Seven Powerful Meditation and Focusing Techniques

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A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.

Terrence on Facebook wants to know about “Meditation and focusing techniques.”

Meditation and focusing is a big part of my daily routine. I strive to be a good parent, a good husband, and a successful writer and small business owner. Alone, those demands on my time and attention are intense, but when you add on top of that my hobbies, community work, and other interests, it’s key that when I’m involved with something, I need to have ease of mind and also an ability to focus on the task at hand.

I do lots of little things to make this possible. After making a long list of these techniques, I realized that seven of them stood out from the pack.

Get plenty of sleep This wasn’t quite as true with me when I was a college student, as I would be able to focus reasonably well on very little sleep. Today, though, I realize that I may not have been focusing quite at my optimum at those times. My most productive and worthwhile days almost always come after a good night of sleep.

For me, the best amount of sleep is somewhere between seven and eight hours total, and with a bit more added on for each interruption during the night. The more dreams I have mixed in with deep sleep, the better my next day seems to go. If I get less than that for one night, I seem to do well the next day, but if I chain together days with inadequate sleep, my attention starts to really slip. My work simply isn’t as good and there’s not as much of it produced.

Eliminate distractions – and no excuses I do my best work when I’m able to slip into a “zone,” where I’m so in touch with what I’m doing that I lose all track of time and awareness of the outside world. This “zone” is often easily interrupted by things such as phone calls, instant messages, email, and things like this that can “pop” in and distract me.

Thus, I tend to get into the zone most effectively by eliminating as many paths to distraction as I can. I turn off my cell phone and my business phone. I block many of the websites that most distract me. I turn off all of my social media “pop up” programs. I close the door to my office. These touches reduce the number of ways in which I can be distracted from the task at hand.

Work in bursts I tend to embed myself with a single task until either it’s done or my run of concentration on it breaks. This period can be anywhere from ten minutes to two hours, but when I find my mind starting to wander away from the task at hand, I put it aside for a while and do something else.

I find that whenever I push through breaks in my concentration, I tend to work a lot more slowly and the progress I do make is of low quality. I’m almost always better off if I just go do something different for a while. I’ll move from writing to reading email. I’ll move from email to reading a relevant book. I’ll move from reading to working on an article.

Handle expected transitions with meditation Whenever I know I’m about to transition from working to personal time, or when I’m going to start working during our children’s naptime, I take a short break (ten to twenty minutes) to meditate and get my mind relaxed and ready to handle a completely different set of challenges.

This is something I more or less used to do while commuting. I would try to completely blank my mind on my way from home to work so that I could work effectively. I’d try to blank my mind on my way from work to home so that I could be an effective parent and husband.

Meditate using “cool waves” My usual meditation technique is to just sit in a comfortable place, close my eyes, and try as best I can to blank out my mind. I try to avoid all thoughts and to think about nothing at all (or as close to it as possible).

If I can achieve that, I try to imagine cool waves are slowly coming up my body, as if I’m lying on a beach as the tide is coming in and the water is cool – not cold, but not even lukewarm. Once it reaches my face, I imagine it receding just as slowly.

Some people complain of falling asleep while meditating. This only happens to me if I get inadequate sleep, which is my single fundamental technique for focusing on the task at hand.

Don’t “overwork” Being successful at parenting or at work requires some degree of balance. If you spend too much time in one zone or another, you lose out on the ability to subconsciously reflect on what you’ve achieved in that area of life.

The consequence of that seems to be (for me) that I lose the ability to govern what is important work and what isn’t important work. I’ll get heavily distracted by social networking, for example, and fail to write good posts. I’ll stop spending time gathering good ideas and end up writing articles based on substandard ideas. When you can’t judge what’s important and what isn’t, you end up treating the trivial with as much importance as the vital and that just causes stress and a reduction of quality on the important things.

