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3 powerful techniques to help maintain your focus

Picture the scene.

It was December 2017. I’d just purchased a novelty Pepsi cup and a ludicrously overpriced bag of popcorn at my local cinema, before making my way to my fairly squeaky and uncomfortable seat to enjoy the latest entry in the Star Wars saga (I say “enjoy” fairly loosely, as it was actually quite bad).

I sat down, thoughtlessly eating handfuls of popcorn without a care in the world. Eventually, the lights dimmed, the curtains opened, and the iconic opening music welcomed me to an afternoon of space wizards with laser swords fighting each other for control of a galaxy far, far away.

Until… flash.

In the row in front of me, a person had taken their phone out and decided that now was the best time to take a selfie.

With the flash on.

In a packed cinema.

We were, at a push, five minutes into the film, and already a single person had lost focus enough to take their phone out and commit a cardinal cinema sin. They then proceeded to scroll through their phone with the screen brightness on full, clearly disinterested in watching the film they’d paid to see and determined to ruin it for everybody else too.

At the time I was angry, as were the other Star Wars nerds seated around me, some of whom were upset enough to walk down to the person in question and explain their unhappiness much more directly (and much more colourfully).

As a fairly regular cinema-goer, it’s sadly becoming quite common to see things like this. However, I’ve come to realise that I can’t entirely blame the cinema selfie-takers of the world for this problem because, on the whole, it’s becoming harder and harder for people to focus.

Losing focus

Dr Gloria Mark, Chancellor’s Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, has been studying attention spans since 2004. Her 2023 book, Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness, and Productivity, discusses this research.

She found that, at the start of the study in 2004, workers switched between tasks on their computers every 2.5 minutes on average. In 2012 she found that this time period had reduced to 75 seconds, and in 2023 it had reduced to 47 seconds.

The pattern is clear; people’s attention spans are shortening, and a key reason for this is that the world we live in is filled with endless distractions.

For example, a US survey of 1,000 Americans by found that the average person checks their phone 144 times a day. Furthermore, 75% of those surveyed said they check their phones within five minutes of receiving any sort of notification.

Though phones aren’t the only distraction in the world, these figures illustrate the wider problem nicely. It’s getting harder and harder to focus, and the distractions in our lives are partly to blame.

So, what can you do?

Luckily, all hope is not lost. Though the cinema may never be free from selfie-takers, TikTok scrollers and people playing Candy Crush Saga, there are things you can do to at least reduce the impact of distraction on your work.

Here are three powerful techniques to help maintain your focus.

1. Eat the frog

Legendary author Mark Twain once said: Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

It’s strange advice, but it inspired this popular productivity and focus technique.

Essentially, the technique involves you identifying your toughest task (this is your “frog”) and prioritising it first. Once it’s done, the rest of your day won’t feel quite as bad, and you’ll theoretically focus better with the weight of the task off your shoulders.

Here are the steps for this incredibly simple method:

  • Step 1 – Identify the frog: This is your most difficult and most important task, the one you should focus on first.
  • Step 2 – Eat the frog: Take that frog and “eat” it right away. Finish that report, send that email, tidy up that spreadsheet. Whatever the task you’re dreading most is, do it first, and get it out of the way.
  • Step 3 – Rinse and Repeat: Eat the frog every day until it becomes a habit. If the technique works for you, you should find yourself becoming more productive and maintaining your focus at work more effectively.

2. Time blocking

On the surface, this is more of a time management technique, but it can be an effective way to maintain your focus too.

This method involves dividing your day into specific time blocks, each dedicated to a specific task. During these blocks, you can only work on that individual task, with no swapping tasks allowed, and you can work at your own pace within the time block.

By doing this, you won’t allow yourself to be distracted by other work. Furthermore, external distractions won’t be quite as damaging to your focus within the time block, as you know you’re going back to the same task and you won’t have the added distraction of task-swapping.

Here’s how this technique works:

  • Step 1 – Identify your tasks: Dedicate some time to listing all of the tasks you need to accomplish during the day. These could be projects, appointments or any other commitments or activities you may have that day.
  • Step 2 – Assign your time blocks: Note down your specific time blocks for each task, making sure to arrange these based on priority. For example, you may have an urgent deadline in the next day or so. If so, that should be your first time block of the day.
  • Step 3 – Be realistic with your planning: When mapping out your time blocks, be realistic about how long each task will take. For instance, if you think a piece of work will take 2 hours, give yourself that time. Don’t try to cram a 2 hour job into a 1 hour time block; the aim is to organise yourself and to prioritise work, not to rush it.
  • Step 4 – Create a visual schedule: Using a calendar, a planner or a journal of some sort can help to visualise the time blocks you’re working to, and keep you on track. Google Calendar is a great tool for blocking out time with colour-coded sections, for example.

3. The Pomodoro Technique

Arguably the most well-known method on this list is the Pomodoro Technique, devised by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.

This is a technique I personally find really useful, and it’s by far the simplest technique I’ve included.

The Pomodoro Technique involves working in 25-minute intervals called “Pomodoros”. This is the Italian word for “Tomato”, and it’s a reference to the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used to time his work intervals as a university student.

This is how it works:

  • Step 1 – Choose a task
  • Step 2 – Set a timer for 25 minutes: During this time, work on your chosen task only. You can listen to music while you do this, but don’t allow any distractions that take you away from the task.
  • Step 3 – Take a 5 minute break: Make a drink, have a snack, check your phone. These 5 minutes are yours to reset between “pomodoros”.
  • Step 4 – Repeat this cycle until you’ve done four full pomodoros: After your fourth pomodoro, reward yourself with a longer break of 20-30 minutes. Once this break is over, go back to step 1 and start the cycle again.

Ultimately, you may find your own methods for maintaining your focus, but I hope the methods listed above give you a good starting point. The world can be a distracting place, and doing what you can to focus on your priorities will hopefully make it all feel a tad less overwhelming.

And as a final, desperate plea: please don’t use your phone in the cinema, I promise you’ll survive without it.

Distractions can make your to-do list seem endless, and you might have found that your marketing efforts have fallen by the wayside. We’re here to help; just email or call 0115 8965 300 and we’ll set up a meeting.

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