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Focus - What Does it Mean and How Can We Find it?

Focus is a term used to describe the idea of having clarity - either of vision or of mind. Someone who is described as being focused has the ability to keep their mind dedicated to doing a task, and to complete it well, instead of having their attention wander.

Today, a lot of jobs involve processing information or doing repetitive tasks, and it is easy for your mind to wander. ADHD, a medical condition that is characterized by attention difficulties and trouble focusing, is something that more and more people are being diagnosed with in the western world. It's unclear whether ADHD is actually getting more common, or whether increased awareness is leading to more diagnosis, but the issue is certainly being talked about more and more in the western world these days.

person playing videogame The Ability to Hyper-focus

Some people with ADHD have the ability to 'hyperfocus' at times. This means that they can zero in on interesting projects or activities, sometimes for hours at a time. Sadly, people who have ADHD find that they cannot switch that ability on and off on demand, so they might be able to hyperfocus on something like playing a video game, but struggle when it comes to doing their coursework or paying attention in a meeting.

Hyperfocus can be a double-edged sword. It can be useful sometimes, but it can also strain relationships 1 and cause issues if someone gets too focused on a time-wasting activity instead of working on something beneficial. Hyperfocus is not yet officially recognized in the DSM, but the issues that it causes are real.

girl holding FOCUS MONQ R The Good Side of Hyperfocus

While those with ADHD may lament their uncontrollable hyperfocus, those who are neurotypical often strive to reach a similar highly focused state. They tend to also have a different definition of 'hyperfocus', considering it to be a state where they will be 'in the zone', and lose track of time while working on something important. That flow state is much more productive, and it can be a great thing to get into if you have a major project to do.

Tricks to Clear Your Head and Soothe Your Mind

One of the key elements of focus is, in any definition, that you have a clear head, and that you are able to pay attention to the thing that you are working on, or that you need to think about. If you're the sort of person that suffers from a racing mind or are not able to be 'in the moment' during important times, then it might be worth looking at ways to improve your ability to focus.

Some people turn to nootropics to help improve their focus, while others turn to milder options such as essential oils that can boost concentration and help to clear their heads. Another option for improving focus is regular meditation, which can help to facilitate mental clarity.

Focus Versus Multitasking

Modern workplaces often put an emphasis on the ability to multitask, or at the very least, to engage in task switching. It's clear, though, that multitasking means that we are not able to do any of the tasks we are dividing our attention between quite as well as we would if we had actually focused on one or the other - that's why we are not legally allowed to text and drive, for example.

While some bosses do praise people who are able to multitask or engage in task switching, highly successful people often attribute their success to the way that they are able to focus on one specialized job at a time. They truly do focus on the job at hand, and complete it to a higher level than those who multitask. 2

Task switching is something that often happens in environments where people are constantly being interrupted, and academics are studying ways of supporting people with task management tools to help with planning and management in such environments. Task switching tends to carry a productivity cost with it. It takes time for the brain to get back into a 'flow state' after being interrupted and forced to switch tasks. It takes longer to switch between complex tasks, and it is also harder to switch between tasks that are new to the practitioner. 3

woman relaxing at work What This Means for Productivity

This means that focus is very important for performing complex or difficult tasks, or for learning something new. If you want to take in information, learn a new skill, and be able to remember it properly, then you need to make sure that you have a block of time during which you can concentrate and get into the groove of what you are doing. Each time you are interrupted to check your email, answer a text message, or answer a co-worker's question, it can take 15 minutes or more to get back to the level of focus that you were previously at. Being interrupted is mentally draining, and makes it harder to do a good job.

Many of us underestimate the power of quiet time. There are so many noises and distractions these days that it can be hard to really appreciate what silence is like and how peaceful it can be. We habitually have a radio playing in the background, or leave the TV on even when we aren't watching it, because silence is something that a lot of people find unnerving. Offices, increasingly, are open plan. This is touted as a way of improving morale and integration in a company, but there are other motivations too. It is easier to pack a large number of employees into an open plan office.

Open offices make it easy for managers to monitor their staff, but they also create extra distractions. It's hard to get into a flow state when the employee next to you is able to interrupt you every few minutes with banal chatter or questions.

Focus is a state that is becoming harder and harder to reach, but those who can find their zone are set to excel in the workplace.

Photo Credits: korobskyph/, fizkes/

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