Our focus is crucial for being productive and efficient. But, why do we lose it so quickly? Well, one big factor is the transitions that we go through.
Being focused is one of the most satisfying things to experience. It is also great to walk away from a finished task and be able to tell yourself ‘’Wow, I did that without being distracted and I was so engaged in it’’. This is what we call: being in a state of flow.
A state of flow is a psychological state where you are so engaged and emerged with the activity you are doing, that you lose a sense of time and have a lot of joy while doing it. It only happens under specific conditions. It happens when we encounter a challenge that is testing our skills, yet our skills and capacities are just right to meet the challenge. Being in a state flow is the most ultimate focus you can achieve.
Being focused is awesome. But at the same time, losing your focus can be one of the most frustrating thing. Sometimes it seems like you can’t do anything about it. You just keep getting distracted or before you notice it you already wondered off doing something else.
I think that losing your focus comes down to a lot of factors, like sleep, your routine, the work you do, how mindful you are and many more. A big factor that is overlooked in my opinion, is the transitions you go through. During our day we go through a lot of transitions and it seems that we do not pay as much attention to that.
Transitions and Focus
During the day you probably do a lot of different tasks without you even realizing it. And between those tasks are transitions. Going from one task to the other without anything else is a good transition. However, that rarely happens. Most people lose their momentum of productivity when they switch tasks, because they do many other things during the transition.
For example, if someone has a meeting and after that he has to work on a project behind his desk, he probably isn’t going straight from the meeting to the desk. During the transition he will probably check his phone while walking, going out of his way to grab something that is not important and check his phone again. When he sits behind his desk, he lost his focus. A few messages on the phone are still lingering in the back of his head. He lost focus.
It is crucial to be really mindful about your transitions. Being mindful about your transitions means that you must have your day planned out, so you know how to go from A to B (task to task). I think it is not a really bad thing if you have a lot of transitions, but I do think it is a bad thing if you do a lot of different stuff during those transitions which are not aligned with what you are working on that day.
Transitions are basically the key to building momentum throughout the day. If you manage to get momentum on your side, and get that wind in the back, your days, weeks, and months will be so much more productive. A great way to build that momentum and to have efficient and effective transitions, is to use the Habit Stacking method.
James Clear, the author of ‘Atomic Habits’, has a method to support your transitions. He calls it Habit Stacking. He based this method on a phenomenon called synaptic pruning.
“There is a phenomenon that happens as we age called synaptic pruning. Synapses are connections between the neurons in your brain. The basic idea is that your brain prunes away connections between neurons that don’t get used and builds up connections that get used more frequently.” (James Clear)
For example, if you practice playing the guitar for ten years, then your brain will strengthen the connections between the musical neurons. The more you practice playing, the stronger the connections become. Every time you practice, the connections will become faster and more efficient. Do this over a longer period of time and your brain will develop the connections in such a way that the skill will become easier to execute.
Synaptic pruning occurs with every habit you build. You have many habits in your life that go on auto-pilot without you even realizing it. For example, brushing your teeth, brewing your morning coffee, closing the door behind you, putting your keys away at the same spot every day, etc..
These habits are all strong connections in your brain. You can use those connections to your advantage by stacking habits. One of the best way to build new habits is to stack the new habit on top of a habit you are already executing daily.
The Habit Stacking formula goes as follows: After/Before [Current Habit], I will [New Habit]. For example:
-After I wake up I hydrate and brew my coffee every morning.
-After brewing my coffee I will read for 30 minutes.
-After reading for 30 minutes I will work on my most important task for 60 minutes.
-After working on my most important task for 60 minutes I will go to the gym.
Minimize The Risk Of Transitions
To minimize the risk of losing focus during the most important moments, it is crucial to prioritize your tasks of the day. Make a list of all the tasks you have to do that day and prioritize them. The most important tasks are the ones you will be doing as early in the day as possible.
Use the Habit Stacking method to create a routine which supports the execution of those important tasks. Minimize the risk of useless transitions and you will be surprised how big of an impact transitions have on your focus.
When you have created your list of habits you have stacked, you need to become really disciplined about it. Do not do anything other than the routine you have written down.