How I learned to focus when I felt hopeless

I have had a lot of difficulty with focus since childhood. I actually believed I was incapable of focusing. Because I could not focus I was often very frustrated.

I felt really bad about myself. Wondering what was wrong with me and why I could not just focus for long periods of time.

I genuinely felt like something was wrong with me. There were all of these thoughts about not being capable of completing work as well as my peers.

I had had this thought for a long time. It was a theme throughout my undergrad career and a theme during my first job. In 2018 I was going to school part-time, started a new job, and bought a house. I was really struggling.

Today, people see me as a very productive and pragmatic person. Often, I achieve the things I set out to accomplish.

While my friends praise my accomplishments, I have never quite been satisfied with my performance. This is a problem I have with perfectionism. No matter how well I did or what I accomplished I was never quite satisfied.

As I write, I am still struggling with focus from time to time. This morning I was upset at myself for putting off writing this blog post till the last minute. Worried about what I was going to write about.

However, I completely wrote off the fact that once I started writing I wrote 10 percent of the blog post (2,000) words in less than 20 minutes. In less than an hour, I wrote 30% of the blog post.

This post contains affiliate links meaning I may receive compensation at no cost to you if you buy something after clicking on the links.

My recovery

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent a lot of time alone, procrastinating, and listening to a lot of self-help books. I read and listened to over 50 books within the first 6 months.

Many of these books were very influential to my recovery of being a perfectionist. I started learning about other people’s struggles. I exposed myself to alternate thoughts. These alternate thoughts greatly impacted how I saw myself as compared to my peers and people who I believed were much better at focusing than I am. This is when I learned that other people struggle with focus.

I exposed myself to books from people I greatly admired. In these books, I learned the people I idolize experience similar struggles with attention and focus. In 2020 I discovered there is nothing wrong with me.

Then I learned about the growth mindset which completely changed how I saw my struggles with focus. Instead of thinking “I’m just bad at focusing, I can’t focus on research papers.” I started thinking about how I could learn to focus and grow my ability to focus.

10 Ways I increased my ability to focus

1. I Stopped feeling bad about my ability to focus

There were so many thoughts in my head about focusing. “You are bad at focusing.” “Pay attention!” and “What is wrong with me?” I had become so anxious about focusing I was actually making my ability to focus worse. Anxiety and negative thoughts ruin your ability to focus. Therefore by feeling bad about my problems with focus I was making my problems worse.

Have you ever had someone yell at you about not doing something? Yelling at yourself is an ineffective way of getting yourself to do better. I became trapped in the mind frame that I could not get better at focusing. And my ability to focus slowly got worse.

Since then, I have learned a lot about mindset. When I have problem’s focusing I try my hardest to not focus on what is wrong with me. Being upset will put me in a negative mindset. So, I focus on what I can do. I can write for 15 minutes if my blog is worrying me. Or I can research a problem more to get inspiration.

When you get frustrated with yourself how do you react? Did it demotivate you? Did you become even more distracted? If you answered yes, then you are not alone. Many people do not find negative reinforcement motivating.

To learn more about attitude and mindset you can check out this LifeHack blog.

2. Getting interested in my lack of focus

I wanted to know what I could do better to increase my ability to focus. On google, I learned many people’s tips and tricks about focus. And I learned many people struggle just like me.

I felt really bad about my inability to focus. I also felt incredibly guilty. These negative thoughts and feelings do not motivate.

If you feel similarly remind yourself that it’s not your fault. Take a deep breath and forgive yourself for your lack of focus. Get curious about what your triggers are and what works for you.

My focus was ruined by constantly trying to multitask. I noticed my long to-do list also triggered me to try to start a little of each task all at once. My focus got better when I took steps to reduce my daily to-do list, scheduled when I would answer email, and took a break if I became upset.

Being aware of my triggers helped me to recognize my triggers and act accordingly.

3. I took small steps

small steps to focus on large outcomes

I read a book about procrastination. Then I put those tips into action. One of the most helpful tips I came across was to start doing a task for 15 minutes. This tip is helpful because it shows the practicer what can be accomplished in 15-minutes. I slowly increased my amount of time to focus.

Another small step I took was the Pomodoro technique. I use a cube similar to this one. This helped me schedule small breaks from working. Instead of forcing myself to focus, I would focus for short periods of time and then take small breaks. And because I was focusing more, I was rewarded by tasks taking less of my time.

4. I stopped multitasking

Multitasking ruins your ability to focus because your focus becomes stretched over many tasks. Multitasking is an inefficient strategy for effectively completing tasks. Errors occur more frequently causing multitaskers to repeat tasks.

