Focus. Staying focused on work all the time is not possible. It is very challenging to stay focused when you are surrounded by distractions. In today’s, always-connected world, distractions are just a click away.
Even during quiet moments, you have distractions at your fingertips, as you would be checking your social media notifications or emails or messages from friends.
The ability to concentrate on something in your environment and direct mental effort toward it is critical for learning new things, achieving goals, and performing well across a wide variety of situations.
Whether you are trying to finish a report at work or competing in a marathon, your ability to focus can mean the difference between success and failure.
Improving your mental focus is achievable, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always quick and easy. If it was simple, then we would all have the razor-sharp concentration of an elite athlete.
It will take some real effort, and you may have to make some changes to some of your daily habits.
“Always remember your focus determines your reality”.
— George Lucas
Here are some tips and tricks that can help you develop laser-like mental focus and concentration.
1. Get rid of distractions
First things first: eliminate distractions. While you cannot do away with everything, you can make an effort to reduce or get rid of as many distractions as possible.
Start with the simple things like:
- moving to a quiet area
- turning off notifications on your phone or turning your phone off altogether
- closing the door to your office
- telling those around you not to distract you for a period of time
- closing out of programs or apps that aren’t essential on your computer
2. Coffee in small doses
Drinking coffee, or other caffeinated beverages, in small doses may positively impact your ability to focus.
The key to taking advantage of caffeine’s cognitive-enhancing properties is to consume it in moderation. If you drink too much of it, you may end up feeling anxious or nervous, which generally reduces your ability to stay focused.
3. Practice the Pomodoro technique
Staying focused helps you get more done in less time. While that sounds simple enough, it’s not always easy to put into practice. So, the next time you’re wrestling with your attention span, try the Pomodoro technique.
This timing method helps you train your brain to stay on task for short periods. Here’s how it works:
- Set your timer for 25 minutes and get to work.
- When the buzzer sounds, take a 5-minute break.
- Then, set the timer again and get back to work.
- Once you have done four rounds of this, you can take a longer break, approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Put a lock on social media
If your idea of a break from work is checking Facebook or Instagram every 5 minutes, you may want to consider an app that blocks social media.
Several apps work for your phone, tablet, or computer. In addition to social media, some of these distraction-busting programs also allow you to block online games, as well as apps and sites like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Twitter, text messages, and even emails.
Some of the most popular social media blockers include Freedom, AppBlock, FocusMe, and Focus.
5. Fuel your body
We all know what happens when a “hanger” strikes. This dreaded combination of hunger and anger is a major focus fail.
So, to keep your brain focused, your energy levels up, and your emotions on an even keel, make sure you don’t delay or skip meals.
Snack on fresh fruit, veggies, nuts, or seeds if you get hungry between meals, and be sure to keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water.
And, for an extra boost, include a few of these “best brain foods” in your day:
- green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli
- fatty fish such as salmon
- berries, like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries
- tea and coffee for the caffeine, in moderation
6. Get enough sleep
It is no secret that the majority of people are lacking in the sleep department. While a few nights of minimal sleep is okay, not getting enough sleep most nights of the week can negatively impact both your short and long-term memory, as well as your ability to concentrate.
The recommended amount of sleep for adults aged 18 to 60 years old is 7 or more hours a night. Older adults may need up to 9 hours per night.
To boost your sleep health, try to:
- Avoid caffeinated beverages after lunchtime.
- Switch off all electronic devices an hour before bedtime. The light from these devices can stimulate your brain and prevent you from feeling sleepy.
- Take time to wind down. Read a book, take a warm bath, listen to soothing music.
- Keep your bedroom cool and quiet.
7. Set a SMART goal
If your lack of focus is a result of feeling overwhelmed by a complex project, try breaking it down into smaller parts and plugging the smaller steps into the SMART formula.
SMART stands for:
- Specific. What exactly needs to be done?
- Measurable. How will you track your progress?
- Achievable. Is it realistic? Can it be done by the deadline?
- Relevant. How does it fit with the overall plan or bigger goal?
- Timely. When does it need to be done?
When you take a large, complex project and break it down into smaller, bite-sized tasks, you can boost your ability to concentrate and focus on specific tasks. That is because you end up with goals that you actually feel like you can accomplish.
8. Be more mindful
Does your mind tend to wander away from where it is supposed to be? Don’t worry, you are definitely not alone. Distracted thinking is common, and something we all experience.
However, these short mental vacations often make it harder to focus on the task in front of you. That is where mindfulness comes in.
By being mindful and recognizing when your attention starts to drift, you can quickly bring your focus back to where it needs to be. Plus, you can actually train your brain to be more mindful by practicing breathing techniques, meditation, and mindful movement, such as yoga.
9. Make a to-do list
Let’s face it. The items on a to-do list can add up quickly. And, it can be challenging to find the motivation to accomplish everything you set out to do.
Having a written plan of action can increase productivity.
After you make your list, choose two or three key tasks and put them at the top. Then rank the rest of the items in order of priorities. This allows you to tackle urgent tasks when your brain is fresh and your energy levels are high.
10. Focus on similar tasks
Tired of jumping from one task to another (aka “multitasking”)? Then pick similar tasks, group them, and do one at a time. This makes transitions smoother, and you may find that you get a lot more done by not jumping from one type of task to another.
Despite what you may think, multitasking is not more effective or efficient, especially when you are struggling with staying focused. In fact, multitasking may reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent.