Dear Patricia, I used to be brilliant and excel in my work. Now I find it hard to concentrate. I am not able to do a good job, what should I do?
Dear Ma, I find it hard to stay focused. I am so full of worry that I can’t settle down to get my work done. What can I do to stop this?
These readers are not alone. According to Peter Drucker, influential thinker and management theory/practice guru, “No other principle of effectiveness is violated as constantly today as the basic principle of concentration.”
Concentration is intense mental focus. It requires giving total attention to the matter at hand, whether a subject or activity. It is turning one’s awareness so completely to the subject or activity present that all else melts away. Concentration is a power, fundamental to great achievement in all fields of endeavor.
This is true for athletes and other performers. Consider the words of Edwin Moses, track and field gold medal Olympian: “Concentration is why some athletes are better than others. You develop that concentration in training. You can’t be lackluster in training and concentrate in a meet.”
It is also true in business, government, academics, relationships and all daily living. In his inspiring bookThe Greatest Salesman in the World (which sold over 50 million copies!), OgMandino asserts, “”It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world.”
If you yearn for advancement, success and fulfillment, take the time to practice and become skilled in the art of concentration. Below are some major challenges to concentration that I’ve identified with key points for solving them.
Challenge 1: “I don’t have a clear focus.”
Solution: Determine a clear focus for your study/work time before you get started. Plan your time. Know what needs to be done. List the tasks you want to take on. Order the tasks according to your priorities. Then get started. Remember these wide words, “The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish good results while the strongest, by dispersing his effort over many chores, may fail to accomplish anything” (OgMandino).
Challenge 2:“Somehow most of my time gets eaten up helping others with their priorities.”
Solution: Have you gotten so focused on doing work for other people that you never take care of your own? Or, do you avoid your own progress by helping people with theirs? People are delighted to determine your direction if you don’t do so for yourself. Step back and consider what you need to accomplish. Focus on yourself first. Then, as you have additional time and energy, offer assistance to others.
Challenge 3: “I am easily distracted.”
Solution: Too many of us work in chaotic, over stimulating environments. As your situation permits, create a healthy, supportive work space. Limit noise and potential interruptions. During times you are working, turn off cell phone, computer, TV and internet. Put a “do not disturb” sign on the door. Gather materials before you start working (pencils, pens, paper, books, or other items).
Determine your own highest productivity hours. Some of us are morning people fresh and ready; others are best during late night hours.When possible, schedule according to your personal preferences so you can most easily focus.
Challenge 4: “The people around me don’t share my goals.”
Solution: Think of the people around you as a “success team.” Ask yourself, “Are mycurrent friends, classmates or co-workers aiming for peak performance?” If not, be aware. Limit time with people who distract you, discourage you or are jealous of your progress.Surround yourself with people who want to achieve their goals and will encourage you to do so.
Challenge 5: “My overactive mind gets in my way.”
Solution: If you have inner distractions like guilt from the past or worry about the future, consciously focus your mind. Assign your mind a single task with time parameters. Tell it, for the next 20 minutes we will focus on finishing this assignment.
If your mental chatter continues, record your worries or to-do’s on paper. Now they are safe for later. Let them go. Re-focus on your assignment. If you are reading, researching or engaged in a business interaction, taking notes can help you stay on task. “When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools” (Michael Leboeuf).
Challenge 6: “I’m bored. I just don’t like some of the things I have to do.”
Solution: Front load your work session with less preferred tasks. Choose an empowered attitude. If you are going to do something, do it wholeheartedly. Engage your senses. Be curious. Learn. Joy can be found in the doing of the activity, not just the topic or the result.
Challenge 7: “I fizzle out before I finish.”
Solution: Try pushing yourself a bit further than you think you can go. Develop your concentration skills by exercising your mental focus capacity. There are two kinds of people, those who understand how to work through frustration and those who give up.When you find yourself in the middle of a task and want to walk away, decide on “five more.”
Go the distance by reading the next five pages, writing the next five emails or making those next five phone calls. Athletes get a second wind by pushing through initial fatigue; you can reach renewed mental focus by refusing to give up in moments of frustration.
Challenge 8: “I work for so long that my mind is exhausted.”
Solution: Find a healthy balance. It’s not how long you work but how productive you are that determines success. Often, more can be accomplished in a few hours of concentration than in days of effort diluted by distraction. Working too long can be counter-productive and increase your rate of errors. Your mind and body work in rhythmic cycles. Take regular breaks during long work periods. Breathe deeply. Get up and stretch. Enjoy a glass of water. Listen to an inspired song. Get some fresh air. Then return to your work.
Your assignment this week is to take an honest look at your concentration skills. Then, apply one or two of these suggestions that best address your personal challenges.