7 Tips on How to Focus in the Midst of Chaos

7 Tips on How to Focus in the Midst of Chaos

How did life get so rip-roaring crazy?

Okay, so we know how that happens. But seems these days the whole world is in chaos. Couple that with your normal hectic life, and, well, sometimes it seem like the tail just gets chased.

When that happens, how to stay focused just seems like a laughable question.

So what’s a conscious person to do? What’s the secret of how to focus better in this frenzied world?

1. Do the Most Challenging Task First.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz conduct intensive training with professional athletes to help them perform at peak levels under intense competitive pressures. But they’ve found that just regular folks face the same issues. In their book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, they stress that energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.

In other words, whatever challenges you the most, do it when you’re at peak performance.

2. Meditate.

We talk about this a lot, no? But we have so many studies to back up how mediation calms the brain, helps us to make better decisions, and to focus more acutely on the task at hand.

People who regularly practice meditation actually improve their mental focus by altering brain function. Compared to non-meditators, they show to be better equipped to quiet brain activity related to mind-wandering, a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests.

Just 15 minutes a day. Who doesn’t have that?

3. Take Mental Breaks.

A study published in the journal Cognition found that brief mental breaks helped participants stay focused on tasks longer.

So, setting a reminder to take a break every 50 minutes can help you return to your task with improved attention.

4. Practice Mindfulness.

Yep, you guessed it—this is about multi-tasking. And we all know the pitfalls of that. The trick comes in keeping focused on the task at hand, rather than 50 other things, including the results of what you’re doing.

This requires discipline, but pays off in spades.

Simon Hartley, a sports psychologist who works with gold medalists and world record holders, helps both athletes and business people get to the top of their mental games.

He found that the most successful athletes in the world focused on doing their personal best—with each increment of their performances—rather than on the outcomes of those performances.

Breathe. Give your all to what you’re doing now.

5. Read More

Reading, especially reading fiction, proves to be a great exercise for sharpening focus—which then carries over through the rest of your day. When you read, all of your attention is focused on the story. You’re in it—in a different world, meeting new people, absorbing every detail as the book moves along.

The rest of the planet disappears.

And in our fast-paced global world, that’s saying something.

Not only does reading make you more empathetic, but it also reduces stress levels. Which causes you to focus more easily.

A study by the University of Sussex found that reading for just six minutes can reduce stress levels by up to 68%.

We can all read for a brief time every day, no? And some starving author will thank you.

6. Make Peace with Ambiguity.

Isn’t it often when you look at the state of things, you want to change them? To do something?

My ex-husband used to say, “It’s time to do something, even if it’s wrong.” And while sometimes, yep, a decision needs to be made, an action taken, on the other hand being able to live with uncertainty gives you the time and space to make a wise decision, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

The thing is, neither your plans nor your home nor the world itself will ever be perfect. New information will be revealed, new people will come into the story, things will move forward and then, well, here they go backward again. If you can accept this as a given, you’re far less likely to get caught in the chaos of it.

What does that come down to? Basically, suppressing your urge to control things.

Jamie Holmes, a Future Tense Fellow at New America and a former Research Coordinator at Harvard University in the Department of Economics, says in Nonsense, The Power of Not knowing, our need for closure has dangers. It makes us stick to our first answer, which is not always the best. When we latch onto fast and easy truths, we lose a vital opportunity to learn something new, solve a hard problem, or see the world from another perspective.

He says that in an increasingly complex, unpredictable world, what matters most isn’t IQ, willpower, or confidence in what we know. It’s how we deal with what we don’t understand.

7. When all else fails and panic sets in: Remember What You’re Doing and Why You’re Doing It.

Sit down, breathe, and get clear on exactly why you’re doing this task. It’s getting you closer to your dream, no? Whether that be the brass ring in your career or making the world a better place. Or anything in between.

When you refocus on why this task matters, you become energized again in your commitment to the goal.

And now, sharp, clear, focused—you’re ready to take on the world.

About the Author Susan Malone

Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.

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54 comments
Lori English says February 15, 2017

Good article and yes focus is one of the main way to keep some of the stress down and being all over the place. Having set schedule works for me but I am still overloaded at times. I have meditate daily and love doing it gives me such relaxation and peace of mind…
Lori English

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    Susan Malone says February 15, 2017

    We all get overloaded at times, don’t we, Lori. Meditation saves me!

