Do you feel like you’d have more time or get what you want done if you could just focus?  Well, you’re not alone because most of the accountant moms I work with, myself included, often struggle with the ability to focus, especially when we have so much on our to-do list and we’re surrounded by so many distractions.

I bet you can relate to this – sitting at your desk with an urgent deadline and a wandering mind, and despite your best efforts, things are not progressing.  You need to focus on the task in front of you, you’re motivated to do it, but you just can't seem to concentrate. 

While it’s very easy to blame our lack of the ability to focus on the digital world we all live in and the overabundance of information we come in contact with on a daily basis, it’s also important to not be so quick to blame things outside of us for our lack of focus.  There’s more going on than we might realize.

The reason I wanted to do this podcast episode is because I think we need to empower ourselves by taking more responsibility for our lack of focus and understand how we are contributing to the issue.  We see the effect that a lack of focus has on our lives, both professionally and personally, but once we can understand a large part of the cause, the easier it will be to do something about it.

The truth is that one of our greatest assets is our attention, but unfortunately we’re often doing ourselves a disservice by not understanding how much of our inability to focus has to do with us, and not necessarily our environment.  Although there are many things you can do to set up your work life and your personal life in order to improve your ability to focus, there’s something I know that can be a huge game changer.

Once I learned and applied what I’m going to share with you, my ability to focus and to get more done in less time grew exponentially.  As both a CPA and a mom, being able to have balance has always been a core value of mine and the improvement in my ability to focus was one of the key elements to having both the work life and the personal life that I had been striving for.

While statistics will tell you that on average, Americans are bombarded with an estimated 34 gigabytes of information and 100,500 words a day, it’s just not practical or feasible for those in a tech-focused industry like accounting, to just go tech free.  There are certainly plenty of hacks you can implement to gain control over the external distractions that might be getting in the way of your ability to focus, but those hacks won’t be as long lasting as what you’ll learn today. 

What I’m going to share today will help you to implement whatever hack you choose, but this time you’ll actually see a lasting change.  And the funny thing is, you may not even need any of those focus hacks after all.

This week I’m going to discuss why focusing is a problem and what you can do to improve your ability to focus.   

Why focusing is a problem

As I said before, we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re all dealing with focus issues, especially as the sole purpose of certain technological advancements is to grab and keep our attention by any means possible.  We’re all well aware of the power of technology and social media to hold our, and our children’s, attention.

So this episode isn’t going to be dealing with your outer environment and how to disconnect from technology, it’s going to be dealing with your inner environment because the truth is that your ability to focus comes down to one very important thing – your ability to declutter and organize your mind.  We like to blame our lack of focus on our busy lives, but the biggest reason why focusing is a problem is because our brains are cluttered and unorganized.

If you’ve ever read any articles about how to improve your focus and attention, they’ll suggest things like getting out in nature more, taking more breaks, and training your brain with problem-solving games, but those are just temporary fixes.  The bigger reason why focusing is such a problem is because we have unorganized minds that haven’t been decluttered or managed.

The reason that a lot of us have a hard time focusing is because our brains look like an episode of “Hoarders”.  We’ve got SO MUCH that we’ve unconsciously allowed to accumulate in our brains, that it couldn’t possibly do as good of a job as we would like it to when it comes to focusing.

Think about it like having a hard drive that has reached its maximum capacity, but you’re expecting it to work faster without taking a look at what needs to be dumped.  Most of us have never been taught to do a disk clean up of our minds, so it’s no wonder we’re struggling with the ability to focus.

Of course there are those external factors like information overload – we’ve all got fire hoses of information pointed at us on a daily basis, especially as accountants.  But what you may not realize is that your brain’s operating system isn’t able to focus because it just hasn’t been cleaned out and organized in a way that would free up so much of your ability to focus.

