Squirrel! Strategies to Overcome the Struggle With Focus
Utilize these 5 unique strategies to overcome distraction and improve your struggle with focus. Whether it's writing a college paper, business project proposal, or managing your personal budget, harnessing focus and concentration is key to successfully adulting.
Let's cut to the chase, because who even has time to read this 5 min article? One of the most common topics my clients want to address is focus.
If one quality were to define the experience of living in the 21st Century, it may be SPEED. Things are undoubtedly faster than in previous times. While some of this is certainly due to technology, it is also a matter of perception. With so much information and communication happening at an instant pace, it can feel like the world is moving faster than it actually is.
In today’s fast-paced world, young adults often find it difficult to stay focused and motivated, especially with all of the distractions we have around us at all times. Whether it’s endless notifications on your phone or the constant flood of information on social media, staying on task feels like an uphill battle.
If you also have ADHD, the associated challenges can sometimes become so overwhelming that you end up experiencing a total shutdown, also known as task paralysis. If you don't have ADHD but feel like you totally relate to this, you may be experiencing variable attention stimulus trait, or VAST. VAST is essentially ADHD's functional twin and describes people that have ADHD traits but do not meet the full diagnosis criteria (see the amazing ADHD 2.0 to learn more).
Whether it's writing a college paper, your next business project proposal, or managing the excel cells of your personal budget, harnessing your focus is key to successfully adulting.
You do not need to work through your challenges with brute force. Doing so is a shortcut to burnout and can deflate your sense of self. There are ways to work that are more aligned with who you are that can help you stay on track. Keep a growth mindset, you can improve your strategies for focus and motivation!
The "Squirrel Page" is an idea one of my clients came up with in a session that I have since adopted for my own workflow. The saying “Squirrel!” is often used as humor to indicate that someone is distracted or easily side tracked. When someone says “squirrel!" they are acknowledging that they have been distracted and may need to refocus their attention.
One common problem when first sitting down to do concentrated work is getting distracted by unrelated thoughts or ideas. Instead of letting these ideas and thoughts take over your mind, capture them on a separate notes page (or document). This way, you can address them later without losing them or losing focus on your current task. Prioritizing is essential for focus. This can only be done once you clear your mind from those nagging thoughts.
Music has been shown to have a positive effect on productivity, focus, improved creativity, and cognitive performance. While some people may prefer working in complete silence, others find that listening to music helps them stay on task.
Neurodivergence (ADHD, ASD, SPD) often causes people to engage in sensory seeking. This means they are looking to have more sensory input as a way to feel stimulated because it helps them to engage. In particular, lofi or instrumental music can be a great choice. It can help with regulating mood, blocking out distractions, and increasing endurance.
I highly recommend the @ChillhopMusic YouTube Channel for it's playlists and simple animations. These videos are entertaining enough to provide me with some novelty to seek-and-find the cool details of each picture when I need a mini brain break, but not so entertaining that they pull me off-task altogether.
From @ChillhopMusic I mean, just look at these chill cuties!
When I ask my clients about their sources of motivation, the first answer is almost always a deadline. Capitalize on this idea and kick your focus into gear by creating your own sense of urgency. You can do this by creating a time box. This means, setting aside a specific amount of time, for a specific task. Challenge yourself to complete the task within that time frame.
This phenomenon is also known as Parkinson's Law which states,"Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." With less time, effort increases. This explains how you are able to write a paper 2 hours before the deadline, but it takes a tremendous amount of energy to do so. With more time, the effort required decreases.
There is a sweet spot of productivity and time management that will be slightly different for each person. Finding the right amount of time for your work sessions and committing to the time boxes you create will help you to stay productive and avoid getting side tracked, improving your overall productivity. Limiting the amount of time you have to work on something helps you stay motivated and focus on the task at hand.
Our sense of smell has a powerful impact on our ability to focus and recall memories. I have had many clients successfully utilize scent (such as essential oils) as a focus and memory tool and achieve amazing results. Whether you are studying for an exam or trying to stay focused at work, incorporating the right scent can help you feel energized and focused.
Create these sensory triggers for your work environment. Try pairing one scent with one subject or category. For example, diffuse rosemary oil when working on writing projects and peppermint oil when working on office tasks.
Studies have shown that certain scents can help improve cognitive function, enhance memory recall, and increase productivity. The olfactory bulb, which is responsible for processing smells, is located near the brain's limbic system, which plays a crucial role in emotions and memory. Certain scents can trigger memories and emotions, leading to improved focus, recall, and concentration.
Sitting all day has been shown to have terrible outcomes on our health, bodies, moods, and minds. Movement can significantly improve our ability to focus and concentrate. Engaging in physical activity ignites the release of chemicals and hormones in our bodies which enhances mood and not only improve cognitive functions, but actually prevent cognitive decline. Increased blood flow, improved mood, decreased stress, and enhanced brain plasticity are just some of the cognitive benefits of physical activity.
There is evidence to suggest that even small amounts of low impact physical activity can improve focus and concentration. For those with desk jobs, standing and moving for just 3 minutes, a few times a day has been shown to have measurable, positive effects. Make sure to take breaks, stand and stretch, take a quick power walk around the block, or hit the stairs outside of your office. This isn't about working out or gassing yourself. This is just about getting things flowing again. You will return reenergized with a fresh level of focus.
Progress Not Perfection
There is no right way or right answer to hack into focus that will work for everyone. What's hard for you is not what's wrong for you. It is not about being a different person, just trying a different strategy until you know what works for you. This may look different than the ways your family expected but you deserve to find flow and success in ways that are meaningful to you and the life you're creating.