- 5 Scientifically Proven Ways To Improve Your Focus and Concentration
- 1. Meditation
- 2. Make lists
- Write your list the night before
- Assign Time Estimates
- 3. Exercise
- 4. Declutter
- 5. Go for a walk / take a break
- 7 Brain Hacks to Improve Your Focus at Work
- Life hacks: 5 ways to improve concentration
- Cell phone notifications
- Social media
- Work breaks
- Concentration-enhancing foods
- Exercise for concentration
- Check your weight
- 8 Ways To Improve Your Focus
- 1. Prepare Your Brain
- 2. Understand Where Your Focus Needs To Be
- 3. Unplug For 30 Minutes
- 4. Grab Some Coffee
- 6. Turn On Some Music
- 7. Take Short Breaks
- 8. Doodle
- Related: 7 Ways To Stop Your Overwhelming Need To Procrastinate
- A Three-Day Plan to Increase Your Focus
5 Scientifically Proven Ways To Improve Your Focus and Concentration
Anyone looking to maximize their productivity, achieve goals, and advance their career must learn how to focus their attention and eliminate distractions.
Distractions in our modern day work environments abound; learning to direct your attention amongst the endless chatter in our lives is crucial to success.
There are many different strategies that can help minimize distractions, decrease stress, and improve focus. Not all work for everyone, which is why we wanted to explore whether there’s scientific support for some of those strategies.
We found five scientifically sound strategies and want to share them with you:
Meditation isn’t just for yogis and new age-y folks listening to Enya. Vastly successful business people – Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld, Joe Rogan, Jeff Weiner and Arianna Huffington, to name just a few – are all advocates for the practice, and swear by its effectiveness in calming the mind and improving focus.
Studies have shown meditation can alter your brain matter by reducing your stress levels, which consequently leads to better mental health and improved decision making.
A study published in Consciousness and Cognition, for example found that meditation training improved cognition, leading to a better mood, increased verbal and non-verbal reasoning, and improved capability for manipulating mental information.
According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, mindfulness meditation refers to “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment.” Anyone working in a highly stimulating, fast-paced environment knows that being centered, focused, and aware is critical to successfully navigating the overload of day-to-day activity.
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- How to clearly articulate your brand identity.
- How to define your brand personality.
- How to set your brand voice.
- How to identify your brand's audience, and more!
The benefits of mindfulness meditation are clear. Regular practice can boost the immune system, improve your emotional well-being, and significantly increase your ability to focus.
Want to read more about how successful entrepreneurs use meditation? Check out Wellness Tips from Successful Entrepreneurs and Health Experts.
2. Make lists
Making lists isn’t just for the scatterbrained among us. At any given moment, entrepreneurs’ busy minds are buzzing with ideas, plans, to-do’s, and an endless assortment of things you don’t want to forget. Lists are critical in keeping everything accounted for.
For some people, writing everything down is a great way to objectively analyze things so you can prioritize your day. Being able to schedule things well, delegate things to other people, and figure out the best use of your time will keep your day focused and productive. Need some tips to optimize your lists? Here are a few:
Write your list the night before
Writing your list the night before means you can start your day already prepared with what to expect and what needs to be accomplished. Sparing yourself the stress of figuring those things out during the chaos of the morning dash leaves you composed and capable of handling everything that comes your way.
Assign Time Estimates
Seeing how much time each task requires for completion is smart. You can make realistic decisions about what you’re truly able to accomplish, and your schedule will thank you for the reasonable estimates for each item you build your day around.
If you’re consistently bumping the same to-do item to another day, you need to figure out why. Is it unimportant? Is there a problem that needs to be worked out first in order for you to complete it? Whatever the case, repeated rescheduling of a task indicates that it requires more attention to meaningfully address the item.
Having said that, to-do lists aren’t for everyone. In fact, in an earlier post on our blog, we explained why to-do lists can actually be counter-productive for some. Here’s what we wrote:
Despite our reliance on the tactic, research suggests 85% of a person’s output includes tasks not included on their to-do list, and that 41% of to-do list tasks never get tackled at all.
To be fair, those numbers actually make a lot of sense (and may feel familiar, if we’re keeping things 100). To-do lists lack the context necessary to be effective planning and work management tools.
You end up with a number of tasks that need to be completed without real regard for the level of urgency associated with those tasks, the amount of time required to complete the tasks, or anything that will how you accountable for completing the tasks.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s time to get off the couch.
