How Do I Concentrate And Stay Focused In A Distracted World…?

I don’t watch video’s like the one above. But I do think about how to concentrate and stay focused when everything around me is distracting.

I can’t say that I always succeed.

Usually, I’m distracted when it comes time to sit down and do some actual work. You know… work that helps to pay the bills. The work that I’m supposed to do on a daily basis.

Like now for example.

However, there are things that I do when I know I need to focus and concentrate. I’m not suggesting that these will work for you. But they have worked for me:

  1. Go for a walk before I start working. Fortunately for me, I live in a beautiful part of New Zealand. I live in a suburb, but within 15 minutes walk, I can reach a nice isolated spot that looks out over Lake Taupo. The view certainly helps. But it’s the change of scenery and exercise that works the real magic. Walking is good for my brain. So I try and walk at least twice in the day. Sometimes three times. Each walk is usually at least 30 mins long. The more stressed I am, the more I need to walk.
  2. Minimise social media. I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to wasting time on all kinds of social media. However, since the start of the year and just due to the busyness of my start to this year, I’m really only checking Facebook once a week, and I’ve almost stopped looking at twitter at all. I still use and check Instagram, but I also use that for staying in touch with a few close friends and family.
  3. Take 10 minutes to do a short meditation. I used to think this was a bit Woo Woo for me. However, I’ve noticed that most of the people I admire, including entrepreneurs, sports people, and most of my internet heroes, have some kind of meditation practice built into their daily routine. It’s like a warm bath for the mind. I like the simple non-dogmatic guided meditations like this one by Sam Harris. It’s like doing a Defrag on an old windows computer. For me now, this is the mental equivalent of  stretching before a run.
  4.  Eliminate noise in the morning. Most of the work that I do that actually pays the bills, happens in my head. Usually, I’m jacked into my computer for this. And in order for the language processing part of my brain to work, I need a quiet environment. Sometimes I wear noise cancelling headphones to shut out as much as possible. For me, this is one of the most isolating effects of being a knowledge worker in the new economy. I’m kidding myself if I think I can rock out to the Foo Fighters while I’m supposed to be working.
  5. Put on instrumental music tracks in the afternoon. Usually, by the time I get to the afternoon I’m feeling fatigued and starting to resent the knowledge economy. At this time, I usually put on instrumental music of some kind. I avoid music with words as I think it uses the language part of my brain to process and I need this for the work. I also put on a single track on repeat… for an hour or so. When I can’t stand it, I’ll go to the next track and do the same thing. I’ve got a playlist of instrumental music that I use here on SoundCloud. It’s kind of trippy, synthy, dubstep trancehop… which I find is perfect for helping me blank out other noise.
  6. Write a list first. I write lists. Lots of lists. Usually, I just throw the lists away or start a new list the next day. But the lists are a way of helping me to organise what’s in my head including distracting thoughts about work, stuff around the house that I should be doing, family activities, bills to pay and anything else I can think of.
  7. Check emails last. Most people who work with me know to email my assistant or to instant message me. I won’t check emails in the morning and some days I don’t check them at all. For me, email is an anxiety-inducing, broken technology. Ring me… message me… just don’t email me unless you really need to.
  8. Stop work at 5:00 pm or as close to it as possible. This is not always possible and I did better on this last year. But it’s always the goal. I can’t prove it helps with my concentration on work during the day, but I’d like to keep my evenings free for time with family, special projects, hobbies, staying in shape, reading, and generally trying to unwind from the day’s work.
  9. Do something else for awhile. For me, there is a strong correlation between a poor night’s sleep and my (in)ability to shut off my internal monologue of work chatter. Reading fiction, or making things using my hands in the evenings helps to decrease the amount of work noise in my brain. If I’m really not focusing, it’s good to recognise that this is the case and just do something else. Going out for coffee is always a good option.
  10. Think about why I’m distracted especially if I’m engaged in a serious procrastination activity (like writing this blog post). I used to worry about my procrastination habits. And I have a variety of very sophisticated procrastination strategies that are a kind of pseudo work. Writing blog posts, for example.Now, though, I’m trying to care less that I’m procrastinating. This is thanks to one of my internet heroes, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He says it’s good to reflect on what is causing me to procrastinate.Here’s what Taleb says about procrastination:

“Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad — at an existential level, it is my body rebelling against its entrapment. It is my soul fighting the Procrustean bed of modernity.”

― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

  • What do you do that helps you stay focused and concentrate?

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

3 thoughts

  1. Great post Graeme. I feel like I should say something smart, or contribute in some way – but I’m way over worked. The meditation thing is something I’m slowly adopting. Also, had never read Taleb’s quote- so it’s not a lack of will power! It’s my soul striving for freedom.

  2. 😉 This insight on procrastination was a small revelation for me (being an epic procrastinator). Overworked or over work…? Kia kaha. You need to read Antifragile if you haven’t already. Re the meditation thing, my intro was via They have some great short animated clips to explain and I did their free 10 mins per day for 10 days. Beyond these, though, I’ve used Sam Harris’s stuff off and on. Again, free via Soundcloud. He has a longer 29-minute version. And lately, I’ve been using these: which are also free.

  3. Ten minutes for ten days? Might give that a go. As to ‘overworked’ – new meme: “Completes PhD can’t write a proper sentence”.

    Good tips. Thanks

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