Who Else Needs More Mental Focus?

I can’t imagine living in a more distracting time in human history. Hundreds of cable channels, millions of Web sites, and the constant pinging of email and social media all compete for our attention. It’s enough to make anyone A.D.D.

A Businessman Working in the Midst of a Crowd - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/urbancow, Image #4776338

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/urbancow

But if you are like me, you still have to get real work done.

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A few weeks ago, I had to prepare for a board meeting. I really needed an extended period of time to review the material and prepare my presentation. In doing this, I realized that I go through a similar pattern whenever I need to increase my mental focus and get a lot of work done in a short period of time.

Here are ten tactics I use that may help you:

  1. Block off time on your calendar. I schedule time on my calendar for special projects. Following Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s recommendation in Rework, I call this “The Alone Zone.” If some asks if I am available, I reply, “I’m sorry, but I have another commitment at that time.”
  2. Isolate yourself in a quiet place. I try to eliminate all the distractions I can. While I generally practice an “open door policy,” I close my door when I have something important to get done. This signals to my colleagues that I am in project mode.
  3. Turn the room temperature down. If the room gets too warm, I get sleepy and lose my edge. As a result, I intentionally turn the thermostat down to 69°. After years of testing, I have noticed that this is the temperature at which I am the most productive.
  4. Get comfortable. When I need to get a lot done, I dress comfortably. For me that usually means jeans and a loose shirt. Even in the office, I kick off my shoes. I don’t want anything constricting my blood flow or distracting me.
  5. Take email and social media software offline. When you are constantly checking email and social media, you can fool yourself into thinking you are working. Therefore, I take my email software offline. I also shut down HootSuite, my Twitter client. I do leave my browser open, because I have to use it for research.
  6. Put on music that helps facilitates concentration. Certain music really helps me concentrate. When I wrote my first book, I created a playlist of instrumental music that moved me. Listening to it became a powerful ritual. It got me into the writing zone quickly and made me more productive. It still works for me today.
  7. Drink caffeine in moderation. Various studies have shown that caffeine can have a positive effect on your mental focus, provided you consume it in moderation. Personally, I do better with a product like AdvoCare’s Spark. In addition to caffeine, “the neuroactive amino acids … help increase your mental focus and alertness by supporting your brain’s ability to receive and send messages to and from the nervous system.”
  8. Avoid high glycemic carbohydrates. Nothing makes me sleepy faster than foods containing white flour and sugar. Breads are the absolutely the worst. Low glycemic carbs—darker vegetables, for example—are fine, because the sugars are released slowly. But high glycemic ones spike my blood sugar, and then I get sleepy.
  9. Set mini-goals. I try to focus on one project until I am done. If it’s a big project, I break it into smaller goals. This usually means something I can finish in three hours or less. I personally get a rush from accomplishing a task and checking it off my to-do list.
  10. Set a timer and take predetermined breaks. I am competitive by nature. If I set a timer on my iPhone and determine in advance how much time I will spend on a task. I will work hard to beat the clock. Not everyone is like this, but it works great for me.

In a world of distraction and competing demands, mental focus is a scarce commodity. If you want more of it, you will have to be intentional about getting it.

Question: What do you do to increase your mental focus? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://juliesunne.com/ Julie Sunne

    Sleep is a biggie for me. I rarely get enough. Thanks for some great tips, Michael.

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  • Dallas Council

    Thanks Mike, could not agree with this post more, especially #8!

  • http://twitter.com/TonyLimaJr Tony Lima

    Needed this Mike, currently working and going to school. Time to log off and get some homework done. Thanks for all you do!

  • Matt

    Great Post!  For me, isolating myself is very important for increasing my focus.  When I have a big project upcoming I often go someplace out of town where I won’t have a lot of distractions so that I can concentrate on the task as much as possible.  Small working retreats like that really help me get things done.  Music helps too, although when I’m in the zone I seldom hear it.  

  • coachbillhart

    Nailed it Mike. I find this to be one of the major issues with coaching clients. Additionally, some do better getting OUT of the office; I have clients that can focus in the buzz of a Starbucks, others go to a library. 

    Thanks for the great post on what Michael Gerber (“The EMyth) refers to as “ON” Time. Time to work on your business.

  • Shirley Solis

    When I begin the creation process, my mind tends to start thinking or creating other ideas that have nothing to do with what I am doing at that moment. Therefore, I stop and write those other ideas down. In other words, I get them off my head and my brain can then focus on the current task. Great post Michael!

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  • TheShef

    I realize that the most creative part of my day is right after I wake up. A little classical music, my hot Mandarin Orange Spark, and my meditation mantra of “What is my Why today, God?” begins the creative process.

    The best way to stay on task is to give yourself the gift of “No”. Declining invitations which pull you off focus is very empowering.

  • Peter Scott

    Great article Michael! One of my favorite educational videos for improving focus is Dean Jackson’s “Focus Finder” video here: http://ilovemarketing.com/the-50-min-focus-finder-2/

    Dean shared this video with Joe Polish’s “I Love Marketing” podcast. I highly recommend this to all of your readers!

    Peter Scott

  • Mart

    Get into the office up to two hours before everyone else. Lay out my day. Take care of the little distractions. Shut the door and concentrate on the tougher stuff (like writing) in the morning. Enjoy a book break over lunch. Do the more creative brainstorming in the afternoon. Leave an hour before everyone else and, if needed, wrap up the day’s work at home.

  • Rhonda Smith

    Try working or concentrating on that work in the middle of a call center! But that’s my temporary duty station. I love your blog, by the way!

  • Deborah H. Bateman

    Thanks for sharing your ideas for focus. I, too, find that if I have a project to do I have to work when the house is quiet. I like to be comfortable and have noticed eating high sugar foods messes with my focus. I’ll have to try the music. I like music, but haven’t made a playlist of songs that would work for doing projects. Blessings, Deborah H. Bateman

  • http://www.klingtocash.com Kristin Ingram

    Great tips. I personally love using the timer. If it weren’t for the timer, I would sit at my desk all day without a break and without stopping to get something to drink. My timer helps me take those short breaks which actually does help me stay more focused.