Struggling to Focus? Here's Advice From World-Renowned Brain Coach Jim Kwik

Hint: remove this one word from your vocabulary.
Struggling to Focus? Here's Advice From World-Renowned Brain Coach Jim Kwik
Image credit: Amy Lombard
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This story appears in the June 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Focus begins in the morning, Kwik says. And most entrepreneurs destroy it by reaching for their phones.

“When you wake up, you’re in this relaxed state of awareness — it’s the most relaxed you’ll feel the entire day,” he says. “When you pick up your device, you’re rewiring your for two things — for distraction, and then something even worse, reaction.”

Kwik says that we understand the word focus all wrong. It is not something one person is naturally better at than another, or that waxes and wanes throughout the day. “Focus is not something you have,” Kwik says. “Focus is something you do.”

Related: 8 Ways to Improve Your Mental Focus

He suggests thinking about concepts like focus and distraction as if they’re separate muscles. If you work out either of them, they become strong. “Most people are flexing their distraction muscles,” he says — by trying to do 10 things at once, say, or constantly checking their email. “Then they wonder why they’re distracted later in the day.”

So how do you build focus? First, eliminate the word multitasking from your vocabulary.

“The enemy of focus is multitasking,” Kwik says. “That’s why people suffer from a lot of Zoom fatigue and everything else. Entrepreneurs say that they’re multitasking, but in actuality they’re not. The research shows that the human brain cannot do multiple parallel cognitive processes at once. What they’re really doing is more accurately described as task-switching — going from Zoom to Slack, to social, to email, to everything. And it can take anywhere from five to 10 minutes just to regain your focus.” When an entrepreneur tries to multitask, he says, it costs them time and energy, and it leads to mistakes.

Related: Why Multitasking Is a Myth That's Breaking Your Brain and Wasting Your Time

Instead, he says, “start doing focused activities.” That means staying on one task, and one task only, until it’s time to do something new. If you’re working on something that requires a lot of attention, do it for about 25 minutes and then take a break. (That’s called the pomodoro technique; it’s based on research showing that our brains tend to drift after about 25 minutes of focused work.) For shorter tasks, Kwik says, add a small change that keeps you focused. For example, if you normally brush your teeth with your right hand, switch to your left hand. “Your brain grows through novelty and nutrition,” he says. “You always want to challenge it.”

As you do, your focus “muscle” will become stronger — and so will your ability to stay on task.

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