Why Can’t We Focus Anymore?

A friend mentioned Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again and suggested I read it. Focus is something lots of founders struggle with, given the constant context shifting and never-ending to-do list. I decided to learn more about the author before committing to reading the book. I listened to a podcast that had the author, Johann Hari, as a guest. Here are some takeaways:

  • Daydreaming – This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a valuable form of thinking. We process the past, think about the future, and make connections.  
  • Sleep – Lack of sleep has a bigger impact than most realize. You need eight hours’ sleep to be able to focus fully. When you’re tired, entire parts of your brain have gone to sleep.
  • Flow state – When you’re doing something important to you and get into a deep state of focus, you’re in a flow state. It’s the deepest form of attention and can cause you to lose track of time. Shortening your list of goals to just one that’s meaningful to you and pushing yourself to the edge of your abilities increases your chances of getting into a flow state.
  • Food – What we eat plays a bigger role in our ability to focus than we realize. For example, eating foods high in sugar for breakfast gives you a short-term boost but causes a crash (brain fog) later in the day.

These points resonated with me, and I agree with them—especially the value of daydreaming. I view daydreaming as a form of reflection. As a founder, I underestimated the power of reflection and how it leads to valuable insights that improve decision-making. I’m not a daydreamer, but I’ve been writing a daily post for more than two years. This established a habit of reflection that’s been invaluable. Compounding reflection has helped improve my decision-making—one reason I continue to post daily.

I don’t agree with everything Johann said, but I enjoyed the interview. I’m interested in hearing more of what he learned in years of researching focus, so I’ll add his book to my saved items list.