Your ability to focus is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it will get.
So, if you lack the ability to concentrate right now, take heart. You’re definitely not alone.
However, if you’ll these simple tips for improving focus you’ll find it a lot easier to work more efficiently, more often.
Here’s my top 10 tips you can use to improve focus:
1. Create a Focus-Friendly Environment
In our frenetic society, it’s so easy to get distracted it’s amazing we get anything done at all. So, before you try to get focused on a task, create a focus-friendly environment. You’ll use more of your brainpower on the task at hand, and less on recovering from a distraction.
Try these steps to make your surroundings less distracting:
- Sign out of your social media accounts
- Silence your phone
- Close your email inbox, even if it’s work related
- Use noise-cancelling headphones, or listen to music if you can
If you are required to be in constant communication, set shorter periods of time where you’ll be focused on work, but out of touch. Even 30 to 60 minute blocks of focus time can help you accomplish much more. You can check your email, voicemail and social media accounts after your bursts of work time.
2. Have a Time-Constrained, Step-By-Step Plan
You can improve concentration by having a step-by-step plan for your work. It’s difficult to focus if you’re constantly trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do next, or if you have “next step” thoughts running through your mind.
Adding a time restriction to a task forces your brain to focus. Few things like a looming deadline bring us to focus on the task at hand!
3. Do Not Multitask
I can’t stress this enough: do not try to multitask!
Multiple studies have shown that multitasking reduces your productivity. In the time it took you to complete three tasks at once, you probably could have done one at a time in much less time.
One recent study even concluded that those who think they’re really good at multitasking are actually the worst at it!
Master the art of “one thing at a time.” Focus on one thing at a time, complete the task quickly, and then move on. You’ll have fewer loose ends, you’ll be less stressed out, and you’ll get more done!
4. Rest Often
Our brains can only focus on one thing for a short amount of time–between 30 and 50 minutes. Rest often. Get up at least once an hour to walk around, drink some water, or stretch. Let your brain come down from the high activity of your task, recharge for a minute, then get geared up to take on the next one.
5. Use “The Timer Trick”
The timer trick works to improve focus by imposing a fake deadline. It’s like taking a time-restricted test… you only have so long to finish.
So, get out a timer–not the one on your cell phone–and set it for 30 minutes. Pick a task on your list that you know you can do in a half-hour if you can concentrate.
6. Make a List
“If it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear,” says legendary productivity coach and author David Allen. “Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind that you know you’ll come back to.”
Improve your concentration by keeping your mind clear. Your brain may only be able to focus on one thing at a time, but it’s also trying to keep track of little things for you, like pick up milk and meeting at 3:00. And if your brain is thinking about little things, you’re not going to have all of your potential focus on the task at hand.
Find a “trusted system”–like a notepad on your desk–to put all those little distracting thoughts so you can stay on task.
7. Reward Yourself
Motivation is literally a “desire to do things,” according to Psychology Today. And if you’re motivated, you’re going to be focused, too.
You can get motivated and stay focused by promising yourself a reward at the end of the task. Make sure the reward fits the task, though. For example, if you finish that boring report on time, you can take a long lunch.
8. Change It Up
Variety is the spice of life–but it’s also the spice of focus. If you find that your breaks between tasks aren’t enough to recharge your batteries, then it’s time to change things up.
There are lots of things you can change to refresh your concentration:
- Change your environment: work outside, in the break room, or at a cafÃ© if you can
- Change your tasks
- Change between hard, intense tasks and easier tasks to give your brain a break
Remember, your focus is a muscle. Keep it guessing!
9. Get Enough Sleep
Studies have shown that if your body is fatigued, your attention span is going to be minimal. You can improve focus greatly by ensuring you get enough sleep–between 7 and 9 hours per night.
It’s also beneficial to note when you are most alert during the day, and schedule your most focus-intense tasks then.
10. Avoid Being Hungry
Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Research has shown that your attention and short-term memory suffer if you skip breakfast. Eat snacks that include protein and healthy fats, like avocado or olives.
It’s important to keep tabs on your metabolism, too, because there’s nothing like a sudden carb-craving to over-power your focus.
Unfortunately, this seems to be an increasing challenge as we get older. That’s because the ‘youth hormones’ our bodies are full of in our childhood and teen years practically disappear by our late 20s.
An easy way to control these carb cravings — and as a happy side effect help you lose weight, improve your energy level and even improve your quality of sleep — is to take a high quality supplement that gives your body the building blocks it needs to start making more of those ‘youth hormones’ again.
We created ThinMistâ„¢ for just that purpose. Three quick sprays under your tongue a half hour before each meal and you’ll suddenly find your sugar cravings under control, energy levels improved, and perhaps best of all, your focus will improve dramatically.
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Allen D. Getting Things Done. 2001. p.13.
Sanbonmatsu DM. Who Multi-Tasks and Why? Multi-Tasking Ability, Perceived Multi-Tasking Ability, Impulsivity, and Sensation Seeking. PLoS ONE. 2013 Jan. 23. 8(1): e54402.
Psych Basics: Motivation. Psychology Today.
Written By: Updated: May 1,2013