Focus has been a lifelong challenge for me. I frankly don’t remember studying in elementary or high school. How’d I get away with that?
I remember being antsy and impatient with reading and problem solving. What was that “x” they were talking about in algebra?!
Partly I didn’t have the tools to organize myself and get down to business (I’d never learned how). But I also had a special brain–one that was smart and creative, but could not focus to save my soul.
College exposed my challenges, as professors called me out on the crappy work I turned in that didn’t reflect what they knew I had in me. I had to figure this out. I had to learn to focus.
Focus is a critical part of my life every day–for work with clients, writing books and articles, listening to my friends and family, doing yoga, meditating, working out at the gym, or doing my household chores. I do my best when I’m completely present for these things, free from distractions, and prepared. But it isn’t easy. I’ve had to learn the art of focus. Focus takes work and readiness.
Focus Starts With Self-Care
I’ve discovered that everything I do to take care of myself effects how well my mind functions–including focus on the tasks at hand. In college I started to get how much of an impact my sleep, diet, and exercise had on my ability to tune into my work. I became a long distance runner at the age of eighteen, in part because it cleared my mind and helped me engage deeply in my work.
Over the years my self-care practices have grown and multiplied. I now enjoy the best focus of my life.
I do my very best work when I’m vigilant with all the fundamentals of self-care: when I’m well rested and getting enough sleep, eating healthfully (and not excessively), moving and exercising (intense exercise is especially good for high focus), and managing stress well.
First, I dump my concerns and worries in my daily journaling practice, and meditate every day. I do these at the beginning of the day. These set the peaceful, positive tone I need, clear much of the clutter from my mind, and keep my attitude upbeat and optimistic.
My Five Favorite Focus Tools
- Gather myself: If it’s a scheduled client or writing day, I make a special effort to unload any thoughts that may distract me (negative or positive–or my to-do list!) into my journal. I follow this with meditation and a good yoga or workout session. These activities prepare my body and mind for the important tasks to come. They help me feel fully present and grounded in my body. I express my gratitude for all my work and resolve to stay present and curious for all that comes.
- Set clear intentions for what I want to accomplish: This is key. I say it or write it down. If I have writing projects to start or complete, I make a list and put it right in front of me. If I have clients to work with, I have time scheduled to prepare for them. I affirm my intention to do my best work for them.
- Prepare my work space: I try to keep my work spaces decluttered at all times. Clutter completely muddles my brain! I get rid of the visual distractions and have my tools out and situated the way they need to be–laptop, charts, documents, tea or drinking water, sticky notes, etc.
- Essential oils: I can’t live without my diffuser and essential oils. I love to combine oils that both ground (reduce anxiety and irritability) and inspire (energize, refresh). My current favorite blend includes the grounding oils vetiver and cedar, along with invigorating wild orange and grapefruit. Five drops of each into the diffuser water. I may add just a drop or two of lavender and/or patchoulli (seriously, it’s not hippie when combined with the other scents!).
- Noise-reduction headphones: These are especially helpful when I’m working in my home office with family members about. Wearing them blocks the noise of comings and goings and barking of the dogs. Sometimes I use Brain Sync® biaural beat therapy, music therapy created by Kelly Howell. Her work uses sound to entrain brain waves to support desired mind states. My favorite tracts are “High Focus” and “Creativity.”
Karyn Shanks, MD. Brain Food: Feed, Heal, and Protect Your Brain. 2017.
Karyn Shanks, MD. Practice is a Superpower. 2017.
Karyn Shanks, MD. Optimism: the Key to Starting Over When We’ve Failed. 2017.