In professional life, it’s sometimes hard to stay focused. You’re constantly interrupted to deal with emergencies or people’s requests. Does this make you feel you’re not making the best use of your time? That’s normal. Our drive to always be faster and more connected can make us lose our capacity to concentrate. The good news: focusing is a skill you can learn! Anne de Pomereu (H.86), coach and trainer in this field, offers some advice.
Know Your Limits
We work and live in a multifaceted environment, one that’s overflowing with information and demands on our time. We feel we’re capable of responding to and profiting from everything that comes our way, but in reality it’s almost impossible to take advantage of all the information and stimuli that surround us.
Your attention is a rare commodity, precious and… much sought-after! Social networks and services like Netflix need to grab your attention, and they will do everything possible to keep you in front of your screen. In a professional setting, software allows you to open several screens at the same time, to answer an email while talking on the telephone…. In other words, to do many things at once! This zapping, though, just creates an illusion of efficiency. When the brain switches from one activity to another, each task takes more time and you are more likely to make mistakes.
Train Your Attention Span
Attention is fragile; it’s easily distracted. It has a tendency to follow whatever is easy, new, or gives immediate satisfaction. This can lead to procrastination, because it’s a lot more appealing to dash off an email than to get to work on a complex project or prepare an important presentation. You need to be aware of the difference between attention that is purely reactive, that remains superficial, and the sustained concentration that you need in order to do your job or to think deeply about something. It is this kind of concentration that will give you the sense that you have done your work well.
Divide Up Your Tasks
Trying to do everything at the same time? This is not a good idea. The effort will wear you out, which will in turn limit your ability to concentrate, and will make you feel that you have not performed well, which could make you very unhappy with your job. Instead, take the time to organize your work. When you have something very complex to do, divide it into several simpler tasks to be completed one after another, and devote an “attention bubble” to each one. This won’t be a waste of your time. On the contrary, it will save you time in the end.
Set Strong Constraints
To avoid losing focus, the best thing you can do is to establish some rules and change your habits by imposing self-discipline. This means controlling your own attention span. To complete tasks that require sustained focus, set aside certain periods of time, preferably when you can be in a quiet, well-lit space free of distractions (removed from your usual environment, for example in a room with no internet connection, and with a noise-cancelling headset over your ears). By creating a setting that will allow you to fully concentrate, you will be able to work both faster and more efficiently.
Anne de Pomereu (H.86)
After a career in advertising and marketing, she became interested in memory and how to develop it. For L’Oréal in 2015, she created and led a training session on how to focus. She published “Éloge de la Passoire” (“In Praise of the Sieve”) in 2018 and recently finished a book about focusing. More info on www.apprendreettransmettre.com.