In his course “Improving your Focus,” Dave Crenshaw defines focus as the strategic allocation of a resource, often mental energy, toward that which is of most value. The course covers ways to maintain and improve focus in five areas: the digital realm, physical space, in your mind, with time and in relationships.
Digital devices can enhance productivity, but can also lead to distractions and inhibit focus. To combat constant interruptions, turn off redundant notifications from your phone, email, or smart watch and instead just use one system. When appropriate, schedule a block of time to be free of digital devices and focus on a particular task.
Consciously or subconsciously, the items in your physical space can steal focus as well. The paper clutter, cords or other items on your desk can lead your mind to drift. Crenshaw suggests creating a physical inbox in which to place these items. Removing the items from sight will help to protect your focus. Schedule a time daily or weekly to process the items in the inbox.
Crenshaw suggests a similar processing method for ideas and thoughts. As ideas come into your mind, write them down on a note pad and return to the task at hand. Later, process the ideas from the note pad and either act on it or save the thought for another time. All ideas have value – maybe not for you in the moment, but maybe at a later date or for someone else. The goal is not to discourage thoughts from coming to your brain but to filter them in a way that avoids stealing your focus.
Focus management is closely related to time management. Therefore, Crenshaw suggests limiting the hours you work. An open-ended work schedule allows for interruptions and creates sloppy focus. Instead, create a “finish line” to force you to be as productive and focused as possible within a given amount of time. This principle can be applied to the hours you work in a day or the hours you work on a particular project.
To improve focus in relationships, Crenshaw’s advice is simple. When spending time with others, focus on being with them. Manage the expectations around interruptions and do not multi-task during one on one time.
Improving your focus will take practice. Crenshaw equates focus to a muscle that will get stronger over time. The tips from this course are merely a starting point in a lifelong journey.