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Divya says February 15, 2017

I need to work on doing #1. I have a tendency to want to get through the easy stuff first so I can knock it off my to-do list, but I should do the harder stuff first while I’m alert and have more energy to do so.

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    Susan Malone says February 15, 2017

    The experts tell you so, Divya. But I know about knocking off the easy stuff first too. At least we can get those off the list!

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Annemarie LeBlanc says February 15, 2017

I really need to learn meditation. That would probably help a lot in calming me after a stressful day at work.

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Tamuria says February 15, 2017

Great tips, Susan. I usually tackle the hardest things first and take regular breaks, in the form of walks in the garden. I’m constantly working on mindfulness to focus my energy on one thing at a time. So excited to know that reading, especially fiction, can be so helpful – I need to do more of that.

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    Susan Malone says February 15, 2017

    You’re so healthy, Tami! I love the walks in the garden. Now, just take up the fiction reading and you’ll be a champ 🙂

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Gingermommy says February 15, 2017

I have been more mindful lately as I find it helps. My friend has been encouraging me to meditate as well.

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Liz Mays says February 15, 2017

Your strategies are great! I have definitely run into some problems with focus. I didn’t actually know that reading could potentially help!

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Kristen Wilson says February 15, 2017

These are great tips and I am easily distracted during work but have been working on focusing on the tougher things…the more focused things… this spoke to me and something I am working on too – Basically, suppressing your urge to control things…. great words!

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    Susan Malone says February 16, 2017

    Suppressing that urge to control is a bear for most of us, isn’t it, Kristen. I mean, if I could run the world . . . Lol!

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Linda says February 15, 2017

Really, really useful article. All your tips are good ones. The “when panic sets in”, it’s me all day. I get anxiety at least once a month and it can last for days! Keeping this post handy.

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    Susan Malone says February 16, 2017

    We all face that panic at times, don’t we, Linda. I mean, life can be crazy. But refocusing on the goal keeps me straight every time.

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Julie @ Running in a Skirt says February 16, 2017

Such good tips for something I struggle with. Sometimes my mind wanders and there is no getting it back… but hopefully this would help!

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    Susan Malone says February 16, 2017

    I know that feeling, Julie. Sometimes it seems like my mind has flown south for the season! That’s when I sit down and mediate for sure 🙂

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Vatsala Shukla says February 16, 2017

Excellent tips Susan. I find breaking the tough task into manageable bytes and taking a break as I complete each one helps to stay focused and get the job done. A rested mind is able to focus better.

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    Susan Malone says February 16, 2017

    So true–a rested mine is able to focus better. And I love the idea of taking a break once you complete each task!

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Robin says February 16, 2017

Love number 3 – take mental breaks. I find it very helpful to just nimrod out from time to time; play solitaire or something easy.

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    Susan Malone says February 16, 2017

    So true, Robin. And I used to play solitaire all the time! What a great reminder.

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Natasha Botkin says February 16, 2017

This made me smile as a week ago when I discovered an inoperable sump pump and massively flooded basement. First was panicked fear, beginning to breathe and move throughto a calmness. Xoxo

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    Susan Malone says February 17, 2017

    Eeek on the pump and basement, Natasha! Now THAT will get your attention. I’m impressed with your process!

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Joan M Harrington says February 16, 2017

Another awesome post Susan! Thank you for sharing these very important tips to staying FOCUSED in the midst of chaos!

Taking a few deep breaths works for me!

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    Susan Malone says February 17, 2017

    That breathing really works, doesn’t it, Joan. And funny how we start breathing shallowly when stressed!

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Tami says February 16, 2017

I agree that reading helps. I do need to be more intentional about doing the harder task first.

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Julia says February 17, 2017

Oh wow, there’s so much I can take from this one. I will definitely have to implement taking on the most challenging task first, and it is also a potent reminder about (not) multi-tasking. Thank you!

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    Susan Malone says February 17, 2017

    Focus is one of those things that’s a work in progress for all of us, isn’t it, Julia!

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Teri says February 17, 2017

Wonderful article! My ex used to make that same statement!! I loved your suggestions and tweeted it out!!

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Apolline Adiju says February 17, 2017

Doing the most challenging task first is my best method, and I use it all the time. Most of the time, I make a list with the most important job at the top of it. This helps me drill through them one after the other systematically.

