This Week’s Challenge: Develop the habit of daily focus.
The Uncorked Conversation Podcast with Allyson Scammell
Ep #38: Staying Focused in the Age of Distraction
Allyson Scammell: You are listening to the uncorked conversation podcast with Allyson Scammell.
Episode number 38.
Hello and welcome to the Uncorked Conversation, a podcast for soul guided passion filled women entrepreneurs who want to uncork big magic in life and business without burning out. We’ll get to the truth of how to uncork our core gifts, the ones we keep hidden inside, and how to infuse those gifts into our personal and professional life in a way that feels like magic. We’ll also uncover how to truly experience the joy of the journey through smart time management and planning. I’m your host, Allyson Scammell, let’s uncork.
Allyson: Well, hello there. This episode is all about focus. Focus is a funny thing in the modern world because there’s so much that demands our attention in any given minute, texts messages, news feeds, headlines, phone calls. Then, there’s so much information to consume. There are books. There are magazines. There are blogs, podcasts, I mean, online courses, and of course the mothership Google. We just have access to so much information.
Allyson: Focus is a art in the 21st century, and it’s a gift you can give yourself. Because when you focus in on one task and one task only, you produce so much better and so much more in such a small amount of time. You might be thinking, “Well, yes, Allyson, I know that.” But the question is, do you put that into practice on the daily? So in today’s episode we’re going to talk about the science behind why focus is so difficult in the 21st century, how to shift into focus, and then what you should do after intensive periods of focus. So let’s get going.
Allyson: The human brain can only focus intensely and intently on one thing, or even a multitude of things, in 45- to 90-minute bursts. After 45 to 90 minutes of concentration, the brain fatigues. It needs rest. So when you’re thinking about focus and you’re thinking about a creative project or something that you need to do, you want to organize your day to the extent that you can in spending 45- to 90-minute bursts focused in on one thing and one thing only. You can play around with how much sustained concentration you can have. If you’re someone who starts to fatigue after 40 minutes, and that’s fine. That’s normal. Honor that. Or if you’re someone who can go the full 90 before you really start to fatigue, and that really just depends on the person and our attention levels.
Allyson: But, it’s always amazing to me when I sit down to do a creative project, and I have my 90 minutes blocked out to do whatever it is that I’m going to do, and this little voice inside of my head says, “Check your email. Check your Facebook. Make a quick phone call. Organize that thing.” Our mind will pull us away from that number one priority task, that passion project, that thing that your heart is calling you to do. It will pull you away from the things that truly mean a lot to you.
Allyson: There’s a lot of reasons why the brain does that. One, all of these things that I’m mentioning, email, social media, text messaging, it’s very addictive. Literally, when we hear the ding of a text message, we actually get a spike of the hormone dopamine. You may have heard of dopamine. It controls the pleasure systems of the brain. Dopamine makes you feel enjoyment or pleasure, and therefore motivates you to seek out certain behaviors, such as food, sex, alcohol, and social media engagement.
Allyson: So if we have a creative project ahead of us that our heart is calling us to do, and maybe that creative project as part of a long-term effort, like let’s say you’re writing a book, and it’s a long slog and you’ve been in it day in and day out, you feel called to do it. You would feel horrible if you weren’t doing it because you’re feeling called to write the book. But you are human, and it feels good to get a quick hit of dopamine to spike up that feeling of pleasure. So instead of buckling down for the 90 minutes to write your next chapter, you get on Instagram and scroll. The problem is not in the dopamine. The thing to be cautious about is the instant gratification. That often pulls us away from our focus because we want the instant gratification of what we think we might find on social media, texts, emails that we’re not finding in the creative project we actually really want to be focused on.
Allyson: It’s the process of training yourself to be happy with and accept delayed gratification that someday your book is going to be written, and it’s going to be a hit, and you’re going to be doing book signing parties, and you’re going to be on Oprah and all of those things, which is great and will also make your dopamine rise. But you know that because writing a book is a journey, it’s not all going to happen today. It’s not all going to happen in a second. It’s not all going to happen in the ding of a text message. It’s a commitment that requires focus that will make you a better writer or creator, whatever it is you’re creating.
Allyson: So how can you shift in to the focus? I think the first step is becoming aware of where your weaknesses are. What are your weaknesses that distract you, that pull you away from focus? For example, I get caught up mostly with Facebook. Although I don’t consume tons of information on Facebook during the day, but what will lead me down a rabbit hole of distraction is Facebook engagement. So if somebody comments, or likes, or asks a question, then I want to check to see if I have a notification, if I got a comment on something, and I want to reply to that, and I want … I feel urges for that dopamine hit to take me away from the focus of some other creative projects that really needs a good 90-minute chunk of focus for me to complete it like I want to complete it.
Allyson: I keep an eye on my Facebook engagement and my emails. What I do is I block off 30 minutes of time for both per working day. I work Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And on those Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I always have 30 minutes for Facebook engagement and emails. I try to keep both my Facebook closed and my email closed when it’s not those 30 minutes. Then, I block my time in 90-minute time chunks when I can. I’ve got clients, too, so I have to maneuver around client scheduling, but I decide what I’m going to focus on in those 90-minute time chunks.
