How to Create the “Extreme Focus” Habit (without Feeling Overwhelmed)
So you want to be able to snap into focus and stay there for however long it's needed. It would certainly take a lot of work, right?
What if I told you it could be achieved it in less than 30 minutes, without having to constantly motivate yourself, or pushing with willpower, but with just some work upfront?
Would you believe me?
Bad focus habits are common: multitasking, being online 24/7, jumping from one thing to another. Even if you're able to focus, it takes one pop-up, phone beep or flash of notification to spoil your focus in an instance.
The ability to focus is a complex skill. If you really want to improve your attention and concentration, you need to discover where your specific difficulty is first. Generally speaking, your problems may come from insufficient/wrong motivation, distracting environment, tired/uncomfortable body or a busy, wandering mind (I have written extensively about focus and concentration, here is one of my most popular answers on this topic on Quora). The most common culprit of those difficulties is our environment, and particularly – technology.
I'm a victim of the modern ‘multitasking and short attention span disease'. I have a low threshold for boredom and poor willpower. But when I sit at my desk to write or record a video, I just get on with it.
I still struggle to keep going for longer than 60 minutes at the time, but even if I take a short break, I can snap back into focus and carry on.
What’s my secret?
My focus habits – little routines that fit into my life, without relying on motivation and willpower, but using the environment to make me do it, whether I ‘feel like it ‘ or not.
I want to share my secrets with you, so you don’t have to spend years discovering what works and what doesn't.
1. One little step at the time, but in a series
As a reader of Develop Good Habits, you already know, it's important to concentrate on one change at the time.
But focus is a complex, multi-layered skill, which takes time and effort to develop. How can you move one step at a time?
By creating a series of little steps, which one by one get you to your goal.
I'm talking about SJ's habit stacking idea – building a logical sequence of quick and easy routines, summarised in checklists, completed in less than 5 minutes and joined with other habits.
And here is how you can develop your laser-sharp focus routines.
2. Pick your cue/trigger smartly
As you know, habits are formed in a self-reinforcing loop:
Cue (Trigger) – Behaviour (Routine) – Reward.
In my experience, the biggest enemy of habit formation is… life. Because, when you're busy, stressed, with depleted willpower, it's harder to stick to your decision to change your habitual behaviour.
With my poor willpower and lousy memory, I need fail-proof cues to prompt me to carry out the new routines. If you're using habit stacking approach, the cue for the first routine is even more important, because the whole sequence depends on it.
When it comes to focus, I find environment-based cues most effective. My work requires a laptop/computer, that's why I chose the action of sitting at my desk/table and opening my laptop as a trigger to ‘snap into focus'.
Pick a cue, which is logical, well anchored in your way of doing things, difficult to miss or forget. If you require a certain setup or props for your job, use them to trigger your actions. It may be the moment of opening your laptop, turning your computer on, or grabbing your pen.
If you still find it hard to remember what you need to do before you sit down to work, put it on your calendar. If you schedule your tasks (which I recommend as an effective time management strategy), add a little note to self on going through the checklist, so that when the reminder pops up on your screen (or you check it in your paper diary), you'll remember what to do. This can help you get through the initial period before your new habit is well incorporated into your daily routine.
3. Create an if-then plan
Once you know your trigger/cue, create an action plan using if-then logic.
Implementation intention, which is the proper name for this strategy, can turbocharge your chances of succeeding at habit building.
The simplest if-then plans look like that:
If (I see/hear/smell/feel or carry out an action-based cue), then I'm going to (carry out my new behaviour).
If you're working on reducing your tendency to browse the Net when you should be studying/working, you can to start with the following sentence:
When/if I open my laptop to study/work, I close down my Internet browser and disable the Wi-Fi.
4. Design a checklist
But what if you forget what you were to do and in what sequence?
Habit stacking approach has a perfect solution to it: a checklist.
So when you sit at your computer, open your laptop, or grab your favourite pen you may go through the following steps:
- Turn off all notifications on your computer, mobile phone and any other electronic devices within earshot.
- Put your phone(s) on silent.
- Clear your desk of unnecessary items.
- Make sure you have all you need for completion of the task at hand.
Write it down – don't trust your memory. Put your checklist somewhere visible: pin it by your desk, stick it to your laptop cover, or computer screen. Every time you go though your routine, check the steps off in your head, aloud, or physically crossing or ticking them off as you go.
5. Practice, practice, practice.
Once you know what to do, practice it.
Repetitions strengthen the habit loop. The more your practice, the easier it gets.
Don’t forget to reward yourself. Rewards are key in forming the habit – they reinforce the loop. Create a repertoire of small, enjoyable rewards. Try not to rely too much on extrinsic rewards. A good pat on the back, a sense of accomplishment and pride can be more powerful than a bar of chocolate or a round of your favourite game.
Habit stacking approach eliminates the stress of having to remember what you need to do, and reduces the pressure on your willpower and motivation. You change your behaviour one little step at the time. This is perfect for developing good focus habits. Just remember, not to be too eager. Make sure your new routine is well embedded in your daily schedule first, before you add the next one. Keep adding those quick actions, one by one, but be mindful of how much time the whole sequence takes. SJ Scott recommends, you don't go beyond 15-30min, to avoid feeling overwhelmed and as a result risking not doing it at all.
If you want to be able to snap into focus and remain in ‘the zone' for as much as you like, don't procrastinate any longer.
You know what you need to do. One little change at the time.
Go on, pick your cue and go from there.
The world of laser-sharp focus, turbocharged productivity and success awaits!
About the Author:
Joanna Jast is an entrepreneur, blogger, Quora Most Read Writer, instructor and the author of Laser-Sharp Focus: A No-Fluff Guide to Improved Concentration, Maximised Productivity, and Fast-track to Success. Grab a copy of her Free Laser-Sharp Focus Quick Action Guide and start improving your focus now.