If you’ve ever found it difficult to get through a challenging task at work, studied for an important exam, or spent time on a finicky project, you might have wished you could increase your ability to concentrate.
Concentration refers to the mental effort you direct toward whatever you’re working on or learning at the moment. It’s sometimes confused with attention span, but attention span refers to the length of time you can concentrate on something.
Factors that affect concentration
Both attention span and concentration can vary for a number of reasons. Some people just have a harder time tuning out distractions. Age and lack of sleep can affect concentration.
Most people forget things more readily as they age, and decreased concentration can accompany memory loss. Head or brain injuries, such as concussion, as well as certain mental health conditions can also affect concentration.
It’s easy to become frustrated when you’re trying to concentrate but just can’t. This can lead to stress and irritation, which tends to make focusing on what you need to do even more of a distant dream.
If that sounds familiar, keep reading to learn more about research-backed methods to help improve your concentration. We’ll also go over some conditions that can affect concentration and steps to take if trying to increase concentration on your own just doesn’t seem to help.
Playing certain types of games can help you get better at concentrating. Try:
- crossword puzzles
- jigsaw puzzles
- word searches or scrambles
- memory games
Brain training games can also help develop your working and short-term memory, as well as your processing and problem-solving skills.
Brain training can work for kids, too. Invest in a book of word puzzles, complete a jigsaw puzzle together, or play a game of memory.
Even coloring can help improve concentration in children or adults. Older children may enjoy more detailed coloring pages, like those found in adult coloring books.
The effects of brain training games may be particularly important for older adults, since memory and concentration often tend to decline with age.
After 10 years, most study participants reported they could complete daily activities at least as well as they could at the beginning of the trial, if not better.
Brain games may not be the only type of game that can help improve concentration. Newer research also suggests playing video games could help boost concentration.
A 2018 study looking at 29 people found evidence to suggest an hour of gaming could help improve visual selective attention (VSA). VSA refers to your ability to concentrate on a specific task while ignoring distractions.
This study was limited by its small size, so these findings aren’t conclusive. The study also didn’t determine how long this increase in VSA lasted.
Study authors recommend future research to continue exploring how video games can help increase brain activity and boost concentration.
This review had several limitations, including the fact that the studies focused on widely varying topics, including video game addiction and possible effects of violent video games. Studies specifically designed to explore benefits of video games could help support these findings.
Sleep deprivation can easily disrupt concentration, not to mention other cognitive functions, such as memory and attention.
Occasional sleep deprivation may not cause too many problems for you. But regularly failing to get a good night’s sleep can affect your mood and performance at work.
Being too tired can even slow down your reflexes and affect your ability to drive or do other daily tasks.
A demanding schedule, health issues, and other factors sometimes make it difficult to get enough sleep. But it’s important to try and get as close to the recommended amount as possible on most nights.
Many experts recommend adults aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
Here are some tips for improving your quality of sleep:
- Turn off the TV and put away screens an hour before bed.
- Keep your room at a comfortable but cool temperature.
- Wind down before bed with soft music, a warm bath, or a book.
- Go to bed and get up around the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Exercise regularly, but try to avoid a heavy workout just before bed.
Increased concentration is among the many benefits of regular exercise. Exercise benefits everyone. A 2018 study looking at 116 fifth-graders found evidence to suggest daily physical activity could help improve both concentration and attention after just 4 weeks.
Do what you can
Experts recommend aerobic exercise, but doing what you can is better than doing nothing at all. Depending on your personal fitness and weight goals, you may want to exercise more or less.
Sometimes, it isn’t possible to get the recommended amount of exercise, especially if you live with physical or mental health challenges.
If it’s hard to find time to exercise or you don’t want to join a gym, try to think of fun ways to work it in throughout the day. If you get your heart rate up, you’re exercising. Ask yourself:
- Can you walk your kids to school?
- Can you get up 20 minutes earlier every morning to fit in a quick jog around your neighborhood?
- Can you split up your weekly grocery trip into two or three trips by foot or bike?
- Can you walk to the coffee shop instead of drive?
If you can, try getting exercise right before you really need to focus or when taking a mental break.
If you want to boost your concentration naturally, try to get outside every day, even for a short while. You might take a short walk through a park. Sitting in your garden or backyard can also help. Any natural environment has benefits.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), spending time in nature can have a positive impact on both physical and mental health.
