How to FOCUS When Your Brain is Overloaded

NOTE: The following is an old post from our pre-COVID days. I had to go over that darn Chesapeake Bay Bridge twice this weekend and was reminded of this posting. And, well, it seems appropriate as the world opens up again.

The other morning, I dreamt about a painting in which my dream-self was trying to decipher what it was. Smack in the middle of the painting was — what should have been so obvious—a picture of a flower or rose bud, only I couldn’t see it. The painting, at first glance, looked garbled and convoluted. There were competing objects around the perimeter of the painting. From far away, the painting didn’t look like anything in particular—modern art at its best.

Then, one word came to me so forcefully – FOCUS.

How to FOCUS when your brain is overloadedI was in a lucid dream-state at this point and told my dream-self to look at the painting again, this time, really focusing. When I did, the image of the flower emerged. The flower had been right there all along—in plain sight. It wasn’t hidden. What had prevented me from seeing the true image was my lack of focus—being easily distracted by the excess stimuli.

FOCUS. It was if God was telling me what I needed to hear.

I am guessing that I had this dream because of how I’ve been feeling . . . overwhelmed. Aren’t we all?

Right now, my anxiety has been rampant with an overloaded brain filled with major work deadlines, holiday planning, my kids’ schedules, doctor appointments, my novel, house renovations, etc.

I have always prided myself on being a great multitasker—and truth be told, I thrive on being busy. But after this dream and how I’ve been feeling lately, I started to reassess my approach to handling the stress and made some poignant observations.

Before I elaborate, I want to provide two more analogies (be patient with me, there will be a point):

Analogy #1: Focus with Intent

bay bridge 2The Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I am terrified of it. Any time I have to drive or ride over it, I am a petrified mess. The bridge is super long, way too high up, with no padding on the sides other than a concrete railing that separates you and a large body of water a zillion feet below. I love what awaits me on the other side of the bridge, but going over it creates legitimate panic in me.

The other morning I had to drive over it to take my son to school. My son knew exactly what that meant: “so, I guess I shouldn’t be jamming out to music right now.”

Yes, that is exactly what it meant. I needed quiet. I needed to look straight ahead and ignore everything else taking place in my peripheral vision—cars passing in the other lane, the adjacent bridge with cars headed in the opposite direction, the seagulls flying uncomfortably close to my windshield.

Slowly and with trembling hands on ten and two (hey, buddy, get in the left lane if you don’t like my speed), I looked straight ahead and focused only on driving forward.

I was FOCUSED on getting across that bridge.

After my morning dream, I realized that this was the type of focus missing from my life right now. I needed to start focusing with intention (minus the fear).

Analogy #2: Run Without Distraction

The day before my bridge crossing, a student from the school in which I work (a special education school) ran in a marathon and did so in two hours and 55 minutes.  He came in 93rd overall out of thousands of runners and fourth in his age category. Not only that, but he will most likely qualify for the 2021 Boston Marathon and will become only the second special needs male athlete to ever qualify in the Boston Marathon’s history.

Impressive, right?

How does he do it? If you ask him, he’ll probably respond: “I love running.” That is what he told me when I asked about his running (from another running event in which he placed first).

You see, he is doing what he loves—and he is doing it without worry or distractions. It is simple to him . . . he is just running . . . because he loves it. No excuses or distractions; he just looks straight ahead, with one foot in front of the other.

All of the above incidents occurred over the weekend – a recurring theme in a relatively short period of time — causing me to gather some insight.

So, what did I assess?


Today’s culture forces us into thinking that the busier you are, the better you are. As if being busy means you are a go-getter, successful, and driven. I’ve watched it with my husband, who migrates from place to place, meeting to meeting, in a given day. I’ve watched it in my kids who complain about “being bored” if they are not doing something at all times.

Being driven and motivated is important. Yes, it is a good thing . . . UNLESS . . .

You never allow yourself to relax and decompress.

EXCEPT . . . if you FEEL GUILTY when you are not going, going, going.

Why? Because when we don’t allow ourselves to BREATH, we forget how to CONCENTRATE.

And that’s what was happening to me right before the weekend; the million and one things jumping through my brain were preventing me from concentrating.

When I sat at my computer, trying to work on a grant, my brain seemed jumbled. I couldn’t focus. I felt “pulled” and distracted, which ultimately made me unproductive.

I realized that my best creativity comes when I can take a deep breath and be calm. You see— this thing called “boredom” (not going, going, going) gives you time and space to THINK.

So the question is HOW can you relax when there is so much to be done?


You – like me – may be feeling as if there are a million things needing to be done RIGHT NOW.  The pressure of getting it ALL done AT ONCE may be looming.

But you know what? No one is physically able to do everything all at one time. It is just not humanly possible. When we try, we do not allow the pure form of concentration to take hold.

It is essential to prioritize and to do so, ask yourself:

What is the #1 thing that I should be working on? It may seem like there are 100 things that should be priority #1, but YOU CAN ONLY NAME ONE THING.

To determine your #1 priority, ask yourself what has been weighing on you the most? What deadline is most pressing? How long do you estimate each task taking?

Once you’ve determined your top priority, determine your second priority, and then your third.

And then stop. DO NOT prioritize anything else – at this point.

I did this exercise today and suddenly I felt as if a weight had been lifted. It actually sharpened my focus and concentration. I spent my effort working on priority #1.


In this electronic age, it is easy to get sidetracked by technology. Smart phones beeping with notifications, web browsers opened to tempt you into a black hole of time-wasting, email alerts popping onto the computer screen—STOP THE MADNESS!


I had to be brutally honest with myself. . . I realized that I was actually SEEKING OUT distractions. It was if my mind was saying, ‘please, please, send me something that I should read or do to prevent me from doing the one thing that I SHOULD be doing’.

Being distracted by technology has become a social norm. Instant gratification and results have become so effusive in our society that WAITING and BEING PATIENT are becoming lost arts. That text or email can wait. Really, it can.

Put your blinders on and GET IT DONE.


Your morning routine might involve checking your email, browsing the Internet, checking your Facebook BEFORE you get started on your work. It sounds innocent enough. But the time you spend doing this is taking time away from YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF DAY.

Again, that text and email can wait.

Before any excuses set in, GET TO WORK on your TOP PRIORITY.


As I sat down to write this blog post, I resisted my natural inclination to edit as I wrote. Rather than being distracted by my misspelled words, grammar mistakes, or wondering if my words even made sense, I just typed, releasing my thoughts – which to be honest – were pouring. You see, editing only curtails production and flow. It can become another form of distraction. Get your thoughts down, create a first draft of whatever it is you are working on. Then, go back and refine, edit, and polish.

* * * *

Writing this posting was therapeutic and insightful for me. I feel better. Calmer. Empowered to tackle the day and that list of TO DOs.

Life can be a juggle–there is so much happening in our lives that it is easy to feel overwhelmed which can affect our focus and concentration.  I hope that this insight will help you gain a new sense of clarity and calmness.  Take a deep breath, prioritize, and ignore everything except that ONE THING in front of you.  Take hold of this new sense of focus and soar.





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