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Can't Focus? Six Reasons Why and How To Fight Back

We all know the price of not being able to focus at work, your productivity takes a hit, deadlines are overlooked, targets are missed and your overall performance goes down. It doesn't stop there work stress can often follow you home and this can have a negative impact on your personal life, you can't sleep and your well being declines.

With the rise of technology in the workplace there has been an emergence of Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) the lesser-known cousin of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Unlike ADHD, which is genetic, ADT is caused by the context in which it occurs – meaning it comes and goes depending on the situation. This is why you can’t focus when you are at work, the sources of the distractions are more apparent whilst in the office than when you are home or on weekends. Bottom line not being able to focus is not good for business.

So why are you losing focus? These are the six most common distractions we face at work:

  1. Screen Sucking: Our iPhones, laptops, tablets have spurned a new kind of addiction where we hyper focus on an electronic screen and feel lost if we don't have them.
  2. Multitasking: Looked upon as a skill rather than a distraction, many of us rely on multitasking to get things done but the daily load of work keeps coming, there is always more to do. You end up always feeling rushed and waiting for the next interruption. Your left feeling unfocussed but you put on a brave face in front of our boss and pretend you have things under control.
  3. Idea Hopping: Can't finish what you start? Have a ton of ideas but can't seem to focus long enough to get things implemented and going? Your suffering from idea hopping (and you probably are entrepreneurial minded professional).
  4. Worrying: If you find you waste a good part of your time working on a task that should have been used for something more important because your suffering from feelings of anxiety, it means worrying is distracting you.
  5. Always trying to be the Hero: Are you always putting yourself on the line to hold things together at work and feel that your sacrificing yourself in the process? 
  6. Dropping the ball: Is the chaos of the office and clutter of your desk stopping you from focusing mental at work, are things piling up at home too - is your inability to get organized causing you to underachieve at work?

Want to learn where you should you should concentrate your efforts to improve focus? Take the assessment for ADT here. (It only takes a few minutes)

Chances are you probably experience more than one of the distractions above on a daily basis. As Edward Hallowell, MD describes in his book “Drive to Distraction At Work” these six distractions are the most common ways we surrender our attention at work. Left unchecked Hallowell warns we may slip into what he calls theDANGER Zone, a vicious cycle where everything in a person’s life comes under threat.

DANGER: Disappointment → Anger → Negativity → Globalizing of Negativity → Escaping into wasteful/dangerous activities → Rejection of help, of others, of life.

Slip into the DANGER Zone long enough and you risk sliding into the dreaded F-State of mind (or F’d state which I think related better) where you are: fearful, fatigued, feeble, frantic, forgetful, frustrated, flakey.

The challenge for many of us is that we choose to blame ourselves for the lack of productivity – we try self-help books, different types of productivity tools, we push ourselves harder, longer, taking on more pain to meet expectations. But these are just Band-Aids – most people don’t see the lack of focus as being the real problem or even a reason for their lack of productivity.

The good news is that by recognizing the six most common types of distractions above, we can leverage five techniques to combat distraction. In fact by paying attention to the five items listed below, Dr. Hallowell argues that we can achieve a C-state of mind where you are: cool, calm, collected, careful, caring, consistent and concentrated.

You need to focus on these five areas to train your attention, so you can better manage and maintain your ability to focus:

  1. Energy: Your brain can’t focus with out of it, monitor its usage carefully, don’t waste it on trivial tasks. Invest your energy wisely, ensure your energy tank is full, it will help you keep a positive attitude. Use the sensational six: sleep, nutrition, mediation, cognitive stimulation and positive human contact as part of your energy management program. Conserve your best energy for your most significant work.
  2. Emotion: Often ignored your emotional state drives the quality of your focus and thus influences the results you achieve. Learn to better understand yourself, your personal psychology and your emotional hot buttons so you can keep the right emotional state for focus and ignore negativity.
  3. Engagement: If you want to focus you need to be interested and motivated.Interest + Motivation = Engagement. Engagement comes naturally when you work in your “sweet spot” which is the overlap of three things: Loving what you do, being good at it, and getting paid do it (or moving forward in achieving organizational goals). There also needs to be the right balance between a sense of novelty and creative input as a lack of it can lead to boredom and loss of focus.
  4. Structure: A simple but effective tool for managing focus, structure refers to how you manage your day, how you spend your time, what processes you use. Applying a simple structure of seeing what work you can curtail, delegate and eliminate can help you focus. With proper structure you can plan, prioritize and achieve your goals.
  5. Control: If you don’t take control of your time it will be taken away from you, so take back control of your time. Surrendering attention has become a common thing with the advance in modern technology – learn to say no. You wouldn’t throw $60 into the trash, but your probably wasting 60 minutes in your day without even thinking about it.

If you harness the power of the five areas above you will be able to achieve flexible focus: a balance between focus and something described in the book as “flow” which is when a person experiences life at its peak, when it is most fulfilling and allows people to accomplish their best workFlexible focus is when you instinctively balance both the right and left side of your brain: creativity with discipline, randomness with organization, you are in a state of open-minded readiness. As you train your attention, it will become stronger like a muscle and it will become easier for you to achieve flexible focus at will and for extended periods.

Remember everyone is different – you need to experiment with the methods and practices above to find the right balance to see what works. In summary fight distractions and build attention by:

  • Achieving a state of flow do your best work
  • Maintain your mental energy at optimum levels by following the sensational six practices
  • Work in your sweet spot so your in the right emotional state
  • Build structures into your life so you can achieve the goals you never thought possible.

I hope you enjoyed my post I would love to hear your thoughts or comments. Send a message, leave a comment or better yet share with a friend or colleague.