Focus and self control at the heart of uncluttering and productivity

On Asha Dornfest’s recommendation (Asha is the brain behind Parent Hacks), I picked up the book Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky. The book’s subtitle is “The seven essential life skills every child needs” and the purpose of the book is to teach parents how to teach these seven life skills to their children.

Galinsky names focus and self control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed learning as the seven essential life skills a child needs to develop into a highly functional adult. As I was reading the book, I realized that although the text is targeted toward parents, its message is particularly relevant to people struggling with organizing, uncluttering, time management, and productivity.

The first skill Galinsky discusses — focus and self control — is the cornerstone of all we write about on Unclutterer. If you can’t identify where you are going (the reasons you want to unclutter and improve your productivity) and stay focused on that goal, you will struggle greatly with your uncluttering efforts. Thankfully, Galinsky reports that these skills can be learned and improved:

Focus and self control involve many executive functions of the brain, such as paying attention, remembering the rules, and inhibiting one’s initial response to achieve a larger goal. And they can be taught, as shown by the studies of Michael Posner and his colleagues at the University of Oregon … For older children and adults, focus includes [being alert and being able to position attention in the right direction], plus being able to concentrate — that is, to remain alert and oriented for a period of time, bringing our other skills to bear on a project or task despite internal and external distractions.

Learning how to improve one’s focus doesn’t have to be a tedious endeavor. Based on Galinsky’s recommendations for children, many of her ideas can help adults, too. Try playing games that require concentration and paying attention (guessing games, “I Spy,” and puzzles), and games that involve rules that change (many strategy games do this). Listening to audio books and following along with the plot, setting up reward systems for finishing difficult tasks (delayed satisfaction), and getting plenty of rest are additional ways to improve focus.

… it’s not just a matter of being well rested. None of us can work flat-out, without breaks. Recess, though it appears to be going the way of other old-fashioned practices, was created for sound reasons. We need time off in order to do our best work. Anthony Pellegrini, an educational psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, has spent twenty-five years on school playgrounds studying how recess affects children’s adjustment to school and has found that having a time-out at recess maximizes students’ ability to pay attention in class … Being well rested and taking breaks are just as important for adults as they are for children. I know this from my research on adults in the workplace. We have an image of work as running a marathon without stopping, but we work better in sprints.

Galinsky is the top in her field, without a doubt knows her topic, and her book is full of educational strategies based on scientifically proven methods. I actually recommend it for business managers, anyone hoping to improve their focus and self control, and, obviously, parents. In addition to the book, Galinsky posts regularly to her blog.

9 Comments for “Focus and self control at the heart of uncluttering and productivity”

  1. posted by Phil on

    Oh, great, now I’ve got *another* book on my must-read list. Thankyouverymuch.

    This one, however, sounds like it needs to be near the top. I do volunteer youth work and we struggle quite a bit with clutter, focus and attention. Sometimes I think we need to specialize in ADD youth work!

    We’ve found that a clean, uncluttered home-like atmosphere in the youth room creates a really nice “vibe.” I’m wondering if we can go a step further and use some of Galinsky’s tips with high school age kids to create a fun, focused, creative learning environment.

  2. posted by Beverly D on

    What I’m getting here is that we have to keep working on these skills all our lives, and know that they affect everything we do. I can see how focus and self control affects clutter, or the ability to deal with it. I may have to pick up the book, sounds interesting.

  3. posted by Lindsay on

    Wow this is a great book for me. Thank you for posting about it! I’ve already ordered my copy.

  4. posted by The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Pure Imagination Edition on

    […] Focus and self control at the heart of uncluttering and productivity A few days ago on Twitter, I said “Only one thing really determines success at anything in life: control over your thoughts and impulses.” The more control and focus you have, the more likely you are to succeed at anything. (@ unclutterer) […]

  5. posted by Julia on

    I’ll have to read this book. One thought though, I do play alot of games that require concentration. I love puzzle games – always have. I still can’t seem to stay focused on anything else. There were times when I thought my love of puzzles actually hinders my focus (in the same way video games, and television watching hinders progress for a lot of people).

  6. posted by All Kind Mortgage » Blog Archive » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Pure Imagination Edition on

    […] Focus and self control at the heart of uncluttering and productivity A few days ago on Twitter, I said “Only one thing really determines success at anything in life: control over your thoughts and impulses.” The more control and focus you have, the more likely you are to succeed at anything. (@ unclutterer) […]

  7. posted by The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Pure Imagination Edition | Frugal Living News on

    […] Focus and self control at the heart of uncluttering and productivity A few days ago on Twitter, I said “Only one thing really determines success at anything in life: control over your thoughts and impulses.” The more control and focus you have, the more likely you are to succeed at anything. (@ unclutterer) […]

  8. posted by The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Pure Imagination Edition on

    […] Focus and self control at the heart of uncluttering and productivity A few days ago on Twitter, I said “Only one thing really determines success at anything in life: control over your thoughts and impulses.” The more control and focus you have, the more likely you are to succeed at anything. (@ unclutterer) […]

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