Information assaults us from all around – your smartphone, your computer, TV, billboards, junk mail, emails. There’s just too much of it; it’s easy to feel that you’re drowning in a sea of data. You need to take a breath and step back… and learn how to focus better.
1- Don’t panic – breathe!
Anyone who has practised meditation knows that breathing deeply brings huge benefits in calming your mind and keeping you mindful. Every so often, just take the time to focus on breathing deeply and slowly, and you’ll find you are in a more positive and more focused frame of mind. (Why not set a reminder on your smartphone?)
2- How to eat an elephant – one bite at a time
Our brains aren’t made for multitasking – humans work best on one thing at a time. When you try to do too much, process too much information or juggle multiple tasks, you’re always going to lose. Instead, break your workload down into small discrete chunks, and get one done before you move on to the next. You’ll actually get more done this way, and even better, you’ll have a sense of achievement every time you finish a task.
3- Get the nasty jobs done first
Look at your task list. Is there one job you really don’t want to do – something boring or hard to do? Get that done first. Practice your scales before you play the Moonlight Sonata, because you’re not going to do it afterwards. You get the hard job done while you’re still fresh, and then you have much more enjoyable, or easier, tasks to look forward to.
4- Choose your sources
When we talk about people who had a huge influence on us we usually only mention one or two – a school teacher, perhaps, or an inspirational boss or mentor. We don’t have a list of hundreds. Take the same approach to information; find sources you trust, and concentrate on what they have to say, rather than reading everything that comes your way. Even with business memos, let’s face it, you know the ones you can skim, and the people who send you things to read that will really help you do your job.
5- Take a step back
If you’re trying to take a decision it’s easy to end up with ‘analysis paralysis’. Too much information can stop you seeing the wood for the trees. Sometimes, it’s best to ‘sleep on it’ – take some time away from the issue, do another job or simply take a lunch break. When you come back, think through the issue without looking at any of your notes; your mind should automatically sift out all except the most important information.
6- Make a map
Ask some productive people how to focus better, and they’ll tell you to take notes. Writing down what you learn fixes it in your mind. The art of mind mapping has gone out of fashion but it’s a great way to cut to the chase. Make a ‘map’ of your subject, with the main theme at the centre, surrounded by branches representing the main topics. You’ll be surprised how much that can help to reduce information overload into a neat and concise structure.
7- Do something real
While all these tactics can help you at work, you also need to keep info overload out of your home life. Do something real, whether that’s taking a walk in the woods, baking brownies, or doing Chinese calligraphy, and allow the activity to help you be mindful. It’s not the result but the mindfulness that’s the point, though if the brownies are tasty, all the better!
Maintaining focus on goals, whether work or personal, has become increasingly difficult in today’s world of information overload. The internet is bursting with information, often conflicting, internal business and personal interactions add to the overload as everyone wants to have their say, cascaded information clogs up everyone’s IT throats, and data is often generated and distributed simply because it can be. Success in achieving goals depends upon being able to focus and dismiss the unnecessary.