If you can’t focus on one task for very long, don’t worry. That’s normal. Our brains have been trained by technology and society to switch tasks often.
One way we’ve been trained is that switching to check email or blog updates or Facebook/Twitter is rewarding — we are rewarded with a little nugget of satisfaction in that someone has sent us a message (social validation!) or we have something new and interesting to read (shiny and bright!).
Switching tasks becomes a positive feedback cycle that is hard to beat by single-tasking.
The way to beat that is to set up a positive feedback cycle for focusing. Here’s how:
Start small. You only need to focus for one minute at first. Clear everything away, pick your one important task, and just do it for one minute without switching. This might seem difficult to do in the beginning but if you consciously focus on focusing, you can achieve it. It’s just a minute.
Reward yourself. The reward for focusing for one minute can be one minute (or 30 seconds) of checking whatever you want. Email, Facebook, whatever. Or get up and take a one-minute walk. Stretch, drink some water, massage your neck, enjoy your small victory. Empires are created with small victories.
Repeat. Keep doing one minute focus sessions, one minute reward (or 1 minute to 30 seconds if you like) for about half an hour (15 of each). Once you can consciously do this; You’re done. Repeat that later in the day. Rejoice in how much work you got done! And notice how you’ve set up a positive feedback cycle for focusing.
Increase in small steps. Tomorrow, make it two minutes on, one minute off. Repeat that for 30 minutes, do it later in the day too. Feel free to go wild and do three focus sessions in a day if you like, but it’s not necessary.
Keep taking baby steps. I think you can see the pattern by now. Make it three minutes on, one minute off on the third day, then 4:1, then 5:1. When you get to 10 minutes, be crazy and take a 2 minute break. When you get to 20 minutes, take a 3 minute break. At 30 minutes of focus, you’ve earned a 5 minute break. And once you’re at 30 minutes, you can stay there. No need to become a monk.
Set up a positive feedback cycle for single-tasking focus and you’ll reverse the years of training your mind has gotten to switch tasks. You’ll get more important work done, and it won’t seem hard. You’ll find that focus becomes a form of meditation.