Have you been trying to focus for an hour on a job to finish, and you can’t hold on for more than 1 minute? As soon as you hear a noise, your mind wanders? At the slightest opportunity, do you watch cat videos on YouTube? Not surprising.
According to a study conducted in 2015 by Microsoft, our average attention span is eight seconds less than that of a goldfish, a fish! Attaining and retaining optimum focus can be challenging to most people even at the best of times.
Every day we see books, YouTube videos, and blogs trying to cover this topic. But before we share tips on how to improve your focus, we should take a quick look at the most common elements that cause distraction and lack of focus.
So, What Causes Lack Of Focus?
While there are many distractions around the world today that can rob you of your concentration, multitasking seems to be the biggest distraction. When you multitask, your brain requires more fuel as it switches from one task to another.
Every task your brain handles requires a certain combination of cognitive resources. If you read a newspaper, your brain is using a different set of resources, if you answer your phone, again you need a different set of cognitive resources. So the more tasks you handle at the same time, the more energy your brain burns.
Also, as harmless as it may seem, overfocusing can burn you out and actually lead to a lack of focus. “Unfocusing” your mind every so often can unlock your concentration and improve your focus. This is why taking a walk can be a powerful way of unlocking a new perspective when solving a demanding challenge.
Other causes of reduced concentration and focus include:
- Stress: A lack of concentration is often linked to stress. Learning to manage stress has beneficial effects on concentration
- Tiredness: Lack of sleep causes difficulty concentrating. Improve your sleeping environment by getting rid of bad habits
- An unbalanced diet: A nutritional deficiency can also cause a loss of concentration. Eat properly. A healthy and balanced diet is normally enough to avoid deficiencies and improve concentration.
- Sedentary life: To concentrate better, get moving. Get some exercise. A good twenty-minute jog can increase concentration.
- A disruptive environment: A calm and restful environment helps maintain concentration. Tidy up your desk. If you have to, use earplugs to muffle noises. Isolating yourself is a great way to keep your focus on a specific task.
Tips To Improve Your Focus and Productivity
Manage your digital distractions
Too many alarms, notifications, or alerts on your smartphone can break your concentration. If your attention is constantly distracted, you never have quality time in which you can stay focused. If it is impossible to eliminate all phone destructions, you can start by disabling notifications and audible alarms from your smartphone. You can also drop it out of your reach when you know you have to concentrate on a task.
This might sound basic, but when you shut off distractions, your brain has a chance to dive into deep focus and concentration. If your work doesn’t involve screens, it’s advisable to shut off or put away all screen disruptions.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Eating a sandwich while talking to a friend on the phone and answering an email from work at the same is not a good idea if you’re trying to improve your focus.
Biologically, the area of the cerebral cortex that handles this type of activity can be split into two, but no more. It is, therefore, better to limit yourself to two tasks simultaneously, and not three.
Adopt the meditation reflex when you feel that your concentration is weakening. Take a deep breath in through your nose, think of the air entering your lungs, your shoulders rising slightly, the movement of your chest, then exhale through your mouth and feel your body slowly emptying. This technique improves mental performance by connecting us to the present moment instead of letting our minds wander.
In an open-plan office, and at work more generally, stimuli and interruptions make it difficult to maintain optimal concentration. In this context, how can attention be improved? By taking breaks. Taking breaks helps improve focus, and these two techniques can help you boost your productivity:
- 52/17: 52 minutes of work for 17 minutes of break. This technique helps you focus and stay productive throughout the day.
- 25/5: it allows efficient management of one’s working time. It is based on 25-minute work cycles and 5-minute breaks.
Whether or not you adopt these techniques, at least take two 15-minute breaks a day, outside of lunch, no matter what. One in the morning, the other in the afternoon. During these breaks, you can take a walk. Spending time in nature helps you recharge faster. Eat healthy foods like nuts or bananas, meditate, and listen to music or exercise.
Understand Your Chronology
Understanding how your body and brain work is important when trying to unlock focus and productivity. This is essentially about understanding the peak times for your brain’s performance, and then scheduling demanding stuff at these times. So, are you a night owl or a morning kind of person? Don’t schedule the big stuff at periods when your brainpower is at its lowest performance.
Find the Right Environment
Concentration is even more important during times when you have to work alone because it is necessary for understanding and memorization. But it is also the moment when you are the most tempted by the various “distractions” that can arise.
You must therefore work in a framework favorable to this concentration: a calm and comfortable place, well lit, and where you will not be disturbed or tempted by other activities. In short, a place that makes you want to work.
To stay alert, improve attention and prevent distraction, and incorporate several new habits into your work routines. Take regular breaks. Stay focused on one thing at a time. At the same time, be careful not to over-focus, as this tends to be counterproductive.
Mental clarity (as opposed to “brain fog”) can also help you get more done while minimizing stress.
As you increase your concentration, you will feel more relaxed. More efficient. And in the end… more productive and happier.