We’re so used to blaming our external environment and trying to solve it from that perspective, when in reality, it’s actually our internal environment that is not only the biggest contributor to our lack of focus, but it’s also the most powerful solution.  Here’s what I have learned and applied in my own life – an organized mind always improves your ability to focus and your ability to have a more organized life.

When I say “a more organized life”, I don’t mean that everything runs smoothly and that there are no challenges.  What I mean is that with an organized mind, you’re better able to handle any challenge that arises and better able to focus on solutions that would have otherwise been hard to uncover under all the clutter of an unorganized mind.

Again, if you’ve ever seen a hoarding situation, whether it was on TV or in person, you probably can’t even think straight or fathom where to go or what to do.  The same thing goes for your brain – if you haven’t done a good clean up and reorganization, it’s no wonder you’re having difficulty focusing.  

Another contributor to why we have a focusing problem is the fact that we have an amazing part of our human brain that allows us to plan, yet we completely underutilize it.  It’s like having the best organizational app on your phone and never opening it to see the features and processes that could be solving so many of your problems.

It might sound strange, but planning to focus is something that so many people miss, especially accountants.  We’re typically jumping from one activity to another, in reactivity mode more often than not, and wondering why we’re having such a hard time focusing.

For a lot of the accountants that I speak to, they’re just trying to keep their head above water, so they can’t even fathom taking time to make a plan, especially a plan to focus, when their brain is going in a million directions.  The issue is that most of us don’t use that really important planning part of our brain that can keep us organized, able to focus, and able to be more purposeful.

Thankfully, there is a way to help improve your ability to focus, helping you to be able to get more done in less time, to be more efficient, and to have a chance at the balanced life you’d like to have.

What you can do to improve your ability to focus

Just like decluttering a closet or a drawer makes it possible to utilize the space properly, the same thing goes for your brain.  No matter how you’ve tried to change your ability to focus by changing things externally, until you declutter and organize your brain and its contents, it’s not going to have the space or the ability to focus the way you would like it to.

The way I was taught to do this is to imagine your brain like a house – there are a lot of different rooms that need to be looked at, its contents assessed, and choices made about what stays and what leaves.  You may have had the experience of taking a tour of someone’s home or giving someone a tour of yours – the funny thing is, if we’re completely honest, there are probably those rooms, closets, or drawers where we just keep the door shut, not wanting anyone to see how cramped or disorganized the space is.

But when it comes to your brain, you’re going to want to take an honest tour, not leaving out certain areas just because the door is closed and what’s behind it makes you squirm or makes you uncomfortable to look at.  For this exercise, I was taught to look at our brains as a house with the following rooms:

  • Memories (thoughts about the past)
  • Subconscious thoughts
  • Judgements
  • Negative self-talk
  • Positive self-talk
  • Plans
  • Appreciation

In order to improve your ability to focus, you need to address what’s in each of these rooms in your brain and be deliberate about what you want to keep.  You’ll do this by asking the following questions:

  1. What do I need to let go of?
  2. What is outdated and no longer useful?
  3. What do I NOT want to think about anymore?
  4. What do I NOT want to fill my mind with?

I’m telling you, this is some of the best work you can do to declutter and organize your mind, freeing up so much space for the ability to focus and process.  Let me walk you through some of the rooms in my brain and share the work that I did so that you can see how this works:

Memories – the most important thing to understand when it comes to memories is that they are your thoughts about the past, not necessarily the facts about the past.  For example, there’s the fact that my biological mother gave birth to me, but then there’s my thoughts about her being a horrible mother that actually create my memories.

The reason this is important to understand is because in this process, I get to remove the thoughts that are no longer useful about that fact.  I get to look at the thoughts I have about the past, actually take what I like, and remove the rest.

When I emptied the room of memories, I chose to put back the fact that she worked in a candle factory and my thoughts about how much I loved the scent of candles from an early age.  I also chose to let go of the memories that no longer served me, that just took up too much precious space in my brain.