Allyson: Let’s say Monday from 9:00 to 10:30 I’m going to focus on recording a podcast episode and drafting some sales copy for something I’m offering. And that’s it. What I tried to do during those 90 minutes is I shut off everything. Every tab on my Google Chrome is closed except for the things that relate to a podcast episode or the email. I don’t have my phone around me. I have my landline turned off. I have my desk cleared. Everything, my environment is enabling me to focus for a 90-minute chunk. Sometimes, I actually play around with making times stop, which is the topic of a future episode. I actually make sure that all time pieces are covered. Then, I do set a timer to ding in 90 minutes. So I can’t even see the clocks. This is actually a trick I really recommend. Then, you know you’ve got 90 minutes. Your alarm is going to ding, and then you can stop.
Allyson: In those 90 minutes, if I remember that there’s someone I need to email or I remember that there’s a Facebook comment I wanted to reply to, what I do is I just jot it down. I have a running email list and little … I call it my dump list. It’s emails, little piddly things that I want to do, and I write it down. I get it off my mind. I don’t just shove it away. I don’t just say, “Oh, I force myself to not think about that email I forgot to send.” I write it down. Then, when it’s my 30 minutes dedicated time to emailing, I will … I have it there to remind me so I get it out of my head.
Allyson: But what I try really hard not to do is to stop my work, stop the creative flow, minimize whatever it is I’m working on, and going to open my email inbox because that distracts me. It distracts my concentration. It makes me lose momentum. And it’s tiring. It’s tiring for the brain to switch back from a lot of different creative tasks at once, so you actually end up producing much less and your quality is not as good as it could be.
Allyson: Then, what happens after you’ve done a time chunk of 45 to 90 minutes of intensive concentration on one thing, your alarm goes ding? It’s time for a rest. That’s why I always schedule white space after a 90-minute time chunk. Always. In that white space, sometimes I have ideas of things what I want to do, but I always try to ask myself, “What is my body, or my heart, or my soul asking for me to do in this moment? Do I need to go for a walk? Do I need to take a nap? Do I need to take a sauna?” Yes, I’m lucky enough to have a sauna in my house. That is a great way to spend white space. Do I need to just do nothing? Do I need to eat a snack? What do I need to do in my white space?
Allyson: Sometimes I will actually schedule a massage or something like yoga class in that white space. But, I really, really try, even when I have something scheduled to go to, I really try to honor what is it that I want. I try to be in real creative response to what is present in that moment about what I need to rejuvenate so I can rejuvenate and return back to my work table to do another 45- to 90-minute creative burst of energy, or to meet with a client, or whatever it is I’m going to do.
Allyson: When you train yourself to do that … Because it is a training. You can’t just snap your fingers and have perfect focus overnight. It takes training. When you train yourself to carve out time for the things that tend to distract you … Because I’m not at all saying don’t do it. I’m just saying carve out time for it and do it all at that time. Then, put those distractions away and put them out of your site so you’re not tempted. You make peace with delayed gratification knowing that the creative project you’re working on might not pay dividends in your life in the classic forms of pleasure for some time if you’re working on a longer term project and being okay with that, and finding the joy in the process of creating and in the focus, and being in alignment to what your heart is calling, and knowing that if you weren’t doing that thing that your heart is calling you to do you’d feel much worse.
Allyson: My challenge this week is to focus. First, ask the question of your heart. What do you want to be focused on right now? Mean, maybe if you’re forcing yourself to focus on something that doesn’t feel good, it’s not the right focus. So do a check-in. Am I focusing on the right things right now? And if the answer is no, what is the right focus? What is the right focus for my creative energy? Then, give yourself time to do the distractions in like 30-minute chunks. Then, divide the rest of your day into 90-minute creative bursts followed by white space of rest and rejuvenation. I promise when you do this, your creativity, your output is going to skyrocket. You’re going to have more energy and just a stronger feeling of balance and harmony to your day.
Allyson: If you would like help with this, you can download my free four-step soul-guided business planner. In these four steps, I offer everything you need to make every work week both harmonious and high-earning. One of the steps in this guide is all about focus. You can get your free download at my website at shantipax.com. That’s S-H-A-N-T-I-P-A-X .com/gifts. I’ll also leave that link in the show notes.
Allyson: That is what I wanted to share with you for this week. I truly hope that this content was in service to you and benefited you in some way. If you’re feeling called and if you’re feeling so motivated, I would be so grateful if you went over to iTunes or wherever it is you listen to this and gave me a rating, five stars if you don’t mind, and a review. That is how more people can find me. And oh yeah, a few likes, and loves, and shares on social media would also be awesome. I really, really thank you so much for that.
Allyson: I want to end on an announcement. So for those who actually listened to this whole thing, you get the benefit of being the first to know, well done you, that I’m going to be changing the name of this podcast, but not the platform. I love the idea of Uncorked, but I feel like this podcast has outgrown that and it needs something different and something that can grow with me and with our community. I’m going to be finishing out episode 39 and 40 as the Uncorked Conversation, and then I’m going to be taking a break for the summer hiatus. When I come back and I return on episode 41, it’s going to be the brand new, new branded podcast. It’s going to be a very similar in content, but the branding’s going to be more in alignment to what it is we actually talk about. I am super excited about that. Stayed tuned for all of those very, very exciting changes. But until I changed the new format, I’m going to close on until next time, stay uncorked.
Allyson: Feeling drained by the amount of work you put into your and disappointed by the results? Then get your free four-step soul-guided business planner to make every work week harmonious and higher earning. Get your free PDF at my website, shantipax.com/gifts. That’s S-H-A-N-T-I-P-A-X .com/gifts.