The power of focusing – book review

I’ve been getting more interested in mindfulness recently, the ability to be focused in the moment that you’re in right now, and have blogged about the benefits of mindfulness recently. If you too are interested in how you can enjoy each moment more, become more productive in your work and life, then I recommend the book Focus by Leo Babauta. It’s available as a free e-book from the author’s website Zen Habits. You can download this book for free as a .pdf to read on a computer or mobile device, or you can buy an enhanced version with additional chapters, videos etc. I read the free one.

It is a very simple, easy to read book. It’s clearly laid out, broken into short chapters, and doesn’t blind you with science or research, just his tried and tested experience.

The essence of the book is that we live in an age of (Internet) distractions. Things such as emails, text messages, mobile device alerts, Facebook updates, Twitter, RSS feeds, 24-hour news channels etc, all bombard us, demanding our attention. They distract us from whatever we’re doing, whether that’s working, eating, talking with friends, being creative and so on.

Particularly from a work perspective, constant distractions can lead to reduced focus, reduced productivity and reduced effectiveness. They can also contribute to increased stress levels and feelings of anxiety. Babauta’s book outlines ways that we can reduce the stream of distractions, focus on the most important things, and focus on the thing that we’re doing at that moment. He’s not against technology itself, and he uses it a lot as a blogger and writer, but he believes it has a particular time and place.

It’s not rocket science, but I certainly have taken the messages on board. I’m trying to turn off email in work when I want to concentrate on a particular report or document, instead of responding to the tempting little ‘ping’ every time. At home, you could also try turning off alerts to things like Facebook and setting aside 20 minutes a day for things like that. When you do those things though, do only them e.g. just read the news online, or just do email or just write a blog post. Turn off the other things. That way you’re focusing on the one thing your doing.

He also talks about de-cluttering the physical workspace, and I definitely need to do that with my desk at home! He recommends taking everything off the desk, putting it all on the floor, cleaning the desk then only putting the most essential items back on. The rest can be dealt with in chunks of time (between your focused productive time) by making a decision on each thing: keep, give away, recycle, reuse, bin. With a clearer desk you will also have a clearer mind, all the better for focusing with.

If you do try focusing on doing one thing at once you’ll find things pop into your head all the time. For example, when I was making notes on the book, suddenly I would think ‘oh, must email so-and-so’, but instead of switching tasks I made a note on a pad of paper, and went back to the book. The more we practise focusing the longer we can go without things going ping in the brain. This is very much inline with meditation – not worrying if thoughts go ping in the brain when you’re focusing on the breath, just mentally noting ‘oh, a thought’ and return to the breath.

I have, slightly ironically, got slightly distracted from the book review! If you do find yourself flitting from one task to another, or bombarded by things demanding your attention I would definitely recommend reading Focus. And it’s free so you’ve got nothing to lose!

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