I’ve been guilty of something that drives me crazy when other people do it. It’s not paying attention enough when others are communicating, not being fully present when I’m in a learning environment, and not being able to focus on one activity without multitasking.
Last year I drew this diagram to demonstrate to myself just how much I was most likely missing.
So I set out to change since it was not acceptable to me to waste time and energy on being distracted and missing out on what others were communicating and on what I was endeavouring to learn.
Here’s what happens when you improve your ability to concentrate.
More connections to the communication.
More opportunities to better understand what someone is feeling.
More chances to improve your knowledge.
Easy to draw, easy to understand, challenging to execute. Here are three easy ways to start moving the dial 1% at a time.
Concentration is like any skill, practice in error, perfect in error. Getting good at concentration is also like any physical training, you need to practice regularly using a series of methods. If you want to run a marathon you don’t just train by running, you leverage weight training, the quality of your sleep, and your nutrition. The same goes with becoming more present and becoming a better listener, you train using a host of exercises.
1. 10 minutes of meditation a day. Meditation is not about closing your eyes and trying to think of nothing, it’s about working the concentration muscle. You can have a major impact on your ability to concentrate on anything in your life by spending 10 minutes a day sitting still and focusing on your breath. Every time a thought comes into your mind, you bring yourself back to your breath. Some days will be easier than others, but the result is the same, you are strengthening your ability to concentrate in all areas of your life through meditation.
2. This one is not easy, but the power technology has over us is incredible. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people employed by all the big tech companies to ensure you are addicted to your phone and their apps. It’s not news to any of us that our phones are the most distracting thing in our lives. We are checking our email at stop lights, we are checking messages when we go to the bathroom and we bring our phones to the dining room table and sleep with them next to our bed.
So start small and work up from there.
Step 1: No phones at the dining room table while you are eating, or in the bedroom.
Step 2: Commit to not being a zombie. This means no walking and using your phone.
Step 3: Remember, you are trying to improve your concentration the same way you are committed to being physically fit, so concentrate on doing one thing at a time. Start easy, with things like driving and/or listening to music or an interesting podcast and not using your phone for texting or email at the same time, there is nothing that urgent.
3. Like me, you probably have a number of browser tabs that represent various communication tools. Email, Messenger, Slack, Twitter.
Create one bookmark for all your communication tools and only use one window for these tabs. It’s much easier and safer for your mind to be able to open all these tabs at one time and easier for you to close them all at once. You simply don’t need your communication tools open all day. They work against your ability to concentrate. So, if you really want to get better at concentration, combine them into one window, open them only when you need them, then close them. Never add any other tabs to this window and close it frequently, especially during your long periods of flow time on a single project.
“At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that — the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love it. The most important thing is insight, that is … curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does.” William Faulkner
Remember, the day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea, so be gentle with yourself as you work on this.