Sitting at a crowded coffee shop writing this post, I am surrounded by distractions. My own workspace is covered in technology enticing me to explore its welcoming interfaces. My personal distractions, combined with the music in the background, surrounding conversations, fascinating human interactions, and cars/people passing outside, vie for my attention. Looking around, everyone seems to be in the same position. Distraction is literally a click away, if not closer. It a wonder anyone can get anything done. However, I find this kind of environment invigorating and well-suited for writing and thinking. How? Because I am constantly working on focus.
This simple five-letter word can be heard everywhere from athletic events to classrooms to people walking down the street. It is used so often that it often loses its power. The ability to truly focus, despite the distractions and challenges constantly present, is a crucial skill to grow. Although easily understood, it is incredibly challenging to remain focused on a given task. With the threat of shortening attention spans across all generations, focus becomes even more important.
So, how does one develop greater focus? The short answer: Listen and Learn.
First of all, focus is not something that develops overnight. It is something that needs to be developed and nurtured over time. Without practice and fierce determination, true focus is hardly ever achieved.
Second, triggers for focus (and distraction) are different for everyone. There is no “one size fits all” method of learning what builds focus. Therefore, it is essential for people to listen to themselves and learn what works. Maybe it is setting aside specific times for distractions or hiding the distractions altogether. Whatever it is, it is important to be honest with oneself in order to understand what works and go with it. In other words, listen and learn.
Obviously, in a school setting, this becomes more challenging as every child is different. As a result, teachers must create an environment flexible enough to be conducive to every child’s style. Given the physical constraints of many classrooms, it becomes even more challenging. However, it is not insurmountable. By explicitly teaching and practicing focus with students, teachers will see results. Using guided reflection is a great way to start this process. Then, teachers must build students’ toolboxes, providing examples of coping mechanisms when they find themselves in situations that are distracting. By turning within, students can learn to focus despite what is going on around them—a skill crucial to a society filled with distractions. Sure, it would be great if everyone had an environment that was conducive to their particular style; however wonderful this sounds, though, it is not practical. Learning how to combat distractions and truly focus is a skill that will serve students (of all ages) in their academic, emotional, and physical lives.