Writing assignments, doing online research or blog post writing requires us to know how to stay focused. These and many other daily activities are heavily dependent on our ability to process information and provide the relevant outputs.
Staying focused allows us to do it efficiently and faster, it directly increases the speed and quality of this work.
There is a catch though. Every day people in different self-improvement and productivity-related Subreddits ask how to stay focused, how to be able to concentrate on what you do, how to achieve your goals.
It’s clear proof that staying proactively focused on something is hard. It’s much easier to get distracted and focus on something else, while abandoning the initial goal.
Why is staying focused so hard?
If we don’t take into consideration the medical conditions (which prevent individuals from focusing on a single thing), the answer is simple. A whole world of distractions is right at our fingertips.
No matter what you do, you can always pick your smartphone and dive deep into the world of viral videos, friends’ updates, news, memes and so much more. Like a child in the candy shop, our brain simply can’t resist the urge to consume all of those.
The fact that online is so embedded into our offline life makes things even worse. Our work, entertainment and communication is often online too, which is a powerful ‘focus sucker’ for millions of people.
Focus is a skill to learn, not a gift
Despite the fact that all this huge, shiny world of social media exists (and can easily pull all of our focus, 100% of it) – we still need to work. We still need to study, to research stuff, to focus on our writings and readings.
That’s why this post was written – its goal is to teach anyone how to stay focused on something important, on things that require our attention. A framework suggested in this post is called TESLA – and I use it regularly myself.
Using the TESLA method might help you ‘force’ your attention to be present at things which are ‘boring’ for our brain and hard to process.
The TESLA framework for how to stay focused
Focusing our attention on important activities doesn’t have anything related to Elon Musk. In fact, it’s not even related to Nicola Tesla himself. It’s an acronym which allows you to memorize the basic steps you should take when you want to focus on your paper next time.
TESLA stands for:
- Tasks you are going to focus on
- Elimination of any distractions
- Sleep hours you had the night before
- Liquid in your body
- Attention span, the time we are going to stay focused
Based on my experience of work, and based on the other resources I’ve studied when trying to improve my ability to focus, these are the key components we need to succeed. Now let’s go through each one of them, to understand how it might help us.
Tasks you are going to focus on
We start with the first, most important thing we need to focus on – our Task. Ideally, this can be a long activity from the same field, so you don’t need to back-and-forth with the other ones.
We can think about writing a single long blog post, research paper or reading a single book. You should know exactly WHAT are these tasks and WHY you need to complete them. This part comes from setting a clear goal and from understanding its importance, from motivation to complete it.
Usually people use ToDo lists for it. I have a Calendar-based Notion view, where each day is my mini-Todo list, that I follow as part of my routine. It helps me to spend less time when trying to remember what I was supposed to do from yesterday.
It’s important to mention that the similarity of the tasks you’re trying to work on makes it easier to accomplish them. In other words, working on 3 similar tasks should be easier than working on 3 different ones for our brain. Cost of switching attention between them is the reason for it. Our brain spends more time when the context is switched.
Elimination of any distraction
Try reading a book when in silence for 10 minutes. Then switch on your favorite TV show in the background and try reading this same book again. Do you see the difference?
To make sure our brain can focus on something, we need to eliminate any potential distraction that can suck our attention. What type of distractions are these?
When studying or reading or writing – our brain needs silence (or ‘white noise’ at least). Something that doesn’t steal our attention constantly. Something that’s easy to get used to internally. It’s much easier to focus in an environment that’s suitable for it.
Environment is not the only potential ‘risk’ of getting distracted. Take our laptop for example. When writing a research paper, you’re just one click away from Reddit or Facebook. Same for the smartphone, one tap away from all viral videos in the world.
Make sure you don’t break your focus by hearing a notification or just having an instant urge to check something ‘quickly’ and be back.
For example, I used to disable my phone WiFi/Cellular internet if I needed to stay away from it for some time.
Other distractive factors
It all depends on your work/study environment – which factors may break your focus. Think of them upfront and try to eliminate the ones you can to eliminate.
Although it isn’t that straightforward, sleep quality is one of the key requirements for being able to focus on whatever you need to get done. Focus requires concentration. Concentration requires an active thinking process and brainpower. If you are sleepy, the last thing you’re likely to do is to concentrate on something.
When I sleep badly and feel tired, it’s much more likely that I’m going to fall asleep, rather than to finish my task in time.
The tricky thing about sleep quality is that it has its posteffect. For example, if you require staying focused today, you should’ve had a good sleep yesterday.
And, based on my experience, going to bed in time is one of the simplest ways to sleep well and have a good rest.
Liquids in your body
Do you drink enough liquids? Something we don’t feel immediately – water (and liquids in general) play a huge role in the capability of our brain to work actively (and hence, to focus on something).
Since it’s easy to forget to stay hydrated enough before you start working, I usually have a routine of drinking 2 glasses of water once I wake up, as well as multiple cups during the day.
I’m not a biologist and I didn’t research it in depth, but based on my personal feeling – drinking regularly helps you think better.
Thinking of your attention span is another important step towards getting your active focus on something you need to process. Some people use Pomodoro technique for it, with a different ‘Pomodoros’ duration. I prefer having my ‘pomodoros’ longer – not 25, but 45 minutes of active attention span.
In other words, you pick the optimum time period that you are going to maintain focus for. It’s like saying to your brina: “During this time, you are going to ignore anything around”.
You stay fair with your brain, and you don’t focus it actively on something for as long as it’s possible. No, you intentionally limit your focus time, in order to be able to end it in a controllable way and repeat once you’ll be ready for it.
This is the exact purpose of it – to be able to ‘run this marathon’ of focusing on different things throughout the day, rather than doing one, long, big, uncontrollable focusing time block – and giving up due to frustration and tiredness.
In other words, set expectations for how long you want to stay focused.
Improving your Focus with TESLA framework
Now, since we went over every element in the TESLA framework – another important question arises: so, how do I focus on the things I need to work? It all sounds good in theory, but what should I do to implement it in practice?
Well, that’s exactly why we use this acronym for such a framework. You can just:
- Start with a task, think about what you want to do, what thing is the one you’d like to work on
- Consider things around you that may be distructive for your attention and focus
- Make sure to rest well and have a proper sleep before you do the focus session
- Don’t forget about the water
- Don’t forget about the limits for your focusing time
These points should help you. They are simple, actionable, yet strategic if you want to improve your processes, make your routine effective and optimal. Don’t forget – they’re just the starting points, so anyway you can experiment further and put emphasis on the practices which work for you more than the others.
Staying focused and concentrated is extremely important skill when we work on something. Be it writing, reading, listening, studying or working – no matter which activity – it’s much more productive and fruitful if you achieve the right focus on it.
That’s why, if applied right, the TESLA framework is so valuable. Go over its components again, list about the ways you can make it applicable to your setup – and enjoy maximum productivity when working on your goals.
I started this blog as an attempt to improve my writing skills and to establish a proper writing routine. I share notes and tips about productivity, products and routines. I believe that this blog will keep me accountable and (hopefully) will help someone else too.