Try adding a plant or two to your workspace or home for a range of positive benefits. Succulents make great choices for low-maintenance plants if you don’t have a green thumb.
Children benefit from natural environments, too. Research published in
The study suggests that natural environments could benefit brain development and may improve attention in children.
For children with ADHD, research suggests spending time in nature can:
- boost their mood
- help them think more clearly
- increase their social interactions
- reduce symptoms of ADHD
Meditation and mindfulness practices can offer multiple benefits. Improved concentration is only one of these.
Meditation doesn’t just mean sitting silently with your eyes closed. Yoga, deep breathing, and many other activities can help you meditate.
If you’ve tried meditation and it hasn’t worked for you, or if you’ve never meditated before, this list can give you some ideas for getting started.
How can taking a break from work or homework increase your concentration? This idea might seem counterintuitive, but experts say it really works.
Consider this scenario: You’ve spent a few hours on the same project, and suddenly your attention starts to wander. Even though it’s hard to keep your mind on the task, you stay at your desk, forcing yourself to keep going. But your struggle to focus just makes you feel stressed and anxious about not completing your work in time.
You’ve probably been there before. Next time this happens, when you first feel your concentration drop, take a short mental break. Refresh yourself with a cool drink or nutritious snack, take a quick walk, or go outside and get some sun.
When you return to work, don’t be surprised if you feel more focused, motivated, or even creative. Breaks can help boost these functions and more.
Turning on music while working or studying may help increase concentration, but this will depend on the individual.
Even if you don’t enjoy listening to music while you work, using nature sounds or white noise to mask background sounds could also help improve concentration and other brain functions, according to research.
Not everyone agrees that music is helpful, especially when studying a challenging topic.
If you do choose to listen to music, here are some tips:
- choose instrumental music rather than songs with lyrics
- keep the music at background noise level
- choose neutral music and avoid music you love or hate
Otherwise, playing music may be more distracting than not.
The foods you eat can affect cognitive functions like concentration and memory. To boost concentration, avoid processed foods, too much sugar, and very greasy or fatty foods.
Instead try eating more of the following:
- fatty fish (think salmon and trout)
- eggs (white and yolk both)
You can find more brain foods on this list.
Staying hydrated can also have a positive impact on concentration. Even mild dehydration can make it harder to focus or remember information.
Eating breakfast can help by boosting your focus first thing in the morning. Aim for a meal that’s low in added sugars and high in protein and fiber. Oatmeal, plain yogurt with fruit, or whole-grain toast with eggs are all good breakfast choices.
There’s no need to include caffeine in your diet if you prefer to avoid it, but
If you feel your concentration starting to drop, consider a cup of coffee or green tea. A serving of dark chocolate — 70 percent cacao or higher — can have similar benefits if you don’t enjoy caffeinated beverages.
Some supplements may
Supplements that people use include:
- Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi)
- omega-3 fatty acids
- Gingko biloba
- Rhodiola rosea
- valerian root
However, there is not enough research to confirm that these supplements are effective or safe for everyone.
Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements. This means you cannot be sure of the precise ingredients or how supplements will interact with other drugs.
Always check with a doctor before trying any supplements, especially if you have any health conditions or allergies. A doctor can go over the possible benefits and risks of supplements with you and may recommend one that’s best for your needs.
Useful supplement shopping guides
Check out these two articles to help make supplement shopping a breeze:
Concentration workouts often help children who have trouble focusing. This mental workout involves fully devoting attention to an activity for a set period of time.
Try these activities:
- Draw or doodle for 15 minutes.
- Spend a few minutes tossing a balloon or small ball with another person.
- Set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes. Try to blink as little as possible.
- Suck on a lollipop or hard candy until it’s gone — resist the urge to bite into it. Pay attention to the flavor, the sensation of the candy on your tongue, and how long it takes to eat it completely.
After completing one of the activities, ask your child to write a short summary or sketch how they felt during the experience. Young children can simply use words to describe their feelings.
Talking about where they lost concentration and how they managed to refocus can help them develop these skills for use in daily tasks.
A concentration workout can benefit adults, too, so feel free to give it a try yourself.
