Do you ever find it difficult to pay attention to something? Does your mind wander when you’re working on a boring job? Though most individuals struggle to concentrate from time-to-time but have you ever stopped to think about the difference between focus and attention, and how you might have to apply yourself in different ways to perform well in different environments?
The Difference Between Focus and Attention
The idea of “paying attention” is a concept that should come as second-nature. Attention is a natural function of the body because individuals are constantly in a state of paying attention to different aspects of the environment.
Humans have evolved to survive by avoiding predators and finding food to eat, which is movement observed even out of the corner of your eye will instantly catch your attention. Because of this, naturally, attention flits between a range of stimuli, and it is up to the individual to determine whether they want to pay attention to something and for how long.1
Focus, on the other hand, requires paying attention to something for an extended period of time while tuning out other stimuli. It is an act of will rather than reflex and a skill that is learned and improved with practice rather than innate.
Achieving Clarity of Thought
If you want to become good at a new task or complete a large and complex job, then focusing on that particular task is essential. However, it can take up to 20 minutes or more for an individual to achieve a “flow state” and be able to work productively. During build-up time, you’ll be working slower than you should be and your work may be of an inferior quality.2
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For this reason, it’s a good idea to try to block out longer periods of time to complete work so that you can work uninterrupted. This will allow you to reach that state of focus and continue at maximum productivity until your attention wanes.
Alternative Ways of Working
Not everyone agrees that working for long chunks of time is the most productive method of accomplishing tasks. For example, one method called the Pomodoro technique suggests that working in blocks of 25 minutes, with a short break between each block, can help an individual achieve maximum productivity.3
The Pomodoro technique could be a good idea for someone who struggles to get started with work, since it allows that person to set a bargain with themselves: they will work for the duration of the timer, knowing there is a break on the horizon. The primary trick with Pomodoro timers is that they help people get started on a task and make large jobs feel more manageable.
Of course, there’s no need to follow the Pomodoro technique to the letter. Some people borrow elements of the technique, setting longer timers to allow them to spend more time in the zone.
Additionally, there are other techniques that can be used to promote focus. The bullet journal system, for example, is a good way of tracking to-do lists and prioritizing tasks.
Remember to Rest and Refresh Your Mind
If you’re struggling with focus and attention, then it could be that you’re overworked. If your mind is flitting from task to task, but you aren’t able to give anyone task the attention it deserves, then the answer could be to take a break and tell yourself that you’ll sit down and complete one job when you return to your desk.
Try to get out of the “task switching” trap and the production costs associated with it.5 Instead, pick the job that is the most pressing and focus on it. Then, allow yourself to take a break: meditate, go for a walk, or treat yourself to an aromatherapy spa session. This might feel like a waste of time, but it’ll pay off in the end.
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