How to Improve Your Focus and Concentration
There are so many ways that a lack of concentration and general distractibility affects our lives on a daily basis. We're more distracted than ever, which can lead to serious car accidents, a lack of productivity, and broken relationships.
It's hard not to be distracted when we're connected to devices constantly pulling our attention in different directions.
So what can you do?
First, it's important to get to the root causes of your distraction.
According to research from two Harvard psychologists, it's not necessarily our chaotic environment that increases our divided attention and the subsequent effects. Instead, it's our minds.
The Inevitable Wandering Mind
The psychologists found the human brain is wired for constant distraction. They conducted a study with 2,250 adults and found we spend 47% of our waking hours with our minds wandering. This is also called stimulus-independent thought. We don't even notice it because it's so inherent to who we are.
There are two key implications of this research. First, distraction is an element of our mind; therefore, if we want to be more focused, we have to train our brains. You should view your attention as a resource.
Also, we should think less about what we're doing and more about how we're being.
There are a lot of instances where a wandering mind relates more to unhappiness than the activities we're engaging in.
We typically think that doing pleasant activities makes us feel happier, but research finds these activities account for less than 5% of our happiness. Being fully present accounts for around 10.8%.
If your mind is wandering about a big presentation you have coming up, for example, you're missing the moment you're in. You can quickly slip into a state where you're oblivious to everything happening around you.
One way to deal with this is to create cues that remind you in your daily life to stop and take notice of what's happening at the moment. Once you notice and become more mindful of your thoughts wandering, you can start working to shift your attention.
If you're talking to someone, when you notice your attention being pulled away, bring yourself back to what they're saying. If you're in an idle moment, think about what you're experiencing on a sensory level.
Along with these tips, what else can you do?
Assess Your Focus
On a regular basis, you should take an inventory of how focused you are and where you can make improvements.
For example, you might be on the right track if you can set goals and break them up into smaller parts, and you take brief breaks throughout your day and get back to work.
On the other hand, if you struggle to tune out distractions or you lose track of what you're doing or your progress, your focus might need some work.
Understand and Eliminate Distractions
Of course, eliminating distractions is part of cultivating more focus, but there's more to it than that. Just cutting out distractions is too simplistic.
Instead, recognize what your distractions are because they might not always be what you think.
If there are distractions that you can't eliminate, such as co-workers who are chatting with one another, then you need to proactively figure out how you can leave the situation for a period of time.
There are also distractions that are inherent to you, like anxiety, fatigue, or a lack of motivation.
When you're up against internal distractions, try to consciously bring positive thoughts into your mind and bring it back to the point of focus.
For years, we thought multitasking and the ability to manage multiple things at once was the ultimate sign of a productive person. This isn't the reality. Multitasking might, on its face, seem like a great way to get things done, but most people aren't good at it, and they end up getting less done.
For the vast majority of people, trying to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously can reduce productivity and make it tougher to zero in on the details that matter.
Stop multitasking and readjust your strategy so that you're focusing on one task at a time until you complete it and can move on to the next.
Practicing mindfulness might sound way too New Age for your liking, but in reality, it's one of the best ways to train your brain. As you are practicing mindfulness, you're probably going to see improvements in every area of your life, from work to your relationships.
Mindfulness meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, but it's just starting to get attention in the science community.
Brain scans and research show real changes in the activity and wiring of your brain when you practice mindfulness.
Use a Timer
A good way to stay on track in your workday is to use a timer. Outline chunks of time that you'll dedicate to the individual tasks you need to get done. Set a timer so that you know what window of time to work within. You can take breaks throughout the day based on your timer as well.
Along with helping you stay on track, if you do end up wasting time because you're distracted or lose focus, a timer can show you just how much time you spent doing other things that you didn't need to.
Many people also work better and are more productive when they're on a time limit, even if it's self-imposed.
Finally, exercise can have benefits for your mental health, your emotional well-being, and your sense of concentration and focus. When you get enough exercise, it can keep your brain alert.
When you exercise, it can boost your dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine levels. These are all brain neurotransmitters that affect your attention and focus. Doctors often find that exercise works the same way on the brain as certain ADHD medicines.
It takes time and strategy to improve your focus, and it's something you'll continue building on throughout your life.