Don’t let work interrupt your personal life Do you live to work or work to live? If your job is all that matters to you, leave that cell phone on all the time and ignore your kids when you get a call from work or when you sit on the deck looking up resources for your job. Your children and spouse and friends certainly do notice this. They can tell when you’re paying attention to them or to something else and they decide based on that how important they are to you and how much attention and effort they should give in return in your relationship.

Take time off. Go home at five. Roll around in the grass with your children while work is the last thing on your mind. It’ll make you a better worker and a happier person.

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29 thoughts on “Seven Powerful Meditation and Focusing Techniques

  1. “Some people complain of falling asleep while meditating. This only happens to me if I get inadequate sleep, which is my single fundamental technique for focusing on the task at hand.”

    ?

  2. “Don’t let work interrupt your personal life. Do you live to work or work to live?”

    Most people don’t have a choice because they need a paycheck. The company flounders when customers call the competition because you don’t respond to their emergencies.

  3. “For me, the best amount of sleep is somewhere between seven and eight hours total, and with a bit more added on for each interruption during the night.” Interrupted sleep is interrupted sleep, no matter how many extra minutes you add on.

    As far as the work/personal life comment, the self-employed have to set some limits and boundaries on availability to clients. As long as they know you will be checking for messages in a reasonable amount of time, I agree with Trent, at least for someone who does the kind of work he does. I can think of very few people in the world who truly need to be available 24/7, & they have assistants or partners to share the duty or at least screen.

  4. “If your job is all that matters to you, leave that cell phone on all the time and ignore your kids when you get a call from work or when you sit on the deck looking up resources for your job.”

    Wow, judgey much? Not all of us pursue career fields that allow 9-5 in the office and done, especially if we have any desire to move up in the world. You chose family and a (successful but) flexible career. I am currently choosing to focus on non-profit work and hold off on kids. Work is integrated deeply in my life, but I do something deeply meaningful to me. Isn’t this website’s advocated life philosophy to take actions that allow me the freedom to do what ever I want with my life? If I want to take a 9pm call from a student who’s reaching out before making a really stupid decision (whose parents are probably also working at that time, not because they love their jobs and hate there kids, but because they want to be able to put food on the table for their kids) instead of ignoring him to maintain perfect “work-life balance,” that doesn’t make me worthy of your scorn. Work is life for some of us, out of choice or necessity. Our choices are different than yours, but not necessarily wrong. The judgmental scorn was not necessary at all to make the point of this post.

  5. “They can tell when you’re paying attention to them or to something else and they decide based on that how important they are to you and how much attention and effort they should give in return in your relationship.”

    Wow. In Trent’s world, I must really hate my father (who worked some really long hours for most of my formative years). Fortunately, my father and I don’t live in Trent’s world.

    I’ve said this before: A child, especially one who’s too old to roll around in the grass with her father without it being seriously creepy, does not really need both parents looking over her shoulder 24/7. I’m not going to argue that my parents’ choices were perfect, but I think we all turned out just fine.

  6. I love the recommendation of working in bursts. Many times I will set the timer for 20 minutes and only work on a task for that amount of time. This allows me to focus on a task I may not really like with the knowledge that it will be over soon. It also gives me the challenge of finishing in a short period of time.

  7. #6 Johanna – each and every commment you make on this website is a shot at Trent. Why do you still read this blog? I could see it if some of your comments were negative – that’s normal. But each and every one? If you think his words are that offensive, stop reading it. When you decide that you are going to read it in order to bash his words you ruin it for all of us. Yes, we get it. You don’t like his advice. Fine. Now leave, for the sake of all of us who read and enjoy his writing.
    Rather than reading to dissect the writing of others, maybe you can start your own blog and bless us all with your own ideas.

  8. #8 Michael, please don’t speak for all the readers of this blog by saying, “you ruin it for all of us”. The only reason I come to read this blog is to read the varied and interesting comments. If every comment were completely supportive and positive, I wouldn’t bother coming here. I have read other commenters saying the same thing.

    The truth is, Trent makes a lot of errors and has some funny lapses in judgement and I don’t see anything wrong with pointing them out.

