by Edward M. Hallowell, MD
1. Do The Impossible. People focus most intently when they take on a challenge, when they are working in an area where they are skilled, but where they are also stretched. Often, amazingly enough, what seemed impossible becomes possible.
2. Trust Your Way. Perhaps the single most clichéd song lyric ever, “I did it my way,” became so clichéd because its message is so powerful. We focus best, we do our best, when we do it our way. We all have our routines, our own individualized process, or way, for producing our best work. Trust yours. When you don’t know where you’re headed, your process, your way, will allow your unconscious to enter in. It will guide you and often surprise you with your most valuable discoveries and unexpected solutions. Don’t work against your grain, but with it.
3. Take A Break. When you start to glaze over or feel frantic, stop what you are doing. Stand up, walk around, get a glass of water, and stretch. Just 60 seconds can do the trick.
4. T.I.O. Turn It Off. Turn off your electronic devices during periods of your day when you want uninterrupted, focused time.
5. Ask For Help. Don’t feel it is sign of weakness to ask for help when you hit a snag. Just the opposite. It is a sign of strength and can get you out of a confused place and back on track.
6. Take Your Time. It’s one of truest rules of modern life is: If you don’t take your time, someone or something else will take it from you. Guard your time jealously. It is your most prized possession at work. Do not give it away easily or let someone regulate it for you, unless you have absolutely to do so.
7. Close Your Eyes. When you are losing focus or feeling confused, the simple act of sitting back in your chair and closing your eyes can, oddly enough, allow you to see clearly. It can restore focus and provide a new direction.
8. Draw A Picture. Visuals clarify thinking. Draw a diagram, construct a table, cover a page with zig-zags like a child finger painting, cover a page with phrases and arrows, use colored pencils or markers, do it on poster paper on an easel or on the floor, just get past words and blow up the frame to accommodate visuals of any and all kinds. You may soon see the bigger picture you’d been looking for coming into focus.
9. Talk To Yourself. Talking out loud to yourself can lead you out of confusion. Assuming you are in a setting that allows for this, simply talk, out loud, about the issue you are grappling with. Talking out loud engages a different part of the brain than thinking in silence. It can clear out the fog.
10. Do What Works. Don’t worry about convention, or what’s supposed to work. Some people focus better with music playing or in a noisy room. Some people focus better when walking or even running. Some people focus best in early morning, others late at night; some in cold rooms, others in a sauna; some while fasting, others while eating. There is no right way, only the best way for you. Experiment, and discover what works for you.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive. Copyright 2014 Dr. Edward M. Hallowell. All rights reserved.