Keep your head right: Focus

The day begins and your list of “this really has to be done today” is long. You sit down and then it starts. Once a few tasks have been marked off, your attention fades. Your energy collapses and little happens. Frustrated, you get another cup of coffee – hopefully that will help. And while work remains to be finished, deadlines have to be met (or have already passed) you still really have to delve into that one subject.

Recognizable? How do you keep up when it is really necessary? In other words: how do you maintain focus?

On the internet I came across an explanation about focus: “process of listening to what your body offers you” and “that change can then occur at a very deep level, your organism knows how to do that itself”.

That has never happened to me. Sounds good, by the way. That only by listening to your body will change automatically occur. However, from more than twenty years of experience with clients, I can conclude that focus is a matter of work, rather than waiting to see what your body says.

A tight shoe and a craving for chocolate
Relying on your body is precisely why you often don’t know what you have to do. Because it is precisely by relying on your body that you often don’t do what you should be doing. Subsequently you are unable to focus. A shoe that pinches, a chocolate craving, a tired feeling, bored and frustrated thoughts. Plenty of signals from the body keep us from focusing.

Focusing is a tough task and it turns out that we find it more and more difficult as the years pass. A 2015 study by the National Center for Biotechnology found that we are able to focus on something for only 8.25 seconds. While it is very important to be able to do this well. Otherwise nothing will happen at all. Nothing, nada, niente. And we want something to happen.

Your focus gets squeezed especially as the pressure increases. Think of the sudden loss of important clients, disappointing turnover results, sudden sickness reports, people in key positions who resign or having to fire people yourself. These are precisely the moments when it’s important that you remain calm and that you take the necessary steps and measures. When the need arises, it is important to act intentionally and with focus.

So how do we ensure that, even under pressure, we keep ourselves from being distracted by other things that don’t matter at that moment? That we get moving at those crucial moments and that we can continue to focus? I’ll give you some tips.

Tip 1: know your own excuses
Know your own “excuses”. We all have our own excuses. The better you know them, the more alert you are to these “devilish” excuses. They come up when you really have to start doing what you have to do. Examples of my excuses?

  • I have to clean up my mailbox first.
  • The sun is shining now, maybe not tomorrow.
  • I can do better tomorrow.
  • The bow cannot always be drawn.
  • I’m just someone who can’t focus.
  • Someone has to present his story properly, otherwise I will quit.
  • I’m not ready yet.
  • This can wait a while.

Unmask them in time, laugh about them and do what you have to do.

Tip 2: know what you are doing
If you want to focus, start by taking yourself and your work seriously. Do you mainly work on autopilot? Chances are that your focus will decrease over time. Do you do a lot of work that you don’t know the point of? The distraction is then quickly found to focus on something else.

Focus has to do with motivation. If you want to focus on something and you don’t see the point in it, then you make it very difficult for yourself. Make sure you know what you are doing and do what contributes to getting where you want to go. You will notice that your focus increases! Have you ever screened your work for usefulness and necessity?

Tip 3: put yourself in order
Many people want life not to be too much of an effort. Do fun things, easy things, without having to deal with the tricky things. There is nothing wrong with this. But if you want to keep developing yourself, the difficult road is inevitable. If you want to get started with yourself, challenge yourself to take the difficult or unpleasant path as well. You cannot progress without discipline and hardship.

Strengthen yourself. Think of that top athlete who, day after day, year after year, worked hours toward that one race during the Olympic Games. That person went through a lot of hardships with focus and persistence. Or think of wars that have been fought in the past and the soldiers’ battle circumstances. Let this be an inspiration to you. And be honest: what you have to do is a breeze compared to this.

So what are you waiting for?

Tip 4: the 3 R’s
If you are tired, hungry or working amidst a complete mess, then you make it very difficult for yourself. The 3 R’s in a row:

  • Provide Rest. Get enough sleep and watch your breathing.
  • Cleanliness: ensure a tidy workspace, a well-organized mailbox and no unnecessary distractions in your vicinity.
  • Ensure Regularity: make a daily, weekly and monthly schedule. Also include when you want to relax and move. In short, focusing is hard work, but it pays off. So do it!

In short, focusing is hard work, but it pays off. So do it!

Paul Fief Macrander psychologist for leaders leadership program