Can You Focus Only on One Thing?

In a world where we boast of being able to do several things at once, we rarely focus on one thing. If you listen to music on the train, you probably also browse the news or Instagram. When you cook dinner, the TV may be on in the background. Maybe you even make a shopping list in your head while talking with a friend. We’re so used to distractions that it’s no wonder we have a hard time dedicating all our attention to a single task.
Why are we so distracted?

Researchers have found that most of us couldn’t go 6 minutes without checking their emails or instant messengers. By making ourselves available for these distractions, regardless of the time or place, our mindset is wondering rather than focusing. Our brains are so used to being over-stimulated that when we try to concentrate, we almost look for a reason to stop.

How to solve this? The simplest solution would be to remove all distractions. Hide your phone, cut off the internet or lock yourself up in a room and deal with only one task. However, distractions are not always physical objects, they can also be your own thoughts. To learn how to focus, we need to get rid also of our own internal distractions.

Start your day on the right foot

What is the first thing you do in the morning? A study found out that 4 out of 5 phone users in the U.S. check their phone within 15 minutes of opening their eyes. Since most of us use our phone as an alarm clock, we are faced with notifications as soon as we open our eyes. However, a research has indicated that this can have a negative impact on our concentration during the day. Why don’t you set your phone into flight mode, allowing you to use it as an alarm clock without being tempted to start by going through your notifications as soon as you wake up?

Self-assessment

There is no ready-made trick to be fully focused. Everyone has their own way of working productively. Write down the times when you’ve been “on a good run” during your days and try to recreate them. Try to find out when you’re struggling to concentrate. Ask yourself: Is it too important? Is it too boring? Do you constantly have thoughts that interrupt you? Then, choose the best approach to solve it.

Multitasking

Our over-stimulated brains love to do everything at once. In a working day, you can take care of three different projects while taking calls and answering any emails that come in. Do you think you’re multitasking? Wrong! Being really multitasking means doing two things at the same time that require different parts of the brain, like running (physical) while listening to (mental) music. Doing three cognitive things at once (writing an email, listening to your kids, and planning dinner) disturbs your attention, which means that even if the tasks are done, none of them have had your full attention.

According to a research from the University of California, it takes about 25 minutes to return to a task after being interrupted. Thus, responding quickly to an email or starting a washing machine is not going to take 30 seconds, it will cost you 25 minutes and 30 seconds of attention. Schedule your tasks by careful planning so that you devote your full attention to each of them but one at the time. If one of them is particularly demanding, divide it into several manageable tasks and dedicate time to each section.

You can also try the Eisenhower Matrix. Imagine 4 boxes on a table (or you can also divide a A4 sheet into 4 sections):

  1. one containing urgent and important things;
  2. a second box containing important but not urgent things;
  3. a third box containing urgent but not important things;
  4. a last one containing non-urgent and unimportant things.

Everything in the “important” and “urgent” box should be of course your priority.

Keep exercising

Like everything else, improving your concentration requires training. Setting aside time for meditation will help you focus. Actions that require full concentration, such as jumping rope or knitting, can also be ideas for improving your focus. Relaxation is known to boost creativity, so you should try activities that are relaxing. Our world is overflowing with notifications, pop-ups and advertisements that make us very susceptible to distraction. If you’ve made it to the end of this article without being distracted, it’s a great start!

Let me know about your focusing techniques in the comments!

woman sitting on the beach doing yoga
Meditation helps your concentration – Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com


17 thoughts on “Can You Focus Only on One Thing?

  1. Hello Cristiana,

    Thank you for sharing another wonderful post with us! You made such good points–about the illusion of multi-tasking, many persons’ addiction to cell phones (conditioned, so), and the many benefits of meditation. We must Be our Awareness and take back our ability to focus…now. 🙏

  2. Great post! My notifications are all deactivated. Long ago I realized I’m operating under this idea that it’s important to be notified by apps or else the world falls apart. I realized it was a false belief. Now I can check the relevant apps when I want and not when my phone tells me. I think it’s important for me to be the one in charge instead of the phone deciding for me when to pay attention to it by sending the ding. My life has been totally fine and nothing has slipped through the cracks since I silenced all notifications.

  3. I have found 2 things connected with focus during these last 11 months since my husband passed away. First, I lose things in the house when I am not focused on where I am placing them. So, sometimes I say aloud, “Ok, remember that you are putting your phone on the charger in the kitchen.” That helps me remember where I have placed things temporarily.
    Also, for those of us who get into a room and cannot remember why we are there, when I am retrieving something in another room, I think about the item and visualize it and its placement in the room. That mental picture helps me remember why I entered that room.
    Thanks for the article. You have many good reminders here!

  4. Wonderful post, Cristiana! I love the idea of the Eisenhower Matrix. I find that even that I’m so interrupt driven by my kids that it takes me a transition time after they’ve gone off to school to settle my brain down to just one thing. And then the trick is to make sure it’s the right thing.

    Thanks for another well-written and helpful post!

  5. I think I have quite the opposite experience. I often have long periods when my focus is so intense the rest of the world goes away. That brings with it its own problems. Sometimes distractions turn into big issues if you don’t break to pay attention.

    People who demand multitasking irritate the hell out of me.

  6. I’m reminded of the origin of the word multi-tasking. It initially came from computers being able to run concurrent programs. Reminder: We’re humans with cognitive limits, not computers!

  7. Thank you for the oil roller idea! I didn’t even think of that, which could be of great use when traveling or just on the go. I’m a full-timer and part-time student, so stress is kind of a given

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