While there are often conflicting scientific studies about many things, you won’t find much disagreement about this: the benefits of exercise—physically, mentally and emotionally—are innumerable.
A study published in the British Medical Journal confirms exercise’s benefits. According to the study, short 10 to 40-minute sessions of exercise resulted in an improvement in mental concentration and focus: even a quick walk can have major benefits on your focus, productivity, and general well-being. If a focused mindset is a goal for you, it’s time to get moving.
According to Dr. John Ratey, who wrote a book on the impact exercise has on the brain, exercise increases your focus for two to three hours after you finish your workout. Do you find you have a time of day where you just can’t get your mind to settle? Try exercising a few hours beforehand, and find yourself with an ample amount of focus to compensate during your more challenging hours.
Exercise increases our confidence in our ability to accomplish challenging things. Entrepreneurs the late Steve Jobs to powerhouse Mark Zuckerberg are key examples of confident leaders who have employed the benefits of exercise. Many entrepreneurs are also regularly advocates for walking throughout the day.
In fact, recently put in a half-mile loop on the roof of its headquarters in Menlo Park, California so that workers there can regularly have walking meetings.
When you have a healthy workout schedule, your sleep improves, too. Studies show that exercising before bed leads to falling asleep around 15 minutes earlier and extends sleep for an average of 45 minutes a night. Entrepreneurs who sleep better become quicker thinkers, have more focus and are capable of leading their industries in ways their sleep-deprived colleagues are not.
If your workspace looks an office supply truck crashed into it, your focus is bound to be distracted by the sheer volume of stuff piling up in every corner of your office.
“Surveys show the average person loses an hour a day to disorganization,” says Lisa Zaslow, a professional organizer in Manhattan. “It takes much less time to get and stay organized.
Think about how frantic and stressed you are when you can’t find something.”
“Surveys show the average person loses an hour a day to disorganization,” says Lisa Zaslow, a professional organizer in Manhattan. “It takes much less time to get and stay organized. Think about how frantic and stressed you are when you can’t find something.”
Whether or not you are particularly attuned to the mess inhabiting your life, clutter will still have a noticeable effect on your concentration.
Researchers with the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute discovered that having too much clutter decreases the brain’s capacity for focusing and processing information.
Your brain becomes overly distracted by the mass amounts of clutter threatening to swallow you whole, and it renders you unable to accomplish much.
Professional organizer Amanda LeBlanc says it’s not just about clutter, it’s also about having the right tools for the job:
If you’re always getting up to find something you need, it’s difficult to concentrate on your projects. There are many studies showing that once a person gets up from something they are working on to look for supplies, they are much less ly to return to what they were working on when they left.
A tidy desktop is your best bet to get off on the right foot every day at work. Work habits are reflected by the environments we work in; a clean office is most supportive of a productive workflow.
And it’s not just about physical clutter. As we wrote previously in our post How Clutter Affects Your Productivity, And What You Can Do About It:
June Saruwatari, author of Behind the Clutter explains that mental clutter is just as bad for your productivity as is physical clutter. She warns that even when you put physical clutter away, it doesn’t really go anywhere:
If you put it into a closet and shut the door, you are still carrying that with you. It’s important to get to the root cause of that one item and not just shove it under the rug.
Saruwatari explains that mental clutter is often caused when you clear physical clutter, but don’t necessarily dealt with it. This couldn’t be more true – especially for busy business owners and entrepreneurs who find themselves multitasking with endless tasks.
Sometimes putting away those notes from the meeting you still have to review doesn’t help, especially if that stays on your mind for the rest of the day until you complete the task. For this reason, Saruwatari suggests a mental dump, 1-2 times a day.
This translates into creating a to do list each morning, and prioritizing it. Then, at the end of each day, a moment of reflection and reorganization of the to do list.
Since it’s impossible to get everything done in one day, it’s crucial that we are able to keep everything in it’s own mental container, only opening the lid when we are ready to deal with it.
5. Go for a walk / take a break
Sometimes the best strategy is to stop trying so hard and take a break. Our brains were not built to maintain constant attention, and taking short breaks can improve your ability to maintain focus over long periods of time.
Illinois researcher Alejandro Lleras examined the phenomenon known as “vigilance decrement,” in a study published in the Journal Cognition:
We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused. From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!
