Now you know why you need help with concentration. What can help you to focus better? There’s no one answer for how to improve focus, but the following tips can help.
Eliminate distractions. How do we focus better if we are always bombarded with information? Make a practice blocking time in your schedule to do a specific task or activity. During this time, request that you be left alone or go to a place where others are unlikely to disturb you: a library, a coffee shop, a private room.
Close social media and other apps, silence notifications, and keep your phone hidden from sight in a bag or backpack. As described in HBR, researchers found that cognitive capacity was significantly better when the phone was out of sight, not just turned off. Keep Your primary focus is to complete what you need to do. Shutting off both internal and external disturbances can help you to concentrate.
Reduce multitasking. Attempting to perform multiple activities at the same time makes us feel productive. It’s also a recipe for lower focus, poor concentration, and lower productivity. And lower productivity can lead to burnout. Examples of multitasking include listening to a podcast while responding to an email or talking to someone over the phone while writing your report. Such multitasking not only hampers your ability to focus but compromises your work quality.
Practice mindfulness and meditation. Meditating or practicing mindfulness activities can strengthen well-being and mental fitness and improve focus. During the meditation process, our brain becomes calmer and our whole body becomes more relaxed. We focus on our breath during the process so that we will not be distracted by our minds. With practice, we can learn to use our breath to bring our attention back to a particular task so that it can be done well even if we get interrupted.
Get more sleep. Many factors affect your sleep. One of the most common is reading from an electronic device like a computer, phone, or tablet or watching your favorite movie or TV show on an LED TV just before bedtime. Research has shown that such devices emit light towards the blue end of the spectrum. Such light will stimulate your eye retina and prevent the secretion of melatonin that promotes sleep anticipation in the brain. Use a filter or “blue light” glasses to minimize such blue light or avoid all electronic devices before bed. Other ways to improve sleep include avoiding exercise late in the day, staying hydrated throughout the day, using journaling or breathing exercises to quiet the mind, and creating a predictable bedtime routine and schedule.
Choose to focus on the moment. It might feel counterintuitive when you feel unable to concentrate, but remember that you choose where you focus. It’s tough to concentrate when your mind is always in the past and worrying about the future. While it isn’t easy, make an effort to let go of past events. Acknowledge the impact, what you felt, and what you learned from it, then let it go. Similarly, acknowledge your concerns about the future, consider how you are experiencing that anxiety in your body, then choose to let it go. We want to train our mental resources to focus on the details of what matters at the moment. Our minds go in the direction we choose to focus.
Take a short break. This also might seem counterintuitive, but when you focus on something for a long time, your focus may begin to die down. You may feel more and more difficulty devoting your attention to the task.
Researchers have found that our brains tend to ignore sources of constant stimulation. Taking very small breaks by refocusing your attention elsewhere can dramatically improve mental concentration after that. The next time you are working on a project, take a break when you begin to feel stuck. Move around, talk to someone, or even switch to a different type of task. You will come back with a more focused mind to keep your performance high.
Connect with nature. Research has found that even having plants in office spaces can help increase concentration and productivity, as well as workplace satisfaction and better air quality. Finding time to take a walk in the park or appreciating the plants or flowers in your garden can boost your concentration and help you feel refreshed.
Train your brain. Scientific research is starting to amass evidence on the ability of brain training activities to enhance cognitive abilities, including concentration, in adults. Such brain training games for concentration can also help you develop your working and short-term memory, as well as your processing and problem-solving skills. Examples of such games include jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, chess, and brain-stimulating video games.
Exercise. Start your day with simple exercise and get your body moving. According to the May 2013 issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, regular exercise releases chemicals key for memory, concentration, and mental sharpness. Other research found that exercise can boost the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels and all these will affect focus and attention. Individuals who do some form of exercise or sports perform better on cognitive tasks when compared with those who have poor physical health. Physical movement helps relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.
Listen to music. Music has been shown to have therapeutic effects on our brains. Light music may help you to concentrate better, but some music may distract you. Experts generally agree that classical music and nature sounds, such as water flowing, are good choices for concentration while music with lyrics and human voices may be distracting. Multiple apps and services offer background music and soundscapes designed for different types of focus and work needs.
Eat well. Choose foods that moderate blood sugar, maintain energy, and fuel the brain. Fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods can keep your blood sugar levels even. Reduce sugary foods and drinks that cause spikes and dips in your sugar levels make you feel dizzy or drowsy.
Your brain needs lots of good fat to function properly. Nuts, berries, avocados, and coconut oil are all great ways to get healthy fats into your diet and help your brain run more smoothly. Research has found that foods like blueberries can boost concentration and memory for up to 5 hours after consumption due to an enzyme that stimulates the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain, helping with memory as well as our ability to focus and learn new information. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach contain potassium which accelerates the connections between neurons and can make our brain more responsive.
Set a daily priority. Write down what you want to accomplish each day, ideally the night before, and identify a single priority that you commit to accomplishing. This will help focus your brain on what matters, tackling the big jobs first and leaving the small stuff till later. Break large tasks into smaller bytes so that you will not be overwhelmed. Identifying true priorities can help relieve distracting anxiety, and achieving small daily goals can wire your brain to achieve success.
Create space for work. Create a calm dedicated space for work, if possible. Not everyone can have a well-appointed office, but desk organizers, noise-canceling headphones, an adjustable monitor, and adjustable lighting can help. Clear clutter out of sight, make it as ergonomic and comfortable as possible, and try to keep your space neat and ventilated.
Use a timer. Train your brain to hyper-focus on a task by using a timer or phone alarm. First, decide what task you want to complete. Set your timer for 20 minutes (generally not more than 30 minutes) and concentrate on the task. When the alarm rings take a short break for 5 minutes. You can either take a walk and do some stretching exercise, then reset the timer and start again. This technique has shown to be effective to improve your concentration.
Switch tasks. While we may want to concentrate on a particular task, sometimes we get stuck and our brain needs something fresh to focus on. Try switching to other tasks or something you love to do. Switching tasks can help you stay alert and productive for a longer period.
Learning how to improve focus and concentration is not something you can achieve overnight. Professional athletes like golfers, sprinters, gymnasts take plenty of time to practice (and usually have a coach) so that they can concentrate and get the right move at the right moment to achieve excellence.
The first step to strengthen your concentration is to recognize how it is affecting your life. If you are struggling to meet commitments, constantly sidetracked by the unimportant, or not moving toward your aspirations, it is time to get help with concentration so that you can focus on what matters most to you.
Learning how to concentrate at work is essential for succeeding in your career and life. By improving your concentration, you will find that you can accomplish more of what you value and feel better doing it. It’s not just about accomplishing tasks but about making time for joy and happiness so that you can achieve a meaningful and satisfying life.