How To Improve Focus
One of the things that everyone wants is to be able to concentrate better and stay more focused. Whether you are talking about improving focus at work, writing the next great American novel or just being able to indulge in your hobbies better, improving your focus has many benefits. For those still in school, there are a whole host of academic gains, while those who already have a career or are interested in starting their own business will find that they are able to accomplish their goals much more quickly if they are able to concentrate more and narrow their focus to a single task.
Why People Have Trouble Focusing
There are several reasons that people have trouble focusing. One of the pretty common reasons is that we are trained that way. As a society, we are taught that multitasking is the only way to get through life and that daydreaming or being partially engaged in a task is perfectly acceptable. This is merely the way that most people operate. When you drive down the road, you do not fully engage with your environment unless there is a problem, and when you are completing a familiar task at work, you do not usually have to focus on it all the way.
Also, people lose focus because of distractions. Having a television on while you are trying to work can be incredibly distracting even with the sound off. The images catch your eye and take your attention away from what you are concentrating on. If you are listening to music, you can often tune it out enough to focus, but only with certain types of music. People may also have trouble concentrating because of a mental illness such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. These are just a few of the reasons why as a society we have trouble focusing on our tasks and concentrating on projects.
Actionable Plans to Help You Focus
Let’s take a look at some actionable ways that you can improve your focus and concentration. These are methods that are endorsed by experts in the field, and some have even been the subject of research studies on focus and concentration.
Become Passionate About Your Subject
First, consider becoming more passionate about your subject matter. You may have heard the term hyper-focused before now. When someone is hyper-focused, they have no trouble concentrating on what they are working on. In fact, it is often all they think about, and they want to work on it every available hour. Becoming hyper-focused is not necessarily something that you can teach yourself to do, but what you can do is become passionate about whatever it is that you are trying to focus upon.
The primary way that that is done is by examining your reasons for starting the project as well as the end result. For example, if you are trying to focus on starting a business, and all of the various jobs to go with it, imagining yourself actually making money from that business and living a better life with more money and more time to spend with your family. Being able to visualize this clearly can have a significant impact on your emotional state when it comes to working on that business. If you can create some passion for the project you are starting, then you will want to work on it instead of having to force motivation and concentration.
The second thing that you should do is eliminate multitasking altogether. Most people multitask on just about everything they do. At work, it is prevalent to be concentrating on several projects at once, but even the best multitaskers actually lose quite a bit when they do so. This is according to a 2009 study conducted at Stanford University. In this study, researchers examined all kinds of different aspects of concentration including attention span, memory, ability to transition from one task to another and much more. In every instance, the half of the sample that were multitaskers performed poorly next to those who took tasks one at a time.
What this tells us is that even though it can seem like you are getting more done when you multitask, the science says that’s not the case. And if you multitask over a series of projects, you will probably find that you perform more poorly on each individual project than you would if you were to focus on a single one. If you want to improve your concentration and focus, then cut out multitasking whenever possible and just do one thing at a time before you move onto the next one.
Perform Morning Meditations
Morning meditation can help with more than relieving anxiety or reaching your center. In fact, meditation is one of the best ways that you can improve your concentration and focus. You want to do meditation first thing in the morning so that you are prepared for the entire rest of the day. Just 15 or 20 minutes of meditation can give you a huge advantage, and even though it can be challenging to learn how to do meditation, if you continue to practice it every day you will eventually start to see significant results.
However, the evidence for this is not just anecdotal. Although there is plenty of people out there who can attest to the power of meditation, there has also been some research that demonstrates the power of this particular habit. For example, a study at the University of North Carolina showed that students who meditated for 20 minutes a day for a few days before taking a test performed better. Meditation is easy to get into in you can find guided meditation apps, videos on YouTube and lots of other resources to help you.
You should also start your day with exercise whenever possible. Exercise is not just good for your body; it actually helps with brain health too. In particular, exercise can improve memory and concentration throughout the day. Exercising in the morning will release endorphins that will make you feel good all throughout the day and set the tone for your day. Besides, some people find that they are happier after exercising and that contributes to their focus as well.