There are a number of productivity systems you can try to help you work more effectively with breaks, such as the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks a task up into twenty-five-minute blocks, followed by a five-minute break. After you’ve repeated this four times, you then take a longer break of around thirty minutes.
Another option is the 52-17 method, proposed by the Draugiem Group. Through data from their productivity app DeskTime, they discovered that the most productive employees work for 52 minutes at a time, and then break for 17.
The reason the most productive 10% of our users are able to get the most done during the comparatively short periods of working time is that their working times are treated as sprints. They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.
Breaks can be anything from going for a short walk, letting yourself daydream, or even just doodling for a bit. The point is to disengage from what you were working on and change up what you’re doing. By breaking up your concentration, you’ll give your brain a chance to recharge so you can return to what you were doing refreshed.
As an entrepreneur, responsibilities, to-dos, and brainstorms can threaten to overwhelm your precious little time and attention. Staying focused in the middle of the hectic every day is a critical component in anyone’s ability to not only get work done but get work done well.
Following these tips might just help you find your way to a calmer, more productive, and highly focused workweek.
If not? There’s still always coffee.
But the scientific value of coffee is debatable.
7 Brain Hacks to Improve Your Focus at Work
Your ability to focus on a task until it is complete is one of the greatest indicators of your future success.
All millionaires and billionaires have mastered the art of single focusing on one thing until completion before they move onto the next task.
However, we live in a world that is full of distractions and notifications that are constantly vying for your attention.
Your brain is simply not equipped to deal with the massive number of ‘shiny objects’ that are perpetually trying to disrupt your focus.
Learning to become the master of your brain instead of its slave is no easy task.
But, with a few simple hacks, you can quickly take charge of your mind and develop laser- focus.
1. Start Each Morning With Exercise
One of the most important things that you can do for your brain and your overall well-being is to start every morning with exercise.
You don’t have to go to the gym and spend 3 hours pumping iron Arnold in his prime either.
Simply getting the blood flowing for 20 minutes will sufficiently spark your mind and help you develop stronger focus throughout the day.
Some great activities to try are; swimming, racquetball, yoga, or cycling.
These exercises are relatively low impact on your body and are a heckuva lot more fun than mindlessly running on the “dreadmill” each morning.
2. Don’t Break Your Fast too Early
If you have been following the health and fitness or biohacking industries in recent years then you have inevitably heard about the phenomenon called intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting, or IF, is a fairly simple concept.
For 16 hours the day, you fast completely and then consume all of your calories in an 8-hour window.
It is actually a lot easier than it sounds and has numerous benefits.
Outside of the benefits to your metabolism and fat loss goals, IF actually helps you to have more focus in the morning because your body is not wasting precious energy digesting foods.
Instead, it can allocate all of those resources to helping you concentrate on the task at hand.
The best way that I have found to do IF is to skip breakfast, instead drinking 1-2 cups of black coffee, and then break your fast around 1 p.m., eating your last meal around 9 p.m.
If you do this, your focus will shoot through the roof.
3. Get More (Good) Fats in Your Diet
The human brain is made up of roughly 60% fat.
That’s pretty considerable when you think about it!
This poses a problem for the people who have been proponents of low fat diets throughout the years.
You see, your brain needs lots of good fat to function properly.
One of the best ways to quickly improve cognitive function and thereby your focus is to get more fats in your diet.
If you are following intermittent fasting then I recommend that you eat a lunch that has at least 30 grams of fat in it.
Nuts, avocados, eggs, and coconut oil are all great ways to get healthy fats into your diet and help your brain run more smoothly.
4. Use nootropic herbs.
Recently I've been testing with the herb licorice root through a friend's recommendation and has gotten great results. It contains glycyrrhizin, a compound that stops brain fog, cloudy-headedness, afternoon fatigue, and sleep disruption by preventing the breakdown of adrenal hormones such as cortisol.
The way I take it is in tea form. I basically just boil it in hot water and drink it daily.
There are other herbs with brain function enhancing properties you can test your self such as schizandra and ginkgo biloba.
4. Write Out Your Critical Tasks Each Hour
One of the best ways to keep your brain focused is to write out the tasks that you want to accomplish within the next hour and then time how long it takes until completion.
By writing out your key tasks each hour, you will refocus your brain on most important projects, and by timing yourself, you will add a sense of urgency that will help you stay focused.
