People often assume that attention and focus are just different names for the same thing. But that's not true.
Attention is something we do all the time and is completely involuntary. Attention is a natural function of the body. Individuals are constantly in a state of paying attention to different aspects of their environment.
Throughout the course of human evolution. We have survived by avoiding predators and finding food to eat. We are naturally built to observe the environment around us. We take in sensory input from all around us, and that helps us to keep safe and understand the world around us.
You can see things, hear things, smell things, and so on. This is all attention. You know what is around you in your environment at all times because you are continually paying attention. To some extent, we still pay attention while we are sleeping because, even then, we are taking in sensory input.
Attention is not something that we choose to do, is something that we always do. If you are alive, you are paying attention. Focus, however, is slightly different.
Focus is more to do with your ability to block out some of that sensory input or make it less prevalent in your mind so that you can put your energy into the task at hand.
Focus is a high energy exercise. Focus is something that you choose to do and is learned behaviour. It is also exhausting.
People have what I like to call an optimal focus period.
When you hear people talk about their attention span, they're actually talking about their optimal focus period.
Cast your mind back to your school days. How many times were you told to pay attention? If you're anything like me, it was many times a day. I was labelled as a disruptive influence because I found it difficult to focus, as did many of my classmates.
What they were really asking me to do was to focus. But there is a problem with their request. It is that they expect you to focus all day, and that's just not possible. Focus is energy-intensive and short-lived. There is no way to make focus an extended activity.
The average person has got around 40 minutes of intensive focused time in them before they need to take some recovery time, creatives tend to have even less. The amount of recovery time that's required is usually around half of the amount of time you spent focusing.
So if you have 40 minutes of intense focus time. Then you need 20 minutes, at the very least, of recovery time. If you don't allow yourself that recovery time then you prevent yourself from being able to launch into another focus period. You end up staying in recovery mode, all day. When you are in recovery mode even though you are trying to push through and write you are far less creative, less effective, less thoughtful, and incapable of making the creative connections in your mind that would normally come so easily to you.
The quality of your work suffers and the enjoyment of the writing process suffers. Most importantly of all, your health can suffer. If you don't allow yourself that recovery time. It will have other implications too.
Your brain is fried from pushing too hard, from trying to force yourself to focus for too long. You are less able to connect with the humans around you and as a direct result, your relationships with the people in your world will suffer.
Your optimal focus period is when you perform at your absolute best. That is your peak. When you then push through and carry on and trying to force yourself to focus. When you enter recovery mode you are not going to be able to launch yourself into another focus period. It is frighteningly common for people to drastically overestimate their ability to focus. For reasons unknown to me, people seem to think that they can focus for hours on end, but that is simply not true.
There is no way to focus for hours on end, none whatsoever.
Your creative writing is important to you so you want to give it your best. If you don't allow yourself your recovery time, then you're not giving it your best, you are just winging it. That is no good. Your art deserves better, your audience deserves better, and you deserve better.
Nothing in life is quite black and white. If only it was that simple, eh? Everything in life is a grey area and there is absolutely no way around that fact. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.
How you feel on any given day has a direct impact on your optimal focus period. If you feel good, you do good. So on a day when you are feeling fired up, you will be able to hold your focus for a decent amount of time. On days when you are feeling pretty flat, or even feeling bad, your optimal focus period will be drastically shorter than on a good day.
It is down to you and your self-awareness to figure out what will work for you on any given day. Once you start making those assessments it will quickly become second nature and you will be able to ensure that you are always writing at your best.
Your environment will also have an impact on your optimal focus period. Is it a busy environment? If yes, your optimal focus period will be fleeting at best. There are things you can do that will help to prevent environmental concerns from being a distraction, like creating a sensory enclosure (more on that here -> http://mikethebizguy.co.uk/Blog/14/5-minute-focus-episode-3-sensory-enclosures )
Be dynamic in your approach and you will excel as a writer. If you are too rigid and uptight you will never get those stories out of your head and onto the page in the way that you want them.
Written By Mike on 07.06.2021