The ability to focus is essential for achieving your goals or simply just for getting things done. But many of us find it hard to stay focused especially during highly demanding tasks. It takes a lot of willpower to stay on track and fight the boredom or distractions that can get in the way. It is hard but doesn't mean that it can't be done. Here are some top habits and strategies to help you improve concentration and boost productivity.
1. Schedule Your Days and Weeks
Some people might find it hard to concentrate because they don’t have a clear idea about what exactly they should be doing throughout the day. They might know what they want to accomplish in the long-term, such as learning a new language, finishing a project, or earning more money. The problem usually lies in not having clear and specific daily tasks to help guide them towards those long-term goals. This might make it easier to get distracted and cause procrastination. Some people might end up wondering what they should do rather than actually doing something. Instead, they might wander through the day doing less important tasks that are easier and more rewarding in the short term.
Therefore, it’s important to plan out your days and weeks carefully. Break them down into smaller daily tasks that are measurable and achievable. Make a specific schedule so that you have a clear plan to follow. Scheduling your day would also help to free your brain from remembering all the what and when you need to work on. It could help you stay focused on one thing at a time.
2. Review Your Goals
It is also crucial to review your goals at the end of the day. By reviewing what you have accomplished, you reward yourself with acknowledgment and motivation to keep you going. A weekly plan review could also benefit in spotting what worked for you and what didn’t. Based on that you can adjust your plan and activities to improve focus and productivity.
3. Do Crucial Tasks First in The Morning
After having everything planned out, you should write down your daily goals, ranked based on their priorities. Some people prefer to write them down physically with pen and paper (not with electronic devices) to associate the importance of the tasks to your brain (*). Then cross out the unimportant tasks and narrow them down only to main items that you highly need to concentrate on that day. The trick is to declutter your brain from what is not important and focus on what needs to be done.
Now that you have the list, it is recommended to work on the top prioritized task first in the morning. It is often the most important and challenging task. So it is best to tackle it with your full mental energy. In the morning, your brain might feel more refreshed from sleep which can help your willpower remain strong. This makes it easier to solve difficult problems and keeps you staying focused longer. If you save the hardest task for later in the day, it might linger in your mind and distract you from other tasks you are doing.
4. Meditating May Help to Improve Focus
Mindfulness meditation is the act of focusing your attention on your breathing and your surroundings. When meditating, you practice noticing a distraction while meditating, and calmly tell yourself to return the attention to the breath. Meditation may benefit our general health and wellness in various ways. This practice may help to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, improve focus, attention span, and emotional stability. This is not necessarily just a placebo effect as some research suggests that there may be evidence to support this. According to some studies, meditation may lead to changes in cortical thickness and density of gray matter in the brain, which might result in better brain performance. When your brain can perform well, you are more likely to improve your focus and productivity.
You don’t have to be spiritual to try meditation. Interested in giving it a go? Try to spare a few minutes before you start the day to focus on your breath and on the present moment. Breathe deeply and try to clear your mind. It might be more helpful to practice consistently and increase the length of your meditation practice over time. People who practice consistently may find that this gradually helps to improve focus and sense of mental well-being. Don’t rush yourself. Patience and consistency are also important for improved focus.
5. Practice Mindfulness in Daily Activities
In addition to mindfulness meditation, you can also practice mindfulness throughout the day to help increase focus. This could also be a good alternative for those who just can't get into meditation or find it hard to sit still for a long time.
Mindfulness is focusing completely on whatever it is that you are doing. It promotes the idea of slowing down and deeply experiencing the present with all your senses and emotions. You can practice mindfulness when you eat. Paying attention to the food, chewing it slowly, noticing its texture and flavors. Training your mind to focus on one thing at a time might help with fighting distractions. You can also apply it to your work. Whenever you are distracted and think you should be doing something else, bring back the awareness to your senses and breath. After a while, the distraction might be easier to ignore and you can try to shift your attention back to work.