5. Eliminate Pointless Distractions
I really shouldn’t even have to say this.
If your phone is constantly buzzing with new Snapchat notifications and your computer continually dings with new updates on your feed, then how in the world do you expect to stay focused?
You need to eliminate all pointless distractions.
This means that, while you are working, your phone is on airplane mode, your computer has all notifications disabled, and you clearly inform coworkers that you are not to be disturbed.
6. Set Small Daily Goals
Having huge, game changing goals is great.
Everyone should have a bigger vision for who they can be and what they can achieve.
But staying focused on a 10-year vision is no easy task, especially when trying to get through the tiring minutia of the day.
Whether you are bogged down with content marketing, emailing annoying clients, or writing new content, it can be easy to lose focus on the bigger picture.
Instead of focusing on your big, long term goals, start setting small daily goals.
By focusing only on what needs to be accomplished in any one given day, you will set yourself up for success.
Achieving small daily goals will wire your brain for success and trigger the reward mechanism, releasing dopamine when you accomplish your goal.
This will help you stay more focused and increase the odds of you achieving tomorrow's goal.
7. Get Enough Sleep
Nothing will ruin your focus more than consistent sleep deprivation.
Some of the most successful individuals in our modern business world have attributed much of their success to sleeping 8 hours a night.
You need to sleep more if you want to achieve maximum focus. This is true for everyone ranging from jet lagged digital workers to corporate executives.
Try and get 7 hours of high quality sleep per night minimum.
Mastering your focus is not an easy task.
We did not evolve to cope with the massive number of distractions that we face in our daily lives.
However, by making sure that you are properly fueling and stimulating your brain and eliminating distractions wherever possible, you will be able to master your brain and increase your focus.
What hacks do you have for improving your focus while at work?
Life hacks: 5 ways to improve concentration
In the information overload age, being able to focus and keep your attention on the task at hand can be a struggle. We have compiled some concentration-boosting and distraction-fighting techniques to fire up your capacity to concentrate.
Share on PinterestConcentrating can sometimes be a challenge, but steps can be taken to enhance your ability to concentrate.
On an average day, Americans are bombarded with an estimated 34 gigabytes of information and 100,500 words. Meanwhile, office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes, while it takes 25 minutes, on average, to get back to the task they were working on before the interruption. It is therefore no surprise that our ability to focus is withering due to these endless distractions.
Maintaining attention allows us to construct our internal world in such a way that the thoughts, motivations, and emotions that are the most relevant to our goals will have priority in our brains.
The ability to sustain attention begins at an early age and contributes to success throughout people’s lives. Several factors during childhood and adolescence can enhance or impair the development of skills that enable you to focus for extended periods.
Infants look to their parents for guidance on where to focus their attention, while preschoolers who can concentrate and persist on a task are 50 percent more ly to complete college.
Research has indicated that preschoolers and kindergartners who are farsighted often have a hard time paying attention, which could increase their risk of slipping behind in school.
In adolescents, binge drinking is thought to interrupt normal brain growth in the frontal brain areas that are linked to high-level thoughts, including organization and planning. Heavy alcohol use may therefore affect a teenager’s ability to perform in school and sports, and these effects could be long-lasting.
Regardless of upbringing or social and work-based distractions, there are some steps that you can take to harness your brain at its best and channel your focus to complete tasks. Here are Medical News Today‘s tactics to help you improve your concentration quickly and effectively.
A dose of nature could be just what the doctor ordered when trying to improve your attention span and ability to concentrate.
Share on PinterestAdd some greenery to your office to increase concentration levels in the workplace.
Research suggests that exposure to natural surroundings, including green spaces, may prove beneficial for children’s brain development.
In a study, children aged 4–5 to 7 years of age with more green space around their homes scored better in attention tests. These results underline the importance of expanding green areas in cities to support children’s health and brain development.
Increased concentration from green exposure does not stop during childhood. Research has demonstrated that glancing at greenery can also markedly boost concentration levels and productivity in college and the workplace.
Students were asked to conduct a mundane task and given a 40-second break midway through to view either a bare concrete roof or a flowering meadow green roof. Individuals who glanced at the meadow scene made considerably fewer errors and exhibited superior concentration levels on the remaining half of the task than those who observed the concrete scene.
