Staying focused on your work is crucial for completing it efficiently and effectively. While certain factors, such as your age or mental health, can make it more difficult to concentrate, almost everyone struggles with staying focused at some time or another.
Ultimately, your ability to concentrate might just be the difference between success and failure. Luckily, there are many ways you can overcome your troubles focusing and even strengthen and develop your ability to focus. Whether you’re dealing with a lengthy project at work or studying for a challenging exam, here are 10 things you can do to improve your focus and concentration:
First and foremost, always try to eliminate anything that might distract you from your task. It’s all but impossible to really hone in on something you have to get done if your attention is being pulled away from it. Jumping between tasks may sound like a natural solution, but research suggests that multitasking can greatly reduce overall efficiency. In other words, it’s best to focus on one task at a time and set yourself up for success when doing so.
Of course, this is often easier said than done. It could be as simple as turning off your phone or moving to another room, but overcoming other distractions can pose a much bigger challenge. If you’re dealing with chatty coworkers or noisy family members, try to communicate your needs and set healthy boundaries with them. More than likely, they’ll be understanding and willing to help you out. Additionally, you could try working in another place, like a coffee shop or the library, or working at home when you know you’ll have more privacy. Don’t be afraid to try different ways to eliminate distractions until you find what works best for your situation and workflow.
Take Short Breaks
That being said, researchers have discovered that it can be helpful to take short breaks throughout the day, especially when working on something for an extended period of time. It can be difficult to stay engaged with a single task for several hours or the full day, and after a while, you may find your attention slipping and your performance suffering. In addition to giving your mind a moment to relax, it’s thought that taking short breaks allows your brain to get re-interested and re-invested in your task, which can ultimately make you more productive.
However, taking small breaks doesn’t mean you should attempt to multitask, give in to distractions, or otherwise procrastinate on your work. To reduce this risk, make an effort to focus your attention on your work while you’re working and to avoid thinking about work while you’re taking a break. This will help you make the most of your break and ensure your mind has the time away it needs. Doing this for even a few moments can help you feel refreshed, although you could go for a walk or make a snack if you want to enjoy a longer break.
Spend Time in Nature
Whether or not you’re taking a break, spending time outdoors is another simple way to support concentration. Researchers have documented the myriad health benefits of being in nature, including boosted creativity, improved memory, and increased focus. Additionally, being outdoors is thought to enhance all-around cognitive function, which makes time in nature incredibly well-spent for your physical and mental health.
You don’t have to head deep into the wilderness to take advantage of these effects; a short walk in the park or sitting in your own backyard can still be highly beneficial. Some research suggests that putting plants in your workspace or looking at pictures of natural environments can be just as valuable as actually going outdoors, which can be helpful on busy or dreary days when you can’t get outside.
Train Your Brain
Just like your muscles, your brain needs exercise in order to perform to its fullest extent. Instead of lifting weights or getting on a treadmill, brain training involves playing games that engage and challenge your mind. This includes activities like sudoku, chess, crossword puzzles, word searches and jumbles, memory games, and jigsaw puzzles. There are even mobile apps and online games that are designed specifically to train your brain and keep your mind sharp. Playing video games in general can help you learn how to ignore distractions around you!
On top of improving focus, these brain games are also thought to bolster your short-term memory and problem-solving skills. Best of all, you don’t need to worry about doing these activities for hours a day. Even 15 minutes of brain training per day, five days per week can help your mind and ability to concentrate. To make the most of it, try playing a game or spending a few minutes on an activity while taking a break from your work to refresh your mind.
Get Adequate Sleep
Working your mind and body is important, but so is letting them rest and recuperate. Getting an adequate amount of high-quality rest each night is crucial for maintaining your physical and mental health. Sleep deprivation has a host of negative effects on your health — and it also reduces your cognitive functioning, including your memory development and ability to pay attention. Further, many people do not get enough sleep, making it even more important to assess your current sleep habits. Improving your sleep health can be tricky, as it may take some trial and error to figure out what works well for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different sleep strategies on an as-needed basis.
Though it can hinder your sleep, consuming caffeine can also be an effective way to enhance your focus and concentration. Several studies have found that drinking caffeinated beverages — most notably, green tea and coffee — can make people more alert and attentive in the short-term. Green tea, in particular, is thought to help improve attentiveness while also suppressing susceptibility to distractions. You certainly don’t need to drink caffeinated beverages, especially if you don’t like them or are unable to for health reasons, but doing so can be a helpful addition to some of these other strategies.
Similarly, you can try also taking mind boosting supplements to improve your cognitive functioning and brain health, including your ability to focus. Some of the most common natural brain boosters include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fatty fish and nuts;
- The compound cannabidiol or CBD, including oils, drinks, and concentrates;
- B vitamins, including B6, B9, and B12;
- The compound choline, commonly found in fatty fish and eggs;
- Vitamin E, commonly found in vegetable oils and leafy greens.
While these supplements may not magically give you a boost of energy at the end of a long day, they can help support and promote your brain health. Further, it’s important to select your supplements carefully, as not all are created equal. Always do your research and purchase high-quality supplements from a trusted source. You should also be sure to talk to your doctor before you start taking any kind of supplement, especially if you’re taking any medications, just to be safe. Your doctor may also be able to help you decide which supplements are best for your needs and your overall health.
Researchers have even discovered that meditation can enhance “sustained attention abilities” in the short-term, particularly for people who are new to mindfulness practices. Further research suggests that continued meditation efforts can even improve focus and attentiveness in the long-term, and possibly over the course of your entire life.
Meditation is a particularly useful concentration tool because you can do it in any place, at any time, for any length of time. It’s a practice that you can easily customize to suit your current needs and situation. If you only have a few minutes at your work desk, you can take that time to center yourself and get refocused. However, you can also make meditating a regular part of your daily routine, perhaps doing so for 20 minutes in the morning or before bed. Take some time to experiment with meditation or other forms of mindfulness so you know exactly how to use it for improving focus when needed.
Listen to Music
If you want to get more focused while working or studying, try listening to music. Not only can this be a more enjoyable way to get through lengthy or tricky assignments, but research indicates that listening to certain types of music can enhance concentration, improve memory, and boost creativity. Much like meditation, listening to music is a particularly handy solution for days when you’re having trouble focusing or really need to buckle down, since you can do it virtually anywhere.
You do have to be careful about what type of music you put on, though. Generally, it’s best to put on classical music, nature sounds, white noise, ambient or electronic music, video game music, or songs that don’t have lyrics. Additionally, avoid songs that you have strong feelings about (either positive or negative), as your emotions could end up distracting you from your work. You should also keep the music at a soft level — almost so it’s more like background noise — to avoid further distractions.
Finally, make physical activity a regular part of your daily routine. Of course, exercise offers many physical and mental health benefits, but it’s also good for your brain. Physical activity is thought to increase your attention span, as well as foster creative thinking and help with learning and memory.
Find a way to make exercise work for you, your health, and your life. You don’t have to be in perfect shape to move your body in a way that benefits your brain. Try going for a walk before starting your day, doing a few exercises during your break at work, or doing some yoga before going to bed each night. Even doing an at-home workout gives you the opportunity to be active without having to make time to go to the gym. Always honor your own physical capabilities and prioritize your health needs when exercising, both to avoid injury and ensure you reap all possible benefits.
As with all good habits, strengthening your mental focus takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself while you work to improve and try out a variety of different concentration strategies to find the ones that work best for you. In time, you may just have trouble pulling yourself away from your work.