You've got a proposal due. You unplug the phone, turn off the radio, and close the door to your office. Why?
You're getting ready to focus your attention, and remove distractions. In our fast-moving world today, there is so much input from outside distractions, and we're so accustomed to multi-tasking, that we have to work consciously to maintain our focus like a laser's beam on only one thing.
You reduce the ability to focus when you split your attention. Both the hearing and the seeing requirements require same time processing from you. Fatigue, aging, and mood also split your attention.
Here are three simple steps to help you stay focused generally:
- Awareness. Become vigilant in observing your own thinking. Just pull back a step and watch yourself
think. We can never stop thinking because we are thinking machines, but if you develop the habit of observation, it gives you control.
- Mental discipline. Decide to think one thought for five minutes. Set a timer and think it. It might
help to light a candle and look only at the flame as you think. See if you can stretch it to ten minutes. Some people call this meditation or doing mental work.
- Minimize distractions. A pediatrician I know recommends that we do not make a baby's environment noise free. Vacuum his room during his nap. The ability to nap during noise develops the ability to minimize distractions. Can you write a letter with music playing? Try to tune the music out. Minimizing
distractions is a further development of mental discipline.
Here are some more steps to help you get more specific when you focus your attention:
- Use Different Parts of Your Brain. If you need to write and talk, it more difficult than if you prepare a meal and talk. Cooking while talking uses two parts of your brain. Writing while talking uses the same parts.
- Exercise to Test. If you think you can do two tasks equally well simultaneously, run an exercise while doing them to see if you're right. Maybe one at a time works better?
- Simplify Multi-Tasking Tasks. Complex mathematic challenges might best be done alone, but two simple tasks like studying while on a treadmill can be handled effectively.
- Try Counting. You can improve the focus of your mind and reasoning if you let the distractions scatter as you count silently to yourself. A peaceful mind should ensue and then you can get your work done.
It's smart of you to turn off that radio and computer so that you don't get distracted by music or the ding of
incoming emails. You're allowing your mentality to focus on the single task in front of it - to create a brilliant proposal that is worthy of your skills.
For what is the state of either prayer or meditation? It is the restraining of the mind to a single act, state, or thought. If we sit down quietly and investigate the contents of our minds, we shall find that even at the best of times the principal characteristics are wandering and distraction. Any one who has had anything to do with children and untrained minds generally knows that fixity of attention is never present, even when there is a large amount of intelligence and good will. ~ Alistair Crowley