How to focus in a distracted world, and teach kids to do the same

Generating good ideas and quality work products requires something all too rare in modern life: quiet. (Source)

Technology and social media is undermining our ability to concentrate, think deeply, and be creative.

This study shows that adults check their phones about 50 times a day. The constant changing of screens, moving of images, beeping of instant messages is putting more and more demands on our limited attention and mental space.

Yet in the 21st century, focus and creativity are among the top qualities that employers are looking for.

How do we set boundaries on our own lives to optimize our ability to concentrate, in the midst of all the digital clutter?

Here are 12 tips to help you build your (and your kids’) focus and attention skills.

how to focus in a distracted world and teach kids the same

1) Teach attention explicitly

Tell your kids you can train your brain to pay attention and focus. There are games you can play with young children to help enhance their awareness – like Simon says, or Duck, duck, goose, or I spy, or a scavenger hunt list for places you go such as a restaurant.

When you’re reading a book, talking to a person, or listening to a podcast, whip out a notebook and scribble down notes. This is active listening and is a great habit to cultivate. Pass this tip on to your kids too.

prioritize your tasks with a to-do list

2) Prioritise your tasks from the get-go

Checking emails first thing in the morning makes you a slave to other people’s agendas. Instead, use your prime time to focus on the things you really want done today.

Also, guide your kids on how to prioritise their homework and responsibilities, based on either the deadline (Which is more urgent?), or how much effort and time it would take to complete a certain task (Which requires more time?).


3) Intentionally cut down on rush

In order to focus to do good work or just to spend quality time with loved ones, you need to be a state of calm.

You can’t be worrying about this or that problem; it only results in ruminating. Likewise, rushing around and feeling frantic inhibits your focus and thinking process.


4) Practise moments of quietness

You know what they say – take time to smell the roses. We literally need to schedule such times of true mental and physical breaks to enter into the zone of quietness.

Quietness is sadly, a lost art. But with intentionality (and some new habits), it can be achieved. Going out for a walk in the park is a great way to quieten down your heart and pay attention to your environment and refocus on your larger goals.


5) Cultivate essentialist thinking

Think about your highest point of contribution, your highest talent to offer the world – are you giving yourself space to create the very things that you were born to create? Or are you too bogged down by obligations and commitments?

Likewise, schedule your child’s enrichment activities wisely and selectively. Focus on the areas that they really love and that they really need. Don’t over-schedule them as this could result in burnout over time.


6) Use apps that control social media use

If you find yourself getting distracted too often and drifting on to social media sites, it may be worth checking out apps to help control your habits. One such app is Self-control for mac users. Another is Think, an app that helps you to single-task.


7) Go on airplane mode

Another simple way to eliminate distractions is to set your phone on airplane mode. It’s amazing how much work you can get done when you set your mind to it, focus, and are not distracted by messages and notifications popping up every 15 minutes.


8) Establish an early shut-down time

The period before bedtime (e.g., 10-11pm) is a crucial one. Like a child needs to wind down his mind and body for the night, we adults need to relax and breathe.

As I do a lot of content writing and find it more productive to work at night, I often struggle with this. So I’m gradually moving my shut-down time forward, and giving myself permission to rest and continue the work tomorrow.


9) Focus on one task at a time

It is almost an art form to be able to single-task today. Jumping between tasks actually slows us down. Multitasking may also inhibit deeper, more meaningful learning. So while kids may finish all their homework, they may not fully absorb or retain the information learnt. (Source)

have a popcorn snack break 

10) Know when your child needs a break

Children tend to tune out when they think the task is too hard or they are not interested in the subject. Provide support by breaking a big task down into smaller chunks. Engage them actively in the learning, or give snack and movement breaks in between tasks.

Remember growing attention is a process, not a one-time achievement.


cut down screen time and video games

11) Cut down screen time

Screens can mess with our brain’s ability to hone focus and attention. Help your child cut down screen time. In place of screens, play puzzles, memory games, or old-school card games like fishing, bridge, and snap.

12) Model what you want to see

Give kids your full attention when they say, “look mummy!”  Teach them that it conveys respect and love when we give people our full attention when they’re talking. Also tell them how much you love it when they give you their full attention too. 🙂

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