Over the last couple of years, my focus has been shrinking. Our collective focus has been shrinking. There’s the pandemic that altered our lives in ways we hadn’t thought possible. There’s climate change, changing our lives in ways we don’t yet know. And then there’s social media, our phones, and all the apps constantly vying for what little attention we have.
In his 2022 book “Stolen Focus,” Johann Hari lays out a great number of arguments on how all the odds are stacked against us. There’s an endless machinery of distractions at work, fighting over how to best get us to look at something. And it’s working. We’re rewarded with an instant endorphin kick, ensuring we’ll come back the next time.
While I don’t believe in new year’s resolution, every new year is a time to start fresh. So I chose a few strategies that I’m trying out to regain some of that lost focus. It feels hopeless to regain all of it, so instead I’m taking it a few steps at a time. Some of these strategies have been in my repertoire for years, but recently it never felt like I could focus enough to pick them up again. Ironic, no?
Here’s what I’m trying this year:
📵 No devices before 8:00 in the morning. If I do pick one up it is to put on music.
🎧 Put on some vinyl instead of playing music from my jphone. A recent addition to our household, the vinyl player has quickly gained interest and usage. Pick an album, put it on, sit down with a cup of tea.
📚 Read right after getting up in the morning and before going to bed. Before I can even get sucked into whatever things have been happening on the internet, I pick up a book (usually non-fiction) and read 20+ pages. Helps me focus and is a source of inspiration.
🧑💻 I’ve denominated several areas around the house as device-free. When I sit down to read, I sit down in my comfy reading chair or in a reading nook, it is without a device and to either read, think, write, or just stare into the distance.
👥 I use a separate user account on my laptop for focus work. There’s nothing set up in this account that could distract me. Only the apps I use to write, which is most of my focus work.
✍️ Long form journaling. After I read, I start writing, in a journal, with a fountain pen. This has been a long-standing habit of mine, and also one that’s dropped off throughout 2022. It’s the easiest way to get my mind to focus.
You’ll notice that most of these aren’t about spending more time working, also not about getting up way early. They’re about setting up meaningful constraints that work within my personal circumstances. Key is to understand where and when your own creativity and focus works best, when you’re distracted the most, what circumstances can’t be changed, and then build your boundaries based off that.