We’re losing our ability to focus. With the world at our fingertips, delayed gratification (a requirement for focus) feels like a foreign concept. At the same time, what’s wrong with a little indulgence? Distractions from day to day stresses can be a good thing. As is the case with most things, the issue is overdoing it. If we never delay gratification, our minds become undisciplined children, reaching for candy at every opportunity. With some gentle scolding, we can train our brains to stay on track, and use the candy as a reward. It tastes better that way, anyhow.
As a self-employed freelance writer and editor, focus is crucial to my success. And while reclaiming it wasn’t easy in the beginning, over the years, I’ve adopted some techniques that reduce distractions and help me get in the zone. If you too have struggled to get things done, it’s time to ditch the distractions. Don’t worry, the world’s not going anywhere.
Organize your workspace.
Ever had an exam to prep for, only to find yourself cleaning your space instead of studying? The mind does its best to evade mentally-straining work. Don’t give it an excuse; keep your workstation clean and organized. After all, how can you expect your mind to be distraction-free if you’re surrounded by clutter?
Hitting the gym on a regular basis is as good for mental health as it is for physical health. According to Scientific American, exercise can even treat depression. Working out strengthens our biochemical resilience to stress, stimulates the growth of new brain cells, and improves confidence. Three to five 45-minute sessions a week should improve your ability to cope with the strain that comes from prolonged concentration.
Imagine the mind as a warzone – under siege by distracting thoughts. There’s no way you can tap into your potential if you work in such a chaotic mental environment. Meditation fortifies the mind against these attacks by giving you greater control. Including a few minutes of meditation mid-day increases your concentration span in the following hours.
Create blocks of distraction-free time.
In elementary school, for 30 minutes every day, my peers and I dropped everything to read. There was no talking or moving about during this sacred time. While 30 minutes may be too short or too long for you, find out how long you can be engaged in a task after removing all distractions (i.e phone, internet tabs, clocks). Once you’re successful in reaching your goal, take a break to reset, then repeat that cycle throughout the day. You’ll get more done and produce higher quality work in shorter periods of time.
Get enough sleep.
If you’re not sleeping well, all the techniques in the world won’t matter. And coffee can only take you so far. Trying to stay focused when tired is like trying to run uphill while shackled to weights. Shake off the shackles with a good night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep a night for adults aged 18 to 64.
Listen to focus-enhancing music.
While listening to The Smarter Freelancing podcast by Ed Gandia, I heard about a web music service called focus@will. I had previously been listening to generic classical playlists on Spotify, but still struggled to focus. After trying focus@will’s free trial period, I was impressed and signed up.
The theory behind the music is based on evolution. Until recently (in evolutionary terms), part of the human mind was always on guard, listening for cues in the environment. This split attention is incredibly disruptive. Focus@will music keeps that part of the mind placated with unengaging music, allowing you to immerse yourself in a task. I’m sure my explanation is simplifying the service, so to hear Ed Gandia’s interview with founder Will Henshall, check out the International Freelancers Academy. You can listen to focus@will playlists here: https://www.focusatwill.com/app/pages/v7. If you find them effective and want to subscribe, take $5 off with this code: http://ssqt.co/m5bUpI1.
Before adopting these habits, I worked full days and some weekends. But now, despite having the same work volume, I’m able to complete my freelance writing assignments in half the time. Imagine having half of your workday free to do what you want. What would you do with the extra time?