• 2/1/2023 8:20:31 AM

Where Has your Focus Gone?

In today's fast-paced, highly connected world, it can be difficult to maintain deep focus and concentrate on a single task.

However shallow, multitasking-style focus might be sufficient in our modern work environment too.

Is focus about discipline and willpower? Do we necessarily need deep focus? Or could it be a more critical skill to switch between different tasks easily?

Generation Z & Focus

Generation Z is recognized for their short attention span. Nevertheless, compared to other generations, Gen Z is expected to be more adaptable and skilled at handling multiple tasks.

Being raised in a fast-paced digital environment with constant access to information and distractions has given them the skill to handle multiple tasks and switch between them efficiently. This is seen as an advantage in the workforce, especially in the current remote work setting where the ability to multitask is even more valuable.

But what about the downside of handling multiple tasks and suffering from lack of focus? How do we strike a balance between the convenience and connectivity offered by the highly connected world and preserving our ability to focus? First and foremost, it's important to distinguish between a typical case of difficulty focusing and ADHD.

ADHD is Another Story

Stereotypes assume that difficulty focusing means ADHD, but distractibility and ADHD are not the same. People experience distractions differently, with some being internally distracted by anxiety, thoughts, or worries, and others being externally distracted by reminders of other unrelated tasks. Both types of distractions are normal and happen to everyone sometimes, according to neuropsychologist Kara Naylon, PhD of LifeStance Health in Boston.

The severity of one’s concentration difficulties and whether they happen along with other symptoms like impulsivity or hyperactivity are often what sets ADHD apart from everyday distractibility, says Amelia Kelley, PhD, of Kelley Counseling and Wellness in Cary, North Carolina.

People without ADHD can usually regain focus by eliminating distractions, but for those with ADHD, this may not be the case.

ADHD can greatly affect a person's daily functioning, including their work, education, and personal relationships.

The American Psychological Association (APA) classifies ADHD as a neurodevelopmental disorder, similar to autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, communication disorders, and motor disorders.

ADHD in adults can manifest as:

  • Hyperactivity, which can lead to impatience, excessive movement, excessive talking, anger/frustration outbursts, and being late to appointments.

  • Impulsivity, causing poor decision-making, interrupting others, frequent job changes, reckless driving, and relationship problems.

  • Inattention, characterized by disorganization, forgetfulness, difficulty prioritizing, careless mistakes, and avoidance of tasks requiring focus.

  • ADHD symptoms must have been present before age 12 to diagnose an individual with this condition, according to the DSM-5.

Reasons Behind Lack of Focus

If you don’t have ADHD and you suffer from persistent lack of focus, it's important to identify and address the specific cause of your lack of focus in order to improve it.

Sleep deprivation

Both mental and physical fatigue can result in difficulty focusing and brain fog. Low energy levels prevent you from directing your willpower to your task, causing you to be easily distracted. For example, when trying to complete a report, you might find yourself browsing memes on Instagram, even though the report is important. This is because your brain is taking a break unconsciously due to exhaustion.

Sleep hygiene is the practice of developing healthy sleep habits to ensure a good night's sleep. Make sure you’re taking steps to improve your sleep hygiene and manage your stress to get a good night’s sleep.

Demanding personal life

Despite trying to keep work and personal life separate, you only have a limited amount of energy to carry you through the day. It is common to feel tired at work when personal life is demanding. For example, if you're writing a budget report while also preparing to move to a new apartment, it can be exhausting. Moving can be a physically and emotionally draining task, especially if the move is related to a difficult situation, like a breakup. With emotions, career responsibilities, and moving preparations, it's normal to feel exhausted by the end of the week.

Trying to do everything at once

Multitasking with a long to-do list seems tempting, but it is an illusion. In truth, you're constantly switching your focus between tasks, which your brain cells perceive as multitasking. However, this method is not as effective as you may think. It can take up to 23 minutes to regain focus after switching tasks, causing a 40% loss in efficiency due to lost time.

This can be experienced when trying to answer emails while working on a document, where it takes time to refocus on the document after crafting an email. To avoid this, try using time-blocking to schedule dedicated time for each task, including busy tasks like emailing. This way, you won't feel the need to constantly switch tasks, knowing that you will address each one later.

When you simply don’t like it

Even if you enjoy your job, there are probably certain tasks that you dislike. Our brains are wired to avoid pain and seek rewards, leading to procrastination and putting off these unpleasant tasks.

To overcome this, try to find ways to make the task more enjoyable or plan to do it after tasks you enjoy to stay motivated. Another approach is to "eat the frog" by tackling unpleasant tasks first thing in the morning, so that the rest of the day can only get better.

Fear of success

You may fear added responsibility from being too successful at your job, leading to procrastination and self-sabotage. This may stem from subconscious fears, such as quitting your job for graduate school.

You may be avoiding completing your graduate school application due to the fear of being accepted, as this would require leaving your current job for a 2-3 year period of further education. It's important to remember your goals and push through any fears to avoid regret.

Health issues

Lack of focus can be caused by physical and mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, insomnia, memory loss, chronic fatigue, narcolepsy, hormonal imbalances, epilepsy, restless leg syndrome, blood sugar imbalances, and high blood pressure. If you suspect that your lack of focus is due to a health condition, it is recommended to see a doctor or mental health professional.

Lacking purpose

Lack of clear purpose can lead to low motivation in work. It's important to set meaningful career goals and link daily tasks to a larger purpose. Finding purpose can be challenging, but it's possible to create purpose in your work to stay motivated.

Turning off your phone

Notifications from phone, email, or social media are external distractions that can interrupt your focus. For example, a phone notification to review a photo memory can lead to a loss of attention. To avoid this, it's advisable to enable the "do not disturb" function.

Poor time management

Parkinson's Law states that work expands to fill the amount of time available for its completion. Thus, having too much time for a task can lead to procrastination and decreased focus. To combat this, setting achievable goals can help activate a positive stress, improving focus. Reflect on how long tasks typically take you and allocate your time accordingly, making sure to include breaks. This approach can help increase productivity and preserve mental energy.

Focus & Choices

The need for deep focus remains a contentious issue in today's rapidly changing world. While some argue that shallow, multitasking-style focus is sufficient, others believe that deep focus is essential for long-term productivity and well-being.

Ultimately, the answer may lie somewhere in between, with a balance between deep focus and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. In each case, we need a healthy mind and lifestyle to thrive. Hence, it's crucial to take action when experiencing a persistent lack of concentration.

It's up to each individual to determine their own unique needs and find the right balance for themselves.


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