Finding and maintaining focus

We are surrounded by so many distractions in today’s society, largely due to the technological advancements which have changed the way we work from being alone in front of a piece of paper where we write down our work, to being interconnected in front of a digital screen where we type our work into a computer while multitasking.

Particularly in the world of work, where you can get bombarded with emails, calls and meeting requests multiple times a day, distractions that take you away from the state of deep work and transpose you into shallow work can be toxic. This means that you have to do your deep focused work and, most importantly, be able to achieve that sense of deep focus, in the bits of time that you have left for yourself to be alone with your thoughts. That’s really hard to do especially since you need some time to get into that deep state of mind.

We are prone to give in to distractions, especially since, when asked to work under a great deal of pressure and intensity, our brains, naturally prone to leisure, always look for a quick escape. At work, even the most mundane tasks become important when your brain wants to procrastinate tackling the higher order things that require deep thinking and insight. Many times I have fallen victim to do the easy work and postponed the important work and many times this has led me to failure. But I’ve learned from this. Most importantly, I’ve learnt to recognise distractions and oftentimes successfully ignore them. It takes a great deal of determination and ambition to keep going with the hard and the tedious to come out victorious on the other side, which is when you can successfully deliver a difficult piece of work. 

You need to learn (and with experience and many failures you will) what is truly important in your work, given that your time is a limited resource and so is your energy, power to work and ability to concentrate. Apart from learning how to recognise the important pieces of work that you should prioritise, you also need to learn how to protect your work time and dedicate yourself as much as possible to that type of work that will help you rise above (your intellect, your peers, your self esteem).

Bill Gates said that the only time when he wanted a distraction was when the US Ministry of Justice accused his company, Microsoft, of uncompetitive actions and intentions to monopolise the software market. This is a prime example that successful people and true leaders don’t normally allow their distraction-prone brain to seek the easy way out of deep work.

The good part is that you know when you’ve found your deep focus. When climbing up a steep mountain, it takes a great deal of effort and sweat and exhausted emergent to get to the top. It’s the same with finding focus. It can take many prolonged moments, hours or days of intense thinking, desire to give up, feeling like you are not making much progress, overconsumption, frustration, agitation and many other mixed negative feelings, when you are not sure how to proceed with a piece of work that requires intense deep focus and concentration. In those moments any distractions feel like a great reason to escape the mental torment required in the process of achieving focus. 

However, after some time, all of a sudden you finally find yourself in the zone! Even though the work is nowhere near being complete, you know exactly what needs to be done. It’s the sweet spot, the moment of intense productivity when it all flows naturally from there on. Even though it may still feel like a lot in volume, the task that once felt like an impossible undertaking causing you stress and worry and most importantly frustration, it suddenly becomes achievable. What’s more, you don’t want to stop until you finish it. 

You will know when you find the sweet spot of deep focus and intense productivity. All the negative feelings that you previously felt vanish away making room for new feelings of joy, gaining clarity and energy from the work that unfolds itself before your eyes. 

The important thing to help you gain focus in the future is to remember this process. What it takes to get there and how it feels once you’ve conquered the insurmountable peak of gaining focus. If you remember this process, with all the ins and outs, next time you need to be in that deep focused state, it will be easier. You just need to remain calm and patient and tackle each challenge that comes in the process of finding focus with calm and joy knowing that once you reach the peak, you will feel victorious.

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