If you have trouble staying on task or paying attention to the details, eliminating distractions like your phone or trying techniques like Pomodoro timers or SMART goals may help.
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 easier said than done.
The good news? Several techniques 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.
All people can experience poor attention to detail or have trouble focusing sometimes. Some contributing factors may include:
- being hungry
- being tired or having poor-quality sleep
- being stressed
- feeling worried or anxious
- being distracted by something in your environment
Sometimes, managing the cause of your inability to focus can help resolve the issue. But if you often experience poor attention to detail or have difficulty staying engaged in tasks that require your full attention, it may be a symptom of another condition.
These may include:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- learning disorders like dyslexia
- conditions that affect the quality of your sleep, like insomnia or sleep apnea
- conditions that cause fatigue, like hypothyroidism
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- concentration deficit disorder
Doctors may also want to rule out conditions such as hearing loss and developmental disorders in children.
If your difficulties staying focused result from a condition, a healthcare professional can help you find a treatment that may improve your focus.
You may also find that the following behavioral practices may help you approach your tasks with greater engagement and attention.
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
- playing calming ambient music or white noise
- declutter the space where you will be working
Drinking coffee, or other caffeinated beverages, in small doses may positively impact your ability to focus.
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 feel 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. Here’s how it works:
- Set your timer for 25 minutes and get to work.
- When 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, Instagram, or TikTok every 5 minutes, you may want to consider an app that blocks social media.
Several apps 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 email.
Some 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, energy levels up, and emotions calm, 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 or put away all electronic devices an hour before bedtime. The light from these devices can stimulate your brain and prevent you from feeling sleepy. Some devices may allow you to switch them to “warm” light.
- Take time to wind down. Read a book, take a warm bath, or listen to soothing music.
- Keep your bedroom cool and quiet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an ideal temperature is between 65 and 68°F (18.3 and 20°C).
- Keep your bedroom dark, or use a sleeping mask. Block out light, especially white and blue light, from your bedroom with room-darkening curtains or shades if you can. Otherwise, consider using a sleeping mask.
If your lack of focus results from 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-sized tasks, you can improve your ability to concentrate and focus on specific tasks. That’s because you end up with goals you 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.
Being mindful means maintaining moment-to-moment awareness of where you are and what you’re doing — which is great news when 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 train your brain to be more mindful by practicing breathing techniques, meditation, and mindful movement, such as yoga.
- improve relaxation
- improve self-esteem
- manage stress
- manage symptoms of anxiety and depression
- cope with serious illness
- reduce blood pressure
- reduce pain in some instances
- improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia
- manage weight and eating behaviors
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 similar tasks, group them together, and do one at a time. This makes transitions smoother, and you may 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 having trouble staying focused. In fact, a 2019 study notes that the human brain’s structure is not capable of multitasking and works much better while focusing on a single task at a time. Working on multiple tasks simultaneously comes with a cost — whether a reduction in performance accuracy or speed.
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 at your fingertips, like the ones we described above. Knowing how to zone in on what needs to be done can help you stay on track with your most important daily tasks.