Can't Focus? Here's Why and How to Fix It
One of the most coached subjects amongst my clients in 2021 was how to increase or improve focus. Many clients came to me for support having completed an assessment that validated that they’ve lost the ability to focus.
They wanted a silver bullet. A quick fix. So, we did something really simple. We explored their average workday from the time they woke up to the time they went to bed. The purpose was to determine what was helping and what was hindering their ability to focus.
Many had been bouncing from meeting to meeting and experiencing a significant number of interruptions throughout their day. In addition, periodically, they were managing kids home from school either in virtual learning or isolating until Covid test results were in.
Our capacity to focus has diminished largely because we are living in the Digital Era.
We’re accustomed to a deluge of information. So much information that we haven’t got the time nor skill to manage it all. So, we’ve developed hacks to scan information quickly, although not very effectively. With this we’ve diluted our ability to spend time thinking deeply.
It’ll be no surprise that these are symptoms of an overstimulated brain. Many of us are suffering from information overload. We’re trying to manage more information than our brains can effectively process. Our inability to focus is a symptom of information overload. Being overloaded presents as feeling scattered, overwhelmed, and stressed. Chronic information overload is a way to nearly guarantee you’ll wind up in the fast-track line to burnout.
So, rather than focus on fixing focus, we need to address managing information overload.
Here are some suggestions:
Reduce Social Media Consumption
Open your mobile device settings and locate the time you’ve spent on social media apps this week. Shocked? I was shocked when I looked at my screen time too.
Our social media/mobile device usage is a neural addiction. This addiction has us “multi-tasking” constantly – something that strains the brain and increases the production of stress hormones. “Multitasking also creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”
If you want to reduce information overload and improve focus, I recommend deleting the social media apps that you find yourself unconsciously and repetitively opening. Delete them from your mobile device completely. Try this for a minimum of one week and if you desperately need to get onto those apps, force yourself to only do this on your laptop or desktop.
After a week, take a moment to see if you managed to improve your level of focus.
Audit Your Typical Workday & Add Distraction Free Time
Just like I ask my clients to do, I invite you to write down everything you do from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, minus bio breaks. Include details such as when you check emails, respond to IMs, have meetings, and put down your device.
Ask yourself these questions:
How often am I fully on task?
How often am I doing multiple things at once?
How much time do I have dedicated to complete focused, high value/high importance work?
When do I have device-free time?
You will likely discover that your attention throughout the day is fragmented. That at any given time you are not fully present in the activity at hand. This makes sense because of our natural inclination to multitask and very real belief that we must multitask to get everything done.
Let’s challenge that thinking.
Building on the success you’ve had from reducing your social media usage, I recommend building in at least 20 minutes of “focus” time to your calendar each day. During this time, move your phone to another room, close out instant messaging, emails, and other distractions. Make the most of those 20 minutes by setting a clear goal on what you want to accomplish.
Try this one out for a minimum of one week as well.
Block Time Each Week for Planning
I’ve been there. You're running from meeting to meeting. You're trying to toggle between one topic that’s super high level and strategic and then to something more tactical or urgent. Between it all you’ve also got several administrative tasks and long-range planning you need to fit in.
A simple strategy that often works to go from reactive to proactive mode is to carve out time on Friday afternoons (or whenever your work-week is wrapping up) to plan your following week or weeks, to knock the simple admin tasks off your list and to envision the future.
When you return to your (home) office on Monday, you’ll have a clearer roadmap for the week ahead. At the very least, update your to-do list for the following week.
Disconnect from Devices
Rest is imperative for reducing information overload and improving focus. Of course, getting good quality and regular shut eye is key to thrive. In addition, mental and sensory rest are vital to reduce information overload. This means taking time away from screens.
Your brain needs downtime.
Exercise, time spent outdoors, and meditation are all great ways to ensure your brain has enough time to replenish.
Build rest into your schedule the same way you build time in to brush your teeth. Make it a routine.
Lastly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we all fit into a larger ecosystem. That ecosystem has changed exponentially, year over year. Most of us have bought into the structure of that system. We've purchased the smartphones, downloaded the apps, and subscribed to the newsletters. Our employers have signed us up for increased connectivity too. And these solutions have added value in so many ways, but there are unintended consequences.
Given the consistent flow of clients across all sectors reporting an issue with their levels of focus, it’s my view that these consequences are pervasive. If you’re struggling with focus, you might be on the path to burnout. Take my free burnout assessment to find out now.
If you’d like more tips or support, feel free to schedule a connection call with me today.
About Lauren McCreery
Lauren is a Certified Professional Coach and real-life SWERVE success story. When she isn't working, she's spending time going on big adventures with her rescue dog, Finley! As the founder of Swerve Coaching & Consulting, she helps millennials who are stressed, stuck or burnt out to find work they love.
Feeling burnt out and want a career change? Book a discovery call today.