Another study showed that enriching a bare office with plants increased the productivity of workers by 15 percent. The presence of greenery increased workplace satisfaction, perceived air quality, and reported levels of concentration.
The researcher’s analysis details that plants may be beneficial because a green office promotes employees’ work engagement by making them more cognitively, emotionally, and physically involved in their work.
You may not have the luxury of a rooftop garden or an office laden with plants, but spending time outside someplace green, or eating your lunch in the park each day, could make a significant difference to your concentration.
If you are lucky enough to have high working memory capacity, then you should have no problem ignoring distractions and staying focused on tasks. But for the rest of us, tuning out background distractions can be challenging.
Evidence suggests that taking a break from the following distractions could enhance your ability to concentrate.
Share on PinterestTake a vacation from email, cell phone notifications, and social media to boost concentration.
Controlling the times you log in to email — work or personal — and batching messages, among other strategies, could help to boost on-the-job productivity.
A study found that people who read emails throughout the day switched screen twice as often and were in an ongoing state of high alert with a constant heart rate. When email was removed from these people for 5 days, their heart rate returned to a natural, variable one.
The authors concluded that taking an email vacation significantly decreases stress and improves concentration and focus.
Cell phone notifications
Whether you are alerted to text or an incoming call by an alarm, vibration, or trendy ringtone, a cell phone notification can distract you enough to impair your ability to concentrate on a task.
In fact, the distraction caused by a notification is just as off-putting as using your cell phone to make calls or send a text message, according to research. A team discovered that while notifications are short in duration, they tend to trigger task-irrelevant thoughts or mind wandering that damages task performance.
The team explained that task performance takes a hit because humans have a limited capacity for attention that needs to be split between tasks. The researchers also emphasized that just being aware of a missed text or call can have the same effect.
If you need to stay on track and focused, it might be worth either turning off your cell phone, setting it to silent, or putting it away somewhere that you cannot see it.
The curiosity of checking personal social media accounts can often be overwhelming, but research indicates that there are negative consequences when using social media during office hours.
Approximately 2.8 billion people worldwide use social media, and many of those use social media for personal purpose while at work. Using social media during working hours has been revealed to have an adverse effect on self-reported work performance and concentration, and the well-being of the organization.
Fighting the urge to use social media while you need to concentrate may help to improve your productivity and concentration.
Other research demonstrates how to take the best type of break to boost energy, motivation, and concentration. Researchers recommend taking:
- a mid-morning break to replenish concentration
- better breaks by doing something you enjoy, which should make your break more restful, provide better recovery, and help you to come back to worked focused
- frequent short breaks to facilitate recovery
Taking breaks earlier in the day and doing preferred activities lead to better health, job satisfaction, and revival of energy, motivation, and concentration. Workers also experienced fewer headaches, eyestrain, and lower back pain after their break.
Our environment plays a significant role in how well we are able to concentrate. It is known that by decluttering your home or tidying your desk, your mind also feels more orderly, free, and able to think more clearly.
You can make changes to your environment so that it is favorable for sustaining concentration.
Share on PinterestDesign your own work area to improve your productivity.
Design your own work space. Whether you have full control over the design of your work space or can embellish your desk with just a few personal items, having control over our work environment can help to improve productivity.
A study compared people who completed a series of tasks in a bare and functional office space, an office decorated with plants and pictures, and an office in which the individual designed the space.
People who were in a space with plants and pictures were 17 percent more productive than those in bare office, while those who designed their own spaces were 32 percent more productive than the workers at a functional desk.
Listen to Baroque classical music. In a study of radiologist’s work lives, it was found that listening to Baroque classical music improved mood and job satisfaction and potentially improved diagnostic efficiency, accuracy, and productivity.
Play natural sounds. If Baroque music is not your thing, playing natural sounds could also benefit concentration. Researchers revealed that playing sounds from nature in the office, such as flowing water, could enhance cognitive abilities and optimize the ability to concentrate.
Inhale rosemary aroma. Research has suggested that exposure to rosemary aroma may improve speed and accuracy of cognitive performance.
Problem-solving exercises, brain training methods, and even video games could all have a positive, negative effect, or no effect at all on concentration, depending on which study you read.
Share on PinterestFrequently doing crosswords could help to improve attention and concentration.
Recent research has indicated that people who often do word puzzles, such as crosswords, have better brain function later in life.
