Information once came at a premium. The Internet and smartphone changed all that and leveled the playing field. What separates those uber achievers from the average person is their ability to use that information. The Elon Musks and Steve Jobs of the world have figured out that one thing is the key component of success in a world inundated with knowledge: focus. What we need to be asking ourselves as we start off 2021 is “Why can’t I focus?”
In dealing with clients in different industries with all different backgrounds, I can say that many people know what they should be doing, but there is a big difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Moreover, many people make the mistake of thinking they are using their time most effectively when they really aren’t.
People have difficulty gauging time accurately. People tend to overestimate how much time they are actually being productive. In his book The Compound Effect, bestselling author Darren Hardy talks about the day when he actually decided to calculate how much time he spent selling in front of his clients when he was young. He assumed it was a few hours when, actually, the number was closer to 20 minutes.
Focus is not something we can see or feel, making us guesstimate a lot of what we do. Even the best of us is derailed by obstacles that prevent us from focusing.
So, the million-dollar question is why can’t we focus?
Our once silent world has been replaced by constant buzzes from emails, messages, notifications, and reminders. Statistically, it has been said we get distracted on average every four minutes. The problem with that is it takes 23 minutes to regain focus((Inc: It Takes 23 Minutes to Recover From a Distraction at Work. Here’s How to Minimize Calls, Emails, and Alerts)).
Essentially, we are, by and large, never in a state of focus. Instead, we are moving between one task and another. To fix this we must first understand where the roadblocks are. Once we know where we are falling short, we need to implement shields to keep the noise out and allow us to focus on the tasks at hand.
One of the points on the list below is likely the reason you can’t focus. If it resonates with you, we have possible solutions to help.
1. Your Smartphone
Our greatest tool is also our greatest enemy when it comes to productivity. Like any tool, the smartphone can be used for good or evil. For every person that uses their smartphone to listen to personal development material, there are 100 that will listen to their favorite jams or play video games.
Every successful person I have met understands the dangers that come with their smartphone and adjust accordingly.
Possible solution: Turn your smartphone into a smart business tool by only installing absolutely necessary apps.
This goes hand in hand with reason number one. We are connected to everyone via email, social media, and SNS through our smartphones. That results in hundreds of notifications a day. Every like, response to your post, email, chat message, app notification, and news update results in a buzz.
Possible solution: You are not a doctor. Turn off all unnecessary notifications.
3. Lack of Motivation
2020 was one for the ages. COVID-19, masks, and lockdowns hit many businesses hard. It’s been well documented by news outlets, but what is not talked about as much is the incredible effects the lockdowns are having on our mental health, specifically our motivation.
Suicides and anxiety are skyrocketing as a result, but we won’t know the true tally for some time. In dark times, it’s easy to lose motivation, to ask ourselves why bother?
But in the grand scheme of things, it’s nowhere near the Spanish flu or the Black Plague. We survived those at a time when medicine was nowhere near what it is today. With vaccines being introduced, things will get better, and we need to be ready for the opportunities when they do.
Possible solution: The best way to fight a lack of motivation is brute force. Grab yourself a copy of Zig Ziglar’s How to Stay Motivated or listen to the master motivator himself Tony Robbins with his Get the Edge or Personal Power audio programs. Shove them on your smartphone and then listen to them over and over.
People love to think they can do two things at the same time, but that’s the exact opposite of focus. It’s tempting to want to move onto another task when we get struck doing another.
When it gets hard, we look for easy solutions, but moving onto another task will inevitably leave you with two unfinished tasks. Single-minded focus is about working on one until it’s done, or a predetermined time is met.
Possible solutions: Avoid the temptation to do more; instead, single-task everything. It might seem like you’d do less, but single-minded focus gets tasks done in less than half the time.
5. Health Issues
There’s no getting around the fact that poor health will affect your ability to focus. Having sciatica personally, I can say that pain is a serious impediment to focus. That’s why I like to say, “The better you feel, the better you do.”
As an added bonus of making health a priority in life, you’ll save yourself tens of hours spent out of bed or visiting clinics.
Possible solution: It’s pretty much everything we know we should do: eat better, exercise regularly, and stay away from alcohol and caffeine. The best advice is to tackle this one step at a time. Cold turkey is not the answer.
First, introduce a very light stretching routine. Slowly reduce your Starbucks visits. Most of us can’t handle change overnight, but by doing it slowly we can achieve incredible results over time.
6. Poor Sleep
Sleep is often the first thing to go for people who want to get ahead or enjoy their lives more. The logic is that they can manage on five or six hours of sleep a night, so those extra two hours can be out to better use.
While I understand there are times we need to burn the midnight oil, sleep is when our body and mind get to recharge. Chemical imbalances, stress, anxiety and more can often be tracked back to poor sleeping habits. Running on less than six hours for most people will result in a lack of focus and lower productivity. When our brain is tired, errors increase, which can lead to lengthy corrections.
Possible solution: Make sleep a priority. Schedule it into your daily routine. For those days when we have to cut our sleep short at night due to a big project or presentation, try and grab a nap sometime during the next day.
Lebron James, one of the elite athletes in the world today, gets eight hours of sleep a night and takes naps when he feels he needs a little more rest. Let that sink in.
Sadly, we live in the Information Age. I am typing this article on my iPad. Most people today spend between eight and ten hours a day looking at one screen or another. If it’s not their smartphone, it’s their tablet or TV. Pick your poison, but our eyes suffer because of it. There’s no getting around needing screens.
Possible solution: Use the KitKat strategy and have a break. We need to constantly remind ourselves that screens are not real life. Just as we must schedule sleep, we must schedule our breaks as well. I once heard someone say that an optometrist told him 20-20-20 was the key to dealing with screens. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 meters away for 20 seconds.
You can also try blue light glasses. Modern screens are seriously bright. They take color to the next level, but that’s not good news for everyone. Some people get headaches and eye-strain from sitting in front of screens for too long. If that’s you, a $50 investment into blue light glasses could be the answer you’re looking for.
8. Social Media
I personally don’t use social media to keep in touch with friends and followers, but more as a business tool. I share information with clients, offer services, and gather new ideas for articles or presentations.
That’s not what most people do. They get sucked in spending hours upon hours going through their Twitter feed.
Possible solution: Set a time limit to spend. It’s amazing how little time you really need to do everything you want on social media if you try.
The Bottom Line
If you find yourself asking, “Why can’t I focus?” it’s time to do some self-reflection and figure out what may be causing your lack of focus. At least one of the above probably struck a nerve, so try to tackle that one first. You may find that one change is all you needed to be productive again.
More on Regaining Focus
- How to Focus Your Attention and Improve Productivity with 7 Simple Tips
- 15 Quick Ways To Focus on Work Easily
- How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus