The Healthy Mind Platter - Focus Time

by DevorahTockar 01 Apr 2021

Article 2 of 8 Theme Focussing on the Healthy Mind Platter created by Dr Daniel Siegel and Dr David Rock

Disclaimer: The original framework of Healthy Mind Platter can be found at https://drdansiegel.com/healthy-mind-platter/ The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the intended views of the creators of the Health Mind Platter; Dr Daniel Siegel and Dr David Rock.

Illustrated by Simon Letch

Focusing.

This activity takes up a lot of our child’s (and our) day.

Or does it? How much of our day do we spend multitasking and how much of our time is focussed on one particular task at a time in a goal-orientated way – without distractions?

With more couples working outside of the home, parents are finding themselves juggling work and family responsibilities. What this means is that there is less time available for more tasks. 

It’s not farfetched to imagine trying to help one child with homework while your toddler is screaming from the bathroom to switch on the tap, and your pasta dinner is overflowing from the pot, your phone buzzes as work calls, then your doorbell rings as your online shopping arrives at your doorstep. Breathe…it happens to the best of us.

In these moments we can’t possibly focus but are there other times in the day where we can? Have a think about where you can carve out time where you can switch your phone off, or put it on silent without vibrating and focus on checking something off your list- it could be doing the dishes, or finishing a drawing. It could be working on a project or assignment or finishing to sew a button or unload the dishwasher. For kids, following Lego instructions or a drawing/origami tutorial is focus time, as is sitting and following in class without distractions. Completing a puzzle may be focus time for one child and downtime for another.

Time is a precious resource and if we can skill up in focussing, staying focussed and refocusing when distracted, then we will be more successful.

Why bother trying? When we focus on one task, we are less likely to feel overwhelmed by all the other tasks on our list, we also feel a sense of accomplishment, rather than feeling incomplete which is what Siegel and colleagues suggest so often accompanies multitasking. Focusing takes work but it pays off and with practice, will allow you to focus for extended periods of time.

When we can focus on one task at a time, we are building connections in our brains. We are modelling this for our children. When we see the benefits for ourselves, it will then translate to our kids. When our children sit down and focus on one task at a time it gives a sense of accomplishment which builds confidence- and the opposite is true.

I’m guilty as charged- I am a master multitasker and not a master focuser, but I have been working on this. When I am in the middle of an activity and I am interrupted by a phone call I have learnt to say “now isn’t a good time, can I call you back”? Or when I am sitting with one child, and another comes to me with a non-essential request, I can say “I will be with you in five or ten minutes”. This not only models respecting boundaries around time management, but it shows the child I am sitting with, that they are important. I see the appreciation in their eyes when I prioritise time with them (this is also connection time, but we will get to that later).

I have recently adjusted my habits and have become a lot more mindful of what focus time actually means. I am actively retraining my brain away from getting distracted. For example, today I was making pancakes when my son called me from the dining table with a question about a project he is working on. I replied, “I’m training my brain to focus on one activity at a time because this is what my brain needs to be healthy”. He fully respected that. When I finished with the pancakes, I sat with him and again used the moment to focus entirely on helping him with his task. At dinner time, my toddler accidentally spilt her food all over the floor. While I was busy tidying it up my son wanted to show me his wobbly tooth. I again found myself saying “I’m trying to focus on cleaning up this mess because my brain needs to learn to focus on one task at a time”. At that moment, I realised that my being a ‘master multitasker’ was encouraging my children to do the same. When my older boys sat down and were engrossed in a zoom tutorial- I had to keep holding myself back from asking them to pack away the cheese they had left out or telling them that after the zoom we would go over their maths homework. When they finished their zoom, I commended them for focussing and being great role models for me!

By pointing out when the children or I am focusing, I am drawing awareness to focusing and making it a conscious activity- this will assist us in incorporating it into our daily routine.

I have found for myself that being aware of the importance of focus time and working on incorporating it into my day in a conscious way has enabled me to be more present, so when my son comes up to me for a cuddle while I’m sweeping the floor, I intentionally stop what I am doing and choose to focus on that moment with him using all of my senses to savour the moment- connection time and time in, or wait- is that trying to multitask again?

*a note on focus time. If ourselves or our children are overwhelmed, tired, our thoughts are elsewhere, our sensory input needs are not being met, or we have undiagnosed learning difficulties then we won’t be in an optimal space to be able to focus, no matter how hard we try.

Focus Time Challenge

Pick one and let us know how you go 

  • Pick 1 activity today that you will make the conscious effort to focus, stay focused on and refocus on when you get distracted (tip- keep your phone on silent or in another room).

  • Commend someone in your home who successfully stays focused on an activity.

  • When you find yourself getting distracted, or one of your children interrupt your task with a non-essential request say “I’m focusing on task X and will be with you when I am finished. I am strengthening my brains focusing powers”.

    That’s all from me today. Give the challenges a go. They may not be easy at first, but are well worth it as you will see for yourselves. Know that we are in this together and get in touch to take the conversation further.

    Chat again soon,

    Devorah T

    Disclaimer: The original framework of Healthy Mind Platter can be found at https://drdansiegel.com/healthy-mind-platter/ The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the intended views of the creators of the Health Mind Platter; Dr Daniel Siegel and Dr David Rock.

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