Researchers found direct relationships between how often pople used word puzzles and the speed and accuracy of performance on tasks assessing reasoning, memory, and attention.
A study has emphasized that it matters what type of brain training you are doing to improve memory and attention. Researchers compared two brain-training methods called “dual n-back” and “complex span.”
Participants who practiced dual n-back demonstrated a 30 percent improvement in their working memory — almost double the gains made by the complex span group.
Dual n-back is a memory sequence test wherein individuals have to remember a sequence of auditory and visual stimuli that are updated continuously.
Playing video games has been shown to cause changes in many regions of the brain. Researchers discovered that video game use altered the brain regions that are responsible for visuospatial skills and attention and made them work more efficiently.
Physical activity, dietary choices, and weight are all factors that can contribute to how well you function and your concentration levels. For example, if you skip breakfast, it is unly that by lunchtime you will be able to perform tasks to the best of your ability due to hunger pangs.
Looking after your well-being, staying active, and eating concentration-boosting foods can all help toward improving concentration.
To increase your ability to concentrate, you might want to add some walnuts, avocados, and chocolate to your dietary repertoire.
Share on PinterestAvocados may help to enhance cognitive measures, including memory and attention.
Walnuts may improve performance on tests for cognitive function, including those assessing information processing speed, memory, and concentration.
Avocados. Consuming one avocado every day may help improve cognitive function due to an upsurge in lutein levels in the eye and brain. Researchers uncovered that eating an avocado daily enhanced measures of cognitive skills, including processing speed, memory, and attention.
Chocolate — or specifically the cocoa bean — is rich in flavanols, which are compounds that have neuroprotective effects. Cocoa flavanols may help to improve cognitive processing speed, working memory, and attention when ingested for between 5 days and 3 months.
Exercise for concentration
Research has revealed that individuals who practice sport can perform better on cognitive tasks than those with bad physical health. When compared with a group who led a more sedentary lifestyle, the group who were in good physical condition performed better on tasks testing sustained attention.
A study of older adults also specified that exercise improved brain function. All participants who exercised for between 75 minutes and 225 minutes per week showed elevated attention levels and an increased ability to focus.
Yoga may significantly improve energy levels and brain function. Investigators found that practicing Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation for 25 minutes per day boosted the regions of the brain associated with goal-directed behavior and allowed participants to focus more easily.
Check your weight
Research unearthed a connection between weight loss and improved memory and concentration.
Researchers say that factors such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes, which often result from obesity, might impair the brain. They suggest that as people get back to a healthy weight and the associated problems disappear, their cognitive issues will vanish, too.
If you have tried all the above and you are still wrestling with your inability to concentrate, grab yourself a large coffee. Caffeine has been shown to affect the alerting and executive control networks of the brain and has clear beneficial effects on concentration and attention.
8 Ways To Improve Your Focus
The average human has an eight-second attention span–less than that of a goldfish, according to a 2015 study from Microsoft. That number has shrunk over the years due to our digital connectedness and the fact that the brain is always seeking out what’s new and what’s next.
“No matter what environment humans are in, survival depends on being able to focus on what’s important–generally what’s moving. That skill hasn’t changed, it’s just moved online,” writes Alyson Gausby, consumer insights lead for Microsoft Canada.
So what do you do when you need to focus on work–and not what’s moving around you? For most people, the first and most important step to increasing focus is to change the way you view it, says Elie Venezky, author of Hack Your Brain.
“Focus is a muscle, and you can build it,” he says. “Too many people labor under the idea that they’re just not focused, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Once you drop this mistaken belief, you can take a much more realistic approach to building focus.”
With a combination of mindset and tools, it’s possible to set up an environment that fosters focus. Here are eight tricks and tips for eliminating distractions and paying attention to what you need to do:
1. Prepare Your Brain
Before a task, calm your brain, says Venezky. “Take a minute or two to sit in a comfortable position and breathe deeply into your stomach,” he says. “You don’t have to sit cross-legged or chant. Let your body calm down before you approach your work. You’ll find it really helps you concentrate.”
2. Understand Where Your Focus Needs To Be
Focus also involves an understanding of what is worthy of your distraction, says Ron Webb, an executive director at the American Productivity and Quality Center, a nonprofit research organization. “Success comes down to embedding that focus into the flow of how you work,” he says.
