our visual focus. It might sound weird but it somehow works, at least for me.

If you feel like getting distracted and losing focus, try to focus with your vision on one particular area. Ideally onto an area that is important right now and not your phone. If you are writing an article, focus your vision on the one word you are currently typing. If you are reading, focus your vision on the one word you are reading. If you are watching a tutorial, focus your vision on video.

If you focus on your vision, you will pay more attention. The increased attention will get rid of distractions and refine your focus.

I like to make sense of this with a metaphor. Your vision is like a lens. A lens can focus light onto a small area. Thus concentrating more energy onto one spot. Your visual focus focuses your awareness on a small area. Thus concentrating your energy onto that particular spot.

These are the 5 techniques that help me improve my focus. What techniques are you using to refine your focus?

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