Multitasking has become part of daily life. You may not even realize you are doing it, but if you’re picking up children from school while talking on the phone and trying to work out when to schedule an appointment, that is multitasking.
It seems a good way to get a lot done, but some scientists have questioned this.
If you have the chance to tackle one thing at a time, you might find you can concentrate better on each of them.
Blocking off time for specific tasks can help you focus on one thing at a time and lower the risk of environmental distractions. Setting time limits can also help you channel your energy toward the task in hand because you know the time you can or need to spend on it is limited.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, many people shifted to work from home.
For some, this led to:
- additional stress
- lower productivity
Researchers looking for ways to help people overcome these challenges have suggested the following
When you make your to-do list, book a slot on your calendar in which to do it, and stick to it.
Ways in which timeboxing can help you:
- make sure you complete tasks
- signal to others when a meeting time is convenient for you
- separate work from home life, if that is an issue
Using a timer
The Marinara Timer, for example, encourages a person to work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. After four blocks of 25 minutes, the person will take a 15-minute break. This way, you can focus fully on a task for the allotted time and do something else in the breaks.
These allow you to set a goal to not use your phone. “Forest,” for example, grows a virtual tree in your set time, encouraging you not to use the device until the tree has grown. If you use the phone too soon, the tree will die. Other apps allow you to set goals for specific sites each day, such as the news or social media.
Trouble concentrating can relate to things going on around you. Common causes include interruptions from co-workers, distractions from your roommates or family members, or social media notifications.
But it’s also possible for concentration difficulties to relate to underlying mental or physical health conditions. Some common ones include:
- ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) can create learning and memory challenges for both children and adults. It’s usually characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Treatment can help improve ADHD symptoms.
- Cognitive dysfunction or impairment can affect concentration, memory, and learning. These issues can include developmental delays or disabilities, brain injuries, or neurological conditions that cause problems with brain function.
- Untreated mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety primarily involve changes in mood and other emotional symptoms. But, they can also make it hard to focus, concentrate, or learn and remember new information. You might also find it harder to concentrate on work or school when under a lot of stress.
- Concussions and other head injuries can affect concentration and memory. This is usually temporary, but difficulties with concentration can linger while a concussion heals.
- Farsightedness and other vision problems can cause problems with attention and concentration. If you (or your child) find it harder than usual to concentrate and also have headaches or find yourself squinting, you may want to get your eyes checked.
- Distractions such as social media, phone calls, and a busy environment can affect your focus. If you want to concentrate, try switching off electronic devices and find a tidy space with minimal noise and crowding.
- Insufficient sleep can make it hard to concentrate. Practice good sleep hygiene, such as going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, when possible, and leaving electronic devices outside the room.
- Alcohol consumption can affect your ability to think. When you drink alcohol, the first place it travels to is the brain, where it can affect your ability to think, focus, make decisions, and manage your speech and behavior.
- Medications and other drugs can sometimes lead to brain fog, including
some drugsfor treating high blood pressure. Check the information that comes with any drugs to see if they may cause drowsiness or affect your brain in other ways.
If these tips don’t help, consider getting a professional opinion. Something more significant than ordinary distractions could be affecting your ability to concentrate, even if you aren’t aware of it.
It can help to start by talking to a therapist, especially if you’re feeling stressed or have noticed changes in your mood. Sometimes it takes a trained professional to notice these symptoms.
Many adults living with untreated ADHD have trouble concentrating or focusing their attention for long periods of time. A mental health professional can help diagnose this or any other condition and help you get started on treatment.
Therapy, medication, and other treatment approaches can help improve your symptoms once you have a diagnosis.
Some people use prescription or recreational drugs, such as nootropics, to improve their focus, but some of these can have severe adverse effects. Never use a drug unless a doctor prescribes it for you, and always follow the doctor’s instructions.
Some ways to improve concentration may work well, while others may not seem to do much for you. Consider giving a range of approaches a try to see what helps.
Experts still debate the benefits of certain methods, such as brain training. But existing evidence suggests most of these tips can promote at least modest improvements in concentration for many people.
What’s more, these tips are unlikely to decrease concentration or cause other harm, so giving them a try shouldn’t have any negative effects.
Just make sure to talk to your doctor if focusing is very hard. There may be an underlying reason, and it’s important to rule out brain injuries or other serious issues.