Webb suggests taking time to identify what deserves your focus for the year, for the month, for the week, and for the day. Then look at your calendar and block time dedicated to focus.
Focus also involves an understanding of what is worthy of your distraction.
“This keeps folks from being able to send calendar invites that are last-minute, nonemergency issues,” he says. “These are focus killers.”
3. Unplug For 30 Minutes
If you need to focus, log email and social media.
“Even if you live and die by email, do yourself a favor and log out for 30 minutes either in the beginning of the day or for a period in the afternoon,” says Jan Bruce, coauthor of meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calmer, and Happier. “You won’t believe how much you can get done when you’re not always interrupting yourself to return emails.”
4. Grab Some Coffee
That morning coffee doesn’t just help you wake up; it helps you focus on the day. If you need an attention booster in the afternoon, a coffeeshop run might do the trick.
In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, French physiologist Astrid Nehlig identifies a connection between caffeine and cognition.
While caffeine doesn’t improve learning or memory performance, Nehlig found it does increase physiological arousal, which makes you less apt to be distracted and better able to pay attention during a demanding task.
If it’s too hot or too cool in your work environment, it could impact your focus.
A study from Cornell University found that workers are most productive and make fewer errors in an environment that is somewhere between 68 and 77 degrees.
Another study from the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland says the magic temperature is 71 degrees. If you don’t control the thermostat, you can opt to bring a sweater or a fan.
6. Turn On Some Music
Too much background noise can be very distracting, but according to a study from the Wake Forest School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina published in Scientific Reports, having music playing helps you focus on your own thoughts. The catch? You had to the song.
“Given that musical preferences are uniquely individualized phenomena and that music can vary in acoustic complexity and the presence or absence of lyrics, the consistency of our results was unexpected,” the researchers wrote.
Whether it’s Beethoven, the Beatles, or the Beastie Boys, turn it up and get to work.
7. Take Short Breaks
Instead of succumbing to distraction, build it in, suggests a study from the University of Illinois. Psychologist Alejandro Lleras found that participants who were given short breaks during a 50-minute task performed better than those who worked straight through.
The study examines a phenomenon called “vigilance decrement,” or losing focus over time. Taking a short break in the middle of a long task reenergizes the brain.
“We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” writes Lleras. “Our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks, it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task.”
If you’re sitting in on a long meeting or conference, improve your focus–and your artistic skills–by doodling. According to a study from the University of Plymouth in England, doodling aids in cognitive performance and recollection.
“Doodling simply helps to stabilize arousal at an optimal level, keeping people awake or reducing the high levels of autonomic arousal often associated with boredom,” writes lead researcher Jackie Andrade.
Related: 7 Ways To Stop Your Overwhelming Need To Procrastinate
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A Three-Day Plan to Increase Your Focus
How you pay attention will either help or hurt you on a day-to-day basis. This is because attention plays a critical role in what you think, feel, remember, and how you act.
It affects your motivation and ability to hit your goals and in particular, goals that are meaningful to you. Attention affects the accuracy of your decisions and how they snowball into purposeful living.
It will clarify who you are and the person you want to be and help you build the scaffold to get there. And all of this grows into your life’s story.
Good attention is controlled attention guided by good choices. Funny as it may seem, your first job as chief executive of this mechanism is to pay attention to how you are paying attention. The wider the variety of circumstances you are able to do this in, the better.
There are a lot of aspects regarding overall wellness that better attention could improve. Let’s take a look.
In everyday conversation, most of us associate attentional strength with whether we feel focused or scattered, how well we can concentrate on a tennis game, math problem, or stay on top of a discussion.
But what we may not always consider is how our attention also affects our relationships, feelings of contentment or irritability, pain management, and whether we feel energized or depressed. We seldom attach health and wellness issues to how we pay attention.
So a good first step in trying to regulate and utilize your power of attention is to begin noting how things that enter your attentional field are affecting the way you feel, think, and act. Then take a look at how those interrelate and put you on one path or another as you work toward daily (and even longer-range) goals.
In my book, Can I Have Your Attention? I discuss hundreds of attention training techniques. But if you can latch onto just one of these, you can significantly amp up your attention—and then, of course, the more the better.
What makes things interesting is that in many ways, your attention is as uniquely your own as your fingerprint. So, at the heart of training better attention is discovering your own special way of paying attention and learning how to make it work for you.