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Garf says February 18, 2017

Thanks for these tips. I usually need to exercise to get focused.

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    Susan Malone says February 18, 2017

    Doesn’t exercise just work great to clear the mind, Garf! It works for me as well.

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Beverley Golden says February 18, 2017

I think I usually do tackle the hardest and the most pressing things on my list, first. Or often I do them when my intuition says, “Now is the time”. I am also considering doing a 6-week mindfulness meditation course that incorporates drumming into the process. That sounds like my kind of practice! I feel that there are forces at play that are purposefully creating the chaos in a desire to disrupt and unravel things. The key is to take care of ourselves and to keep as focused as possible. Without the self-care, it is incredible to see how quickly life as we know it, can unravel! Thanks for the wonderful tips! I’ve been engrossed in my 7-week art class and boy has that ever helped put things into perspective and offered time away from the world as we now know it!

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    Susan Malone says February 20, 2017

    Oh, Beverley–if I get a vote, please do the 6-week mindfulness meditation course, and let us know what you learn! That sounds just fabulous!

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Tandy Elisala says February 18, 2017

Susan, I needed these reminders today. Thank you. I so all of these things, yet, sometimes when we are having tough times, we need to be reminded to refocus and reframe. Thanks!

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    Susan Malone says February 20, 2017

    It does help to be reminded, doesn’t it, Tandy. I need the reminders too, and writing about them helps me!

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Sonya Kolodziejska says February 19, 2017

Absolutely fantastic tips. I started doing the Miracle Morning and it has made my days so much more productive and i do the above before i’ve even woken the kids up.
Having a set schedule really works for me too.

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    Susan Malone says February 20, 2017

    I’m intrigued by the Miracle Morning, Sonya. Can you elaborate?

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Lorii Abela says February 19, 2017

I like your presentation. Yes, it is also good that when you are focused, you do not only manifest solutions but great things you have always been thinking about. I love number 6, too. That is true, sometimes, you just need to do something. Everything needs to move.

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    Susan Malone says February 20, 2017

    Oh, I so agree, Lorii–by focusing we not only manifest solutions but the other things we’ve been desiring!

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Christy Soukhamneut says February 19, 2017

Tips 1,3,5, &7 really work well for me. Remembering my “why” is truly powerful when I meditate. That keeps me centered and focused on doing the things that truly matter.

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    Susan Malone says February 20, 2017

    Remembering the “why” really helps us to focus on what’s important, doesn’t it, Christy. And not surprised at all you do these things!

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Jennifer Quisenberry says February 20, 2017

This has been a real challenge for me lately. I’ve had to tune out so much of what’s going on in the world to focus on what’s happening in my daily life. It’s not that I don’t care, but I have to do so to maintain a sense of sanity and find respite from the constant outrage. It’s carried over into my work, and I’m just finally finding a footing in productivity again. Finding the peace has been hard, so I’ve had to manufacture it.

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    Susan Malone says February 21, 2017

    I hear you, Jennifer. A new poll said that over 60% of Americans are stressed by the political climate. So sometimes, we do have to tune things out! That’s when I go on a news-fast.

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Joyce Hansen says February 21, 2017

Terrific article Susan! Two things really stood out. First was Simon Hartley’s results about focusing on performance increments very interesting and makes a lot of sense. Second, was Jamie Homes on the need to know as opposed to waiting to learn more. Will definitely be checking out his book. Thanks for all the good information.

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    Susan Malone says February 22, 2017

    Both really got my attention too, Joyce. Please report your findings on the book as well!

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April Williams says February 21, 2017

Such great insight Susan! Fabulous post xo

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Rachel Lavern says February 25, 2017

I operate similarly to what Brian Tracy’s book, Eat that Frog, recommends. He explains that if the worse thing you can do in a day is eat a frog, then everything else seems easy by comparison. Therefore, if you are procrastinating about a task, or ‘frog’, (or a task seems terribly challenging) then by doing it first and getting it out the way then you become more productive (as well as getting ‘that’ task done).

I then reward myself with tasks I like doing, after I have completed the tasks I have been procrastinating on.

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    Susan Malone says March 6, 2017

    Okay, I am going to take that image to heart, Rachel! Eating that frog should get my butt in gear 🙂 And great idea to reward yourself with a task you like after completing one you’d been procrastinating about. Love that.

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