    I bet there are a lot of people who read this blog and skip straight to the comments like I do.

  9. #9 Michelle, you skip to the comments? That makes no sense to me. People are commenting on the article, but if you haven’t it what’s the point in reading the comments? The only reason I can see is if you enjoy reading people’s critical comments. I sure hope that’s not the case.
    I don’t think we should all be happy and positive when reading critically. But, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll see that some only have negative things to say – and not just comments debating the article, but personal shots at Trent. I’m sure hope people have better things to do with their time…

  10. #10 Michael, in your own message about those who don’t like the negative comments towards Trent, you are putting people down.

    As has been mentioned before, why is it ok to comment on how people spend their time but it’s not ok to comment on Trent?

    I haven’t said a single negative thing about Trent or how YOU spend your time, why is it ok for you to do it to me? To hope that I’m doing one thing and not another, to hope that I have better things to do?

  11. #11 Your last comment was confusing….I don’t know how to comment on it.
    Please, give your opinions about Trent. Crap on him as much as you like. Skip his writing, and go directly to the critical comments. Enjoy the posts that nit-pick and disregard the entire nature of the article. Support your fellow all-negative commenters. Have fun with that.
    I’ll just read the articles and not read the comments…

  12. #12 Michael, thanks for your blessing. I’ve never done it, but I guess I’ll start to “crap on him” as much as I like.

  13. I also enjoy reading the comments on the blog, and I appreciate the contrasting views they offer. I’d actually feel my reading experience was incomplete without some of the frequent participants, like Johanna. I appreciate Trent’s advice on the whole, but he often does slip in a sentence that seems off or slightly offensive or difficult to interpret. And sometimes he’s just wrong on the facts and that needs to be pointed out, before someone acts on his erroneous advice.

    While I can still appreciate the reading of the article as a whole, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who is bugged by these lapses in his otherwise solid messages. These lapses are pretty consistent, so I hope he’ll read the comments, see the patterns, and become better. I think he’s a pretty good blogger, but every writer knows taking criticism is a great way to learn to improve. And isn’t being a good writer one of his major goals? That’s why I don’t mind, and even enjoy, the critical comments on the blog.

  14. I gotta admit, I read for the comments too… I usually skim the article and then skim the comments to see if there is any interesting discussion and THEN go back and read the article fully if the discussion is interesting.

  15. Trent can only get away with this because he has a “fluff” job of wannabeagreatwriter while wifey pulls in the base income and benifits. If my spouse had a govt job with pay raises to set one’s watch by I could be a stay at home espousing this and that too.

  16. This post is way too convoluted. FYI, word count isn’t the best metric for a great post, or a successful day of work!

    I was confused by the same excerpt as kc (#1).

    I agree it’s important to have a personal life and that you shouldn’t be working 24/7 (unless you want to — and, unfortunately, sometimes some people don’t have a choice). But you are going again into the “either/or” mindset. Many people manage to achieve a balance between work and personal life without sacrificing either (which can’t be said about the quality of some posts here).

    Personally, I never had to do stuff such as blocking websites (!) to make sure I’ll stay focused… I am a freelancer, too (minus the spouse with the cushy job, alas) and what works for me is having most of the morning to myself, to work out and/or run errands. Work feels more pleasurable after that stuff is out of the way. I try to sleep properly, exercise frequently, eat well, and take some time to relax whenever I can. Everything else feels easier to deal with.

  17. The comments are the best part.

    This isn’t really about meditaion and focus- learning to meditate can take a long time and lots of focus.

    I don’t think anyone needs to be at work 24/7, but there’s a long way between that and “I never answer the phone after 5.” Different jobs have different requirements!
    Be happy you can make a life off a blog.

  18. Count me in as a comment lover!

    My biggest issue with this post is the fact that the title doesn’t match the content and I really don’t feel the bulk of it answers the question that was posed. It’s sad when the question is ‘what are some of your focusing and meditation techniques’ and Trent claims he’s giving seven and yet one of them is ‘handle it with meditation’

    That’s … not a technique – that’s restating the initial question as a solution to the question, which makes no sense!