Here is a three-day plan you can start to begin increasing your attention right away.
Spend some time as you go through your daily routines becoming more self-aware. That is: noticing how you are paying attention. Note:
- When your attention is optimum and when it is low? Consider various times, tasks, people, places ( going to a daily business meeting in the afternoon).
- If you feel your attention is low, ask: Am I too mellow? Or the opposite, am I too anxious? Is my mood in my way? Is there something invading my thoughts I need to get off my mind? Am I having destructive thoughts?
- At the end of the day, see what kinds of things are distracting you. Distracters will, of course, change as the many variables that can affect you per day change. But the more you repeat this activity, the more you will discover “your” patterns of distraction.
- Later in the day, take a look at your list. Pick a significant incident.
- What was I trying to accomplish (your goal) in this situation?
- What were others (if this applies) trying to accomplish?
- Which of my behaviors worked? Which didn’t? Why?
- What did I need to be more attentive to?
- Did I need more energy to stay focused? Less energy, was I too anxious? Was I irritable? Did I need to sway my emotions in order to maintain focus? Could something or someone have biased me—perhaps under my radar? Did I need a better night’s sleep the night before? Was I unable to shut down other thoughts rivering through my mind uninvited?
So Day One will be spent paying attention to how you pay attention within the various and more significant elements of your own daily routine. Let’s make note of these so you can refer to them later.
Strategize how to ward off your distracters. Find a quiet place during your day or evening during which you can consider a few ways to begin turning off some of your distracters. Think about and identify those you feel you could control and which predictably invade important daily routines.
The following is a list of strategies that can help.
- Empty your mind. Delete negative emotions from your mind and replace them with a clean and open mindset.
- Take a breath. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. What’s important is to put your attention on the sound (both in-breath and out). Make this sound your prompt to pause and evaluate the data you need to make your next move. The more you do this the more you will ingrain the process in your mind, the more automatically you will begin to get your bearings in the future.
- Use color. Visualize the colors of a traffic light: green, yellow, red. Use these colors to help you to consciously slow down and to put more mind into your next move—e.g. green to go ahead; yellow to slow down and think further or to advance with caution (and awareness), red to stop and re-evaluate your next move. This will give you more control over thoughts, emotions, memories, biases, data you see, hear, etc that can influence your attention and ability to gain the perspective you need to see and pursue a successful path to your goal.
- Use power words or phrases. This is a favorite in athletics. You’ve all heard a coach trying to move a player one way or another by shouting, “Go, go, go!” Or “Be strong!” Or “Lighten up, lighten up!” My favorite power phrase comes from the Tao Te Ching, “Be Water,” on which I wrote an entire book, exploring it in terms of athletics, Eastern wisdom, and especially day-by-day living. Lao Tzu makes water (in the TTC) his guiding metaphor for any life situation. Ask: What quality of water would be most appropriate presently? To be: light, quick, still, reflecting, invisible, cold and solid, to go over, under, around or over things and so on. I love this anthem.
- Create an image. Imagine someone who has the qualities you need at this specific moment. Ask: How would he/she respond? Try to “download” the qualities you about this individual’s mindset and move from there.
- Finger-paint your name. This is an activity, with movement that you can try if you are in an appropriate space. Visualize a canvas in front of you. Imagine the palms of your hands coated with finger-paint. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Then, using the palms of both hands simultaneously, paint your name on the canvass you have visualized. Move slowly, stay relaxed and continue breathing slowly and deeply. This can create a nice mindset that is both calm and energized at the same time. You need about 7-12 minutes to energize. Twelve minutes to calm down.
- Use music/natural sounds. Start by identifying songs that move you either up or down or which will launch you into a simultaneously calm and energized mindset. As you select, pay attention to some of the variables when your song works—at the beginning of the day (but not later) or vice versa, when you are already in a good mood, when you are depressed, but not when you are just a little tired, etc. Remember you can combine music w/ scent, movement, and visualization. You need about 7-12 minutes to energize. Twelve minutes to calm down.
Start training your mind to act the way you want it to in specific daily situations. Pick one or two of your day’s goals and try out your strategies.
Of course, this plan only handles a few patterns of distraction. Realistically, it cannot handle all of them. It is, however, a start toward understanding and implementing self-regulation.
To learn more techniques you can use to sharpen your attention, check my book, Can I Have Your Attention? How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Concentration.