What to do when you can’t focus

Do you struggle to focus on a single task? Are you always distracted by notifications, gossiping, or anything that’s random? In that case, you and I are alike.

Photo: Matthew Ragan via Flickr

Do you struggle to finish your tasks? Are you always distracted by notifications, gossiping, or anything that’s random?

In that case, you and I are alike. Because focusing on a single thing is one of the hardest things at work.

There’s always something that interrupts you, right?

  • Another person
  • A call
  • A meeting
  • A false emergency
  • Your cat
  • A stranger’s cat
  • News about last night’s NBA game

Sure, you can blame those things — but that’s weak. You and I both know that those things can’t interrupt you without your permission.

That means every time you’re not focused; you’re giving someone or something permission to enter your mind.

Scary, isn’t it?

That’s how I look at interruptions. But I have to admit that I can’t maintain my focus all the time. Sometimes, I give in. It’s not good.

Your life doesn’t benefit from gossiping, looking at Instagram 439 times a day, watching 49 YouTube videos, and reading negative news articles.

So, what can you do to improve your focus? Here are 2 things that I always do when I find myself not being able to focus on what matters.

1. Eliminate. Eliminate. Eliminate

Every day, we accumulate stuff. I’m not only talking about the stuff you’re buying like clothes, kitchen equipment, house decorations, toys, gadgets, or whatever.

We accumulate ideas.

Have you ever thought about that? We’re exposed to so many ideas that we adopt some of them, and make them our own.

For example, many people have told me to create more YouTube videos. My family, friends, team members, readers, students — everybody has ideas. And they want to help.

Likewise, I also share my ideas with others. Ideas about how you can improve your life, career, business, or relationships. We all do it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It only becomes a problem if you don’t filter the input you get from people. So after I heard from people that I should make YouTube videos, I thought to myself “Hey! I should make YouTube videos!”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that for the past six months. And I also invested a lot of time in creating a strategy. “What should my videos be about? Where should I record them? How should I edit them? What music should I use?”

I’ve been working on it a lot. And I recently published a video as well. The response was positive.

There’s only one problem: It consumes too much of my time and attention. As a consequence, I can spend less time on writing, podcasting, and creating new courses.

And those are exactly the things that I want to do. I started a blog for a reason: I love to write, and I’m good at it. Therefore, the work is easier, compared to creating YouTube videos, which I’m not that good at.

Plus, I thoroughly enjoy writing articles, books, and material for my online courses. When the work gets hard, I don’t mind.

But when I was working on YouTube videos, I got frustrated a lot. And again, my focus and work suffered from it.

What did I do when I lacked focus? I asked myself this question:

“What thing(s) should I eliminate to make my life so simple that it’s easy to focus?”

In this case, I stopped focusing on YouTube. Elimination is a key strategy that I use for many aspects of my life.

We accumulate so much unnecessary baggage throughout the years that we consistently need to eliminate:

  • Ideas
  • Projects
  • Work
  • Objects
  • And so forth

If you find yourself struggling to focus, try this strategy. Make your life so simple that it’s a breeze to live.

And let’s be honest here. Who wants to live a life that’s impossible? Life is already hard enough. Don’t make it harder.

2. Think about past success

Thinking about past success and happiness stimulates the production of serotonin, a chemical nerve our cells produce.

Serotonin is the key chemical that affects every part of your body. Serotonin plays a huge role in our bodily functions. But it also helps to reduce depression, increase libido, stabilize mood, control sleep, and regulate anxiety.

Serotonin also plays a massive role in our general well-being.

But here’s why serotonin matters to your focus. Serotonin also regulates delayed gratification. When your serotonin activity goes down, it can lead to a lack of focus on the long-term. You are less likely to act on your plans.

When you lose focus, there’s a big chance that your serotonin activity is low. That’s why you are giving into short-term pleasures like going out, drinking, shopping, having sex, watching TV, or anything else that gives you short-term pleasure.

To improve your focus, boost your serotonin activity. Research shows that exercise can do that. But something else, that’s equally effective, and a lot easier is a simple mind-exercise.

All you need to do is remember positive events that happened in the past.

Alex Korb, a neuroscientist at UCLA, and the author of The Upward Spiral, explains why remembering positive events helps you to focus on what matters:

“All you need to do [to increase serotonin levels] is remember positive events that have happened in your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is a region just behind the prefrontal cortex that controls attention.”

When serotonin goes up, your focus goes up. Ultimately, that’s what you should do.

I know that it sounds cheesy, but when something is wrong, you must fix it.

When I can’t focus, the first thing I do is to acknowledge that I have a problem that needs a solution. Some people go through life without even acknowledging that they have problems.

  • No, it’s not normal to check your phone every 2 minutes.
  • No, it’s not normal to gossip all the time.
  • No, it’s not normal to be bored.

Focus on your life. Think about what matters to you. Then, do those things and don’t get distracted — stay on the path.

Good luck.

This column originally appeared on DariousForoux.com.