    In the actual post, he gives ONE meditation technique (the cool waves) and then the rest of it is just his general ‘I eliminate distractions’ post that he’s written a dozen times before. And the worst thing is, if he’d just focused on the cool waves section and made a short, pithy post about it, it would have been a strong post that stood out from his regular ones because it’d be unique.

  19. I was looking forward to this post, because i have serious difficulty focusing. I think meditation would help, especially since i am thinking about returning to school (any tips on how to pay for that when you’re unemployed?). These tips seem more like time management and work/life balance advice. In my previous attempts to meditate, I wasn’t even at my computer so why would I need to block any websites? I’m usually sitting on the floor, lights off, eyes closed and trying to clear my mind and breathing deeply. I was rarely successful, but I think maybe I just need more practice.

    I have discovered that reading books about meditation aren’t as helpful to me. I need to be talked through the process so I’ve subscribed to a few meditation podcasts on iTunes. There is also a Shambhala mediation group in my area that I’ve considered joining. I just have to get up the nerve.

    I don’t think the info in this post was bad, but it didn’t have much to do with what the title promised. Some of it was a little confusing as kc and marta noted. I also noticed the phrase “task at hand” was used at least 4 times. I honestly wasn’t trying to count on purpose, it just jumped out at me. It’s little things like that that distract the reader from your message.

  20. “Constructive comments of all kinds are welcome. Negativity is not.” That’s the first line after the comment box. I enjoy the comments, too, especially when they follow up on Trent’s ideas and suggestions with more ideas and suggestions, many of which have been interesting and useful. However, I have to support Michael…some people seem to live to jump on Trent’s mistakes, from tiny grammatical errors to big misunderstood ideas, and you have to wonder why they would keep reading something they find so contemptible unless their hobby is hostile criticism.

  21. As I’ve said before, anyone who doesn’t like my comments can feel free not to read them. I really don’t mind.

  22. Trent loves writing and will always favor quantity over quality. There is a lot of repetition but I often find a little gem hidden in all the fluff who makes the reading worthwhile.

    The comments are a welcome complement to Trent’s serious biases, lack of research and (at times) sloppy writing. Besides, they are vastly entertaining ! I would not read Trent’s prose if there were no comments !

    I don’t bother anymore with Trent’s feelings, it is pretty obvious that he never reads the comments or ever acts on them. In two days, we will be treated to another unreadable “10 pieces of inspiration” which will wreak havoc on my browser……….

  23. I’m with Michael on this. If the only reason you read is to gripe, then, everything you see will be negative. It seems as if it is a hobby for you.
    I would be interested in your comments elsewhere.

    If you want to be positive, then you will read from a positive perspective.

    He isn’t charging anything, Michelle, and the negativity is really a downer. There is enough “wrong” in the world, without looking to find it.
    I would wager to say that you look at everything from a negative, critical attitude. How sad…

  24. “I don’t bother anymore with Trent’s feelings, it is pretty obvious that he never reads the comments or ever acts on them.”

    You obviously weren’t around on the day that the wordy paragraph above the submit button was instated! I don’t remember what the subject was (Somen’s bathing suits? Another post justifying his Prius? Something wildly controversial!) but people were *pissed* and he was bewildered but getting mad at the pile-on from all corners. The note above the submit button started multiplying, and eventually became what we see today.

    I think perhaps he tunes out some of the negativity because there’s so much of it. I do enjoy the comments section because there is so much back-and-forth that adds to the subject, and I often learn as much from the comments as the posts. Not all criticism is a problem, but sometimes there is a lot of pointless nitpicking and just plain old pointless negativity, which gets old. I too sometimes wonder why consistently negative people don’t get bored and wander off (althougn note that I am NOT pointing anybody out… I’m not that good at remembering who says what :)

  25. Oops – “Somen’s bathing suits” should be Women’s bathing suits. Those crazy Somens and their wild bathing parties…

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