Scientists think that regular exercise stimulates the release of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. There have been some research studies that show that this particular chemical helps to rewire your memory circuits and make you form memories more easily and recall them.
To start your day with exercise, you do not need to do anything drastic like joining a gym. In fact, if you only take a brisk walk with your morning coffee, you will still feel better and be able to concentrate more throughout the day. Most people do not have enough time to incorporate anything more than 15 or 20 minutes of exercise, but even that is enough to make a difference.
Create a “Checkable” To-Do List
Create a to-do list that you can check off is a wonderful tool to focus your attention and concentration. When you are trying to accomplish tasks like complete your checklist, your brain starts thinking about the next task and makes it sort of a game that your mind will want to play.
According to computer science Professor Cal Newport, having a record of everything you need to do helps you stay focused on the upcoming task. That makes you more focused on the current task because you are trying to complete it so that you can move onto the next one. Besides, having a to-do list allows you to prioritize your tasks so that the most important things get done first. This makes it easier to focus when you first begin your to-do list because you know those items have to be done, and by the time you complete the critical stuff you will be in the habit of concentrating already.
Take Regular Breaks
Don’t forget to take regular breaks as you are working. People are able to concentrate for long periods of time, but the rejuvenation that comes from taking a break can make concentration even easier. There have also been some articles written about how watching YouTube videos can make people more productive at work and how some offices are now allowing people to check out YouTube videos or do other enjoyable tasks for a few minutes every couple of hours. This is basically recess for office workers.
Whatever you happen to do for your break, it is a great idea to take one, and it has even been demonstrated by science. In a recent study, subjects were tested on performing a computer task for an hour. During that hour, part of the sample was allowed to separate breaks. They were able to remain consistent during the entire hour while the test subjects that were not given breaks actually performed more poorly over time.
That seems to suggest that even taking a short five minute break can rejuvenate you and make you actually perform better throughout the rest of your workday. Whatever you are trying to concentrate on or focus upon, consider taking a break once in a while just to watch a video, rest your eyes or have a conversation.
Supplement with Caffeine
You might also want to supplement with caffeine. Many people avoid caffeine for various reasons, but there has been a great deal of research done on caffeine, and the results are in: caffeine actually does give you a boost to your concentration and cognitive ability. There have been numerous studies showing that caffeine has beneficial effects in small amounts.
The problem comes when people try to use caffeine in more substantial amounts. For example, if you have an extremely high-caffeinated Starbucks coffee at the beginning of the day, then by the middle or end of the day you are going to be so tired that you can barely keep your eyes open. When you get your body used to running at that high-octane level due to the caffeine content, then your only choice is to feel tired or consume even more caffeine to get back to that state.
But in small amounts, caffeine can actually be beneficial to concentration and focus, and you are not going to experience a crash or tiredness during the rest the day with those small amounts. Try tea instead of coffee for a healthier caffeine boost. Although the caffeine content will be less, teas like green tea and black tea are the perfect alternative to coffee without the damaging parts. With between 20-100mg of caffeine per glass, it is sure to give you the focus you need.
Leave Your Job at The Office
Also, make sure that you leave your job at work instead of taking it home with you. If you work a full eight hours, and then you go back, and you have to deal with phone calls or emails or do any other work at home, then you are going to have an endless cycle of work that makes it very difficult to concentrate. Instead of bringing your work home, finish everything before you go home every single time, and you will find that the next day when you come in you will be more productive and you will start a cycle of being able to complete everything before you go home every workday.
Researchers agree that completely separating yourself from work after you leave the office is the best way to be more productive the next day. You are able to give your brain a break, and further research suggests that when you have a problem you’re trying to solve, not thinking about it may be the best approach to solving it. You can get caught up in your own head when you are trying to solve a problem and stepping away can be beneficial.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that there are lots of different ways that you can help yourself concentrate better and focus more on whatever task you’re trying to accomplish. Some of the things that were not included here because they are common knowledge at this point involve making sure that you get enough sleep, having a good breakfast before you go to work and avoiding distractions whenever possible.