While the world worries about oil and coal being finite resources, there’s another very important resource that runs out quickly: focus. RescueTime talked to over 500 knowledgeable workers and learned that only 10% agreed that they feel “in control of how they spend their time each day.”
On top of that, the impact of losing focus isn’t as simple as just losing focus. The lack of focus quickly snowballs into overwork, mental burden, stress and, ultimately, burnout. Luckily, you can start with eliminating distractions to conserve your focus. Not sure what’s causing all the distractions? Here are five things that you don’t realize are mincing your focus as we speak:
1. Lack of sleep
Did you assume a shortage of zzz would only result in a couple of yawns the next day? Wrong. Sleep deprivation is a top reason for your hissing focus. Research highlights that sleep shortage and impaired cognitive function are closely linked. In plain English, reduced sleep hours take a toll on your working memory and executive attention. Aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep — as advised by the National Sleep Foundation — is the only way to save your days from a focus famine. Working right now and can’t get a quick nap on your desk? Go for a quick walk outside. The daylight will help slap your brain back to attention.
You didn’t see this one coming, did you? Dehydration is another culprit that’s stealing buckets of your focus. A study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise outlines the correlation between mild dehydration and cognitive performance. Mild dehydration, in particular, impacts your performance in tasks demanding a lot of attention. Mindy Millard-Stafford, one of the authors of this study, shared the results with Bustle: “We find that when people are mildly dehydrated they really don’t do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention.” The solution is obvious. Grab a glass of water immediately (or are you already doing that as you read this? Smart!). Plan to have eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. You can also eat your water by adding foods with high water content to your diet.
3. Trying to multitask
Multitasking is a sugar-coated, smart-sounding name for constant interruptions. And science has my back. Multitasking is notorious as a negative productivity influencer that quickly feeds on your focus. When you jump between tasks, you risk losing as much as 40% of your productivity. Multitasking also breeds fertile ground for stress as it causes cognitive overload, which dulls the brain. Research also underlines that switching between tasks can damage your brain. The study also noted that people who regularly multitasked had lower brain density in the brain areas responsible for cognitive control, empathy and emotional control. It’s better you save yourself by keeping yourself in check and limiting multitasking as best as you can.
4. The internet
We’re all guilty of this one. The numbers here are pretty shocking too – we spend about 5 years and 4 months on social media in a lifetime! That’s an average 40 minutes daily on YouTube (puppy videos I’m guessing), 15 minutes on Instagram and 35 minutes on Facebook. The only catch is that when you shift your focus from the task at hand to check your notifications, you risk losing 23 minutes and 15 seconds. Yes, that’s how long it takes to get back to what you were doing when you’re interrupted. So, log out from your social accounts when you enter your office. At the very least, turn off those push notifications. Gradually, go on to block those focus-sucking sites.
5. Internal distractions
While all of these are external distractions, the author of Focus: The Hidden Power of Excellence, Daniel Goleman, notes another category of distractions called internal or emotional distractions. In other words, our thoughts can sip on our focus. Goleman sums it up well: “It’s not the chatter of people around us that is the most powerful distractor, but rather the chatter of our own minds.” Of course, there’s no plug you can pull to pause your thoughts. What you can do, however, is acknowledge the thoughts or emotions that are causing all the distraction. Then regain your concentration by focusing on a visceral activity such as breathing. You can also try to categorize emotional distraction, telling yourself you’ll think about it later or talk about it with someone else later on.
Your turn now — what do you find is most distracting for you? Find it, then cut it out. Your focus will thank you.