What Are You Focused On?

It's about time we acknowledged that the world around us is designed to distract. In fact, there are multibillion dollar industries built on interrupting what we’re doing and selling us something other people want us to buy. I know. I’ve designed some of those ads.

Those distractions aren’t going away anytime soon. Our phones are embedded in our daily lives. Facebook is forever bookmarked. Pretty soon we’ll get messages piped straight to our retinas.

If we don’t choose where to focus our attention, the world will do it for us. And we’ll end up feeling like we can't keep up. For me, it shows up in a few ways:

  • My inbox drives my priorities for the day. Every new message becomes the most important thing. And the messages don’t stop.
  • Coworkers who just need a ‘minute’ of time pull me from whatever I planned to tackle. Until it’s the end of the day and my to-do list is unchanged.
  • Twitter suddenly becomes interesting when I have a difficult email to write or project to begin. And the project stays unstarted until the last minute.

We can improve our focus

When we meditate, we train our mind to notice what we're paying attention to. And once we know where our attention is, we can decide to move it. Sounds simple but it works.

One study of college students who meditated for just four, 20 minute sessions - not long at all - performed 10 times better on a test of attention than their non-meditating peers. (If college students can sit for a few minutes, any of us can.)

When we can recognize our wandering mind and bring our attention back, we're teaching our minds to listen. So we learn, little by little.

And we’re actually creating new connections in areas of our brain related to attention and memory, making our brains stronger. At work this helps us stay on task despite outside distractions, so we get more done, more quickly, and more importantly, with less stress put on our brain. Thinking becomes more efficient because we're not spending energy on random distractions.

Oh, and once again, studies have shown that people who are more engaged in their work, who feel more productive, also tend to be happier. Sounds good to me. :)