If there’s one thing we could all probably use a lot more of, it’s the ability to focus. But telling yourself to stay focused on a task, especially a mundane one, is often a lot easier said than done.
The good news? There are several techniques that can help you zone in on the task in front of you. If you need help staying focused, try one — or all 10 — of these tips.
First things first: You need to eliminate distractions. While you can’t do away with everything, you can make an effort to reduce or get rid of as many distractions as possible.
Start with the simple things like:
- moving to a quiet area
- turning off notifications on your phone or turning your phone off altogether
- closing the door to your office
- telling those around you not to distract you for a period of time
- closing out of programs or apps that aren’t essential on your computer
Drinking coffee, or other caffeinated beverages, in small doses may have a positive impact on your ability to focus, according to a 2010
The key to taking advantage of caffeine’s cognitive-enhancing properties is to consume it in moderation. If you drink too much of it, you may end up feeling anxious or nervous, which generally reduces your ability to stay focused.
Staying focused helps you get more done in less time. While that sounds simple enough, it’s not always easy to put into practice. So, the next time you’re wrestling with your attention span, try the Pomodoro technique.
This timing method helps you train your brain to stay on task for short periods of time. Here’s how it works:
- Set your timer for 25 minutes and get to work.
- When you the buzzer sounds, take a 5-minute break.
- Then, set the timer again and get back to work.
- Once you’ve done four rounds of this, you can take a longer break, approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
If your idea of a break from work is checking Facebook or Instagram every 5 minutes, you may want to consider an app that blocks social media.
There are several apps that work for your phone, tablet, or computer. In addition to social media, some of these distraction-busting programs also allow you to block online games, as well as apps and sites like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Twitter, text messages, and even emails.
Some of the most popular social media blockers include Freedom, AppBlock, FocusMe, and Focus.
We all know what happens when “hanger” strikes. This dreaded combination of hunger and anger is a major focus fail.
So, to keep your brain focused, your energy levels up, and your emotions on an even keel, make sure you don’t delay or skip meals.
Try to balance lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats to stay fueled. Snack on fresh fruit, veggies, nuts, or seeds if you get hungry between meals, and be sure to keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water.
And, for an extra boost, Harvard Medical School says to include a few of these “best brain foods” in your day:
- green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli
- fatty fish such as salmon
- berries, like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries
- tea and coffee for the caffeine, in moderation
It’s no secret that the majority of Americans are lacking in the sleep department. While a few nights of minimal sleep is okay, not getting enough sleep most nights of the week can negatively impact both your short and long-term memory, as well as your ability to concentrate.
To boost your sleep health, try to:
- Avoid caffeinated beverages after lunchtime.
- Switch off all electronic devices an hour before bedtime. The light from these devices can stimulate your brain and prevent you from feeling sleepy.
- Take time to wind down. Read a book, take a warm bath, listen to soothing music.
- Keep your bedroom cool and quiet. According to the Cleveland Clinic, an ideal temperature is between 60 and 67°F (15.6 and 19.4°C).
If your lack of focus is a result of feeling overwhelmed by a complex project, try breaking it down into smaller parts and plugging the smaller steps into the SMART formula.
SMART stands for:
- Specific. What exactly needs to be done?
- Measurable. How will you track your progress?
- Achievable. Is it realistic? Can it be done by the deadline?
- Relevant. How does it fit with the overall plan or bigger goal?
- Timely. When does it need to be done?
When you take a large, complex project and break it down into smaller, bite-size tasks, you can boost your ability to concentrate and focus on specific tasks. That’s because you end up with goals that you actually feel like you can accomplish.
Does your mind tend to wander away from where it’s supposed to be? Don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. Distracted thinking is common, and something we all experience.
However, these short mental vacations often make it harder to focus on the task in front of you. That’s where mindfulness comes in.
According to the Mayo Clinic, being mindful means you can maintain moment-to-moment awareness of where you are and what you’re doing — which is great news when you’re trying to stay focused.
By being mindful and recognizing when your attention starts to drift, you can quickly bring your focus back to where it needs to be. Plus, you can actually train your brain to be more mindful by practicing breathing techniques, meditation, and mindful movement, such as yoga.
Let’s face it. The items on a to-do list can add up quickly. And, it can be challenging to find the motivation to accomplish everything you set out to do.
The good news?
After you make your list, choose two or three key tasks and put them at the top. Then rank the rest of the items in order of importance. This allows you to tackle urgent tasks when your brain is fresh and your energy levels are high.
Tired of jumping from one type of thinking to another (aka “multitasking”)? Then pick tasks that are similar, group them together, and do one at a time. This makes transitions smoother, and you may find that you get a lot more done by not jumping from one type of task to another.
Despite what you may think, multitasking is not more effective or efficient, especially when you’re struggling with staying focused. In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that multitasking may reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent.
Whether you’re dealing with too many competing priorities, lack of sleep, or just a simple dose of the “Mondays,” not being able to focus can really put a damper on your productivity.
That’s why it’s important to have a few simple tips and tricks, like the ones we described above, at your fingertips. Knowing how to zone in on what needs to get done can help you stay on track with your most important tasks each day.