The truth is that memories are just our thoughts today about something from the past and we get to choose which optional thoughts we want to think now about the past.  Honestly, by cleaning up this room, I freed up an incredible amount of space which had the biggest effect on my ability to focus.

It took a little while, but I began to see so much improvement at work and at home, as I chose to let go of the thoughts that were outdated and no longer useful.  Besides, I had so many amazing memories from the past with other people in my life, that I would much rather have neatly stored in that room.

Subconscious thoughts – these are the thoughts that you don’t realize you’re thinking like “Turn the handle to the right”, “Put the cup under the Keurig machine”, or “Press this key to enter the data”.  These are all the thoughts that are habitual and help your brain to be more efficient.

They’re incredibly helpful except when those subconscious, habitual thoughts don’t serve you.  These are the thoughts that are typically hiding so far in the back of the closet of your mind, that you don’t even realize they’re there.

When I did this work I found the thought “You’re always going to be bigger than everyone else” from my childhood.  The issue was that that subconscious thought was getting in the way of my desire to lose weight because, even though I didn’t realize it until I did this work, it was running in the background whenever I had a goal to work on a healthy weight.

By looking at that thought and how it made me feel, I was able to see how it was undermining my goal to get to a healthy weight.  Making the decision to let it go helped me to open up to possibilities I hadn’t considered when that subconscious thought was taking up space in my brain.

The best part was that by deciding what could stay and what needed to go, I freed up so much of the space in those back corners of my mind.   Those habitual, unhelpful subconscious thoughts were probably taking up the most space in my brain and therefore had the biggest impact once I cleaned them up.  

Judgements – this room includes your judgements about yourself and about others.  A lot of us want to avoid looking at this room when we’re taking the tour of our brain because we want to be considered “nice”, but the truth is that if you have a human brain, you have judgements.  It’s impossible not to because our brains are naturally hard-wired to make judgements.

The issue when it comes to judgements is that we often believe we’re stating a fact instead of an optional thought, but until we get honest about our judgements and whether they’re actually useful or not, we’re going to be filling up that hard drive with too much unnecessary stuff.

The judgements that I decided to clean up the most were the ones about the people I actually had contact with on a regular basis, like my boss, and more importantly, the judgements I had about myself (the person I spend the most time with).  My ability to focus at work and at home improved tremendously when I cleaned out the room in my brain storing all my judgements and chose on purpose which ones were worth putting back.

For my boss, I chose to remove judgements like “He’s just crazy” and “He’s difficult to work with”, and decided to keep judgements like “He’s really good at showing appreciation” and “He does care”.  For myself, I chose to remove judgements like “I’m not that great at that” and “I shouldn’t act that way”, and decided to keep judgements like “I’m a strong woman” and “I make a difference in people’s lives”.

Once I cleared out the room of judgements and saw how much space it freed up, I was able to make it a regular practice to check in and see what's taking up space that needed to be purged in order to keep it as decluttered and organized as possible.

These were just three of the rooms that I chose to work on, so feel free to work on one or all – memories, subconscious thoughts, judgements, negative self-talk, positive self-talk, plans, appreciation – or any other category that’s taking up space in your brain like relationships, health, money, goals, etc.  You get to decide based on what you think will benefit you the most.

As I said before, by taking more responsibility for our lack of focus based on our internal environment, rather than our external environment, we’re actually putting our focus in the right place.  Improving your ability to focus just takes a tour of your brain, some extra large Hefty bags, and the willingness to only keep what actually serves you and the life you’d like for yourself and your family.

 

Summary  

 

  • While it’s very easy to blame our lack of the ability to focus on the digital world we all live in and the overabundance of information we come in contact with on a daily basis, it’s also important to not be so quick to blame things outside of us for our lack of focus.
  • The truth is that one of our greatest assets is our attention, but unfortunately we’re often doing ourselves a disservice by not understanding how much of our inability to focus has to do with us, and not necessarily our environment.