Most people cannot focus on more than one task at a time. Therefore they are quickly switching between tasks. However, it takes 25 minutes to completely focus on a new task. That time is then lost if a person is constantly switching between tasks like email and updating spreadsheets.

5. I reduced my to-do list each day

less tasks better focus

When I first started my job I felt like I had to do everything. I found this super overwhelming and my ability to focus dwindled.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I started honing in on my priorities. My focus pre-social-distancing were being fit, having A’s, keeping my house clean, working, and dating. When the pandemic hit I slowly dropped some priorties

I stopped focusing on being perfect all the time and I was able to focus more on the things that mattered. There was then more time for the things that I wanted to do, like reading.

I used to have a to-do list each day of over 20 items. This list was beyond distracting. I began reducing the number of tasks on my list to top my priorties. And then my boss was happier because I was completing the important work.

6. I focused on my priorties

Being super fit by summer is just not a priority of mine. Making a budget and sticking to it is also not a priority. These are things that were on my to do list that just did not belong there. And they took away from goals I really wanted.

Staring a blog and a business is a priority. Getting better at my job and getting a promotion is a priority. Freeing up time to see friends and increasing my income so I can enjoy my time with them is a priority of mine. Having better experiences is a priority. Writing often and helping people through my writing is a priority. Reading and learning as much as I can about the things that interest me is a priority. Staying up to date on social media, and TV shows is just not a priority of mine.

When I got serious about my priorities and decided what not to do my brain became more focused.

Recently, I read The Bullet Journal Method, and then I read it again. This book gives a lot of helpful tips about how to stay productive and focused on tasks. I even started rapid log journaling. So far the knowledge has improved my focus quite a bit. However, I am just starting out and trying to stick with it.

7. I turned off my social media notifications

turning off notifications to focus

Facebook was a time suck for me. I would watch many videos and get into arguments with people online. I turned off all of my notifications. This drastically reduced my screen time. Just turn your notifications off.

8. I put first worst things first

Everything I prioritized I decided to do first. And there are some tasks for work I hate doing. These are usually the tasks that take me the longest. I try to work on these tasks first. However, I am not perfect and I often need to work on something easy to get myself going first. Try to work on a task you hate early in the morning for 30 minutes.

9. I used mindfulness to be more focused

Focusing on mindfulness

When I noticed myself becoming more distracted I used to get really upset at myself. Then I would become very focused on my frustration and my shortcomings until half the day was gone and I had effectively completed no work. Then I would scramble to complete my work.

Now I pay more attention to when I am becoming more distracted. Then I try to redirect myself to completing something. I simply just notice that I am unfocused and try to focus on something small.

10. Learning to accept and work with my weaknesses

Everyone has weaknesses. Being human is to be imperfect.

When I focused on my weaknesses, I wasted a ton of time and could not focus on the tasks I wanted to accomplish. I often gave up because I got too stressed out by what I was doing wrong.

My childhood environment full of trauma, abuse, and neglect. My early childhood experiences led to being unable to focus in school most of my primary education due to underlying mental health issues including depression, and anxiety. This lack of attention followed me into college and my peers seemed unconcerned with their own abilities to concentrate.

I believed that I could not concentrate or focus. And I had accepted this as fact for quite some time. However, it was not true.

Focus and attention are skills most people can learn and hone with some patience and practice. My ability to focus does not mean I am any less capable or intelligent than my peers. Accepting that I could help myself focus more allowed me to hone this skill with little effort.

Improving Focus in the Future

As I write this I know my focus could use work. Soon I want to read books like flow and deep work to learn more about focus. Being patient with myself is definitely necessary. Working through low attention days and giving myself breaks from focusing will also help me hone this skill more.

There are many things that cause me to feel like I cannot focus. If I ever feel unwell, headache, sick, clogged ears, or tired, I find it incredibly difficult to focus. Sometimes if my mental health declines I have more difficulty focusing. Taking care of myself, getting enough sleep, and giving myself some slack is important when I feel poorly. Relaxing when I am unwell physically or mentally will be necessary to have more productive days.

This week I have mild head congestion with some very annoying clogged ears. As a result, I have been sleeping more and taking tons of reading breaks. I was supposed to post this blog 4 days before I did. But I was unable to because I needed to give myself some time to recover.

I find that when I have difficulty focusing a break or a nap is necessary. My productivity and focus increase drastically after doing either. Giving myself more slack is definitely necessary.

In the future, I want to work on my being mindful and present when focusing. I would like to get into more deep work. Ideally, I would be more patient with myself about my ability to focus and give myself more credit for the amount that I do focus.

Everyone has trouble focusing. The worst thing you can do is to get upset and angry about your lack of attention.

Please share this post on Facebook. Share your thoughts and struggles with focusing in the comments below.

Leave a Comment