6. Create A To-Do List of Distractions
When you work on a highly demanding task, your mind tends to get distracted by lower-effort tasks or “escape behaviors”. With the internet and social media at our fingertips, our minds are more tempted than ever. For instance, you’re working on an assignment but suddenly feel the urge to know what the weather's like. You might wonder what your friends are up to on Facebook, or simply think that you need to check your email again. Maybe just for a few minutes! But before you realize it, you've spent half an hour browsing online and reading the news. And it might be hard to get back on track afterward. In fact, it usually takes 25 minutes on average to regain focus after a distraction. Multi-tasking just isn't possible for everyone. It could break your attention span and make it harder to get more crucial tasks done.
One way to refrain from jumping from task to task is writing down on paper anything that pops into your mind while you are working. Stay on the current task, but make a note for yourself. This way you won't forget those other minor tasks or errands that might distract you from more important tasks. Instead, allocate time to do them later, for example during breaks or only after finishing your work. Impose a time limit for those distractions. Choose a specific timeframe during the day for that. Time management is key!
7. Stay Away from Distractions
Another way to avoid those distractions is to steer clear of them entirely. It's hard to stay focused when you are constantly distracted by environmental factors. Here are some tips you might consider to help keep you focused:
- Disconnect yourself from social media, news, and entertainment websites.
- Log out of social apps or switch off notifications.
- Limit your connection to the internet during your task. If your work requires using the internet, there are some apps that help to block distracting websites during your set time.
- Keep your phone out of reach or in another room if the thing you’re working on doesn’t require it. That way you won’t be tempted to reach for it whenever you’re bored or distracted.
- Work in a quiet place with minimal settings. Too much stuff on the table could draw your attention away when you get bored of work.
8. Take Short Breaks
It might be a good idea to take short breaks during your task to help refuel, boost energy, and refresh your mind. The Pomodoro technique suggests taking 5-minute breaks after every 25-minutes of focused work. Alternatively, you could also work for 52 minutes and take a 17-minute break. A study suggested that participants who took brief "mental" breaks after 50-minutes of work performed better than those who didn’t.
But wait… It takes 25 minutes on average to regain focus. So wouldn't taking frequent short breaks decrease your concentration instead? Actually no. Breaks are essential for re-energizing your brain. After focusing for some time, concentration resources are depleted. Rather than forcing yourself to stay on the task while you can no longer fully focus, get up, take a break, drink some water, and stretch a little. Planned breaks could improve your focus and productivity if you stick to them.
9. Take Good Care of Yourself
If you've tried countless tips and tricks but still feel unfocused and distracted, it may be time to look at your physical wellbeing. Physical and mental conditions are closely linked to each other. Ask yourself if you've been taking good care of your health. If your body isn't feeling great, it certainly can make it harder to focus on highly demanding tasks. Here are a few tips that can help support your general health for better cognitive performance:
- Make sure to get enough sleep. The amount of sleep needed varies for each person, but 7-8 hours is generally recommended for most adults. Sufficient quality sleep may help your brain function normally help you feel more alert.
- Exercising regularly is also another way to keep your body healthy. It may have an impact on your ability to focus and on other cognitive functions.
- Stick to a healthy and balanced diet. Nutrition can play a role in supporting brain function. The human brain is made up of around 60% of fat. Including more healthy fats in your diet might help to support brain health. Avocados, nuts, eggs are great sources of healthy fats.
Some people might also use supplements, like CBD, for cognitive support. Some may find that it helps them by supporting the feeling of “wakefulness” during the day. Read on here to learn more about CBD.
Concentration: The Bottom Line
The ability to stay focused and concentrate on the task at hand might be a struggle for many people. But with the right strategies and consistent practices, you can help train your brain to perform better on a daily basis. Just remember not to be so hard on yourself. Forgive yourself for losing focus sometimes. Feeling guilty and blaming yourself for the time wasted only makes things worse. Be patient and try to enjoy the process!
All the best,