You sit at your desk, ready to finish a major assignment before the deadline, only to find your mind wandering. Sound familiar? As it happens, we all struggle to stay focused at some point in our lives.
Mental clutter can bring your personal and professional performance down by a mile. With distractions present everywhere, it becomes even more difficult to stay focused. Fortunately, a few tricks and skills will help you stay laser-focused during your daily routine.
When Your Mind Won’t Let You Concentrate
Here are seven ways to improve your concentration:
1. Stop Multitasking
The benefit of multitasking is a myth. In fact, research shows that multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance as your brain can focus on just one thing at a time. When multitasking, you are diverting your attention from one part of your brain to another, resulting in higher energy consumption which quickly leads to mental fatigue. In other words, multitasking not only reduces your productivity, but may also damage your brain in the long run.
According to a study at the University of London, participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced declined IQ score similar to what they would expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. The bottom line is, multitasking is not a habit you want to indulge in.
Though you may not be able to avoid unconscious multitasking such as walking and talking at the same time, you should avoid performing two or more complex tasks at the same time. Sometimes, multitasking can put your safety at risk, for example, speaking on the cell phone when driving.
One of the best ways to avoid multitasking and boost your productivity is to prioritize your work. Make a list of your daily tasks based on deadlines, with the most urgent tasks at the top of the list. Be sure to follow this list.
2. Identify Your Perfect Personal Environment
Whether it is leisure or work, the surrounding environment plays an important role in improving your concentration. For example, some people can read their favorite novel even in the hubbub of an airport terminal, while others may prefer total silence. In short, an appropriate individual environment helps you stay focused.
The first thing you need to do is make your surroundings comfortable. For example, you can adjust your desk and chair to a comfortable position to boost your productivity. The next step is to personalize your work environment. For instance, you can adorn your desk with your favorite pictures and accessories. If you prefer working in silence, use noise-cancellation headphones. However, make sure none of these steps are against company policies or intervene with your co-workers’ personal space.
3. Listen to Music
Listening to music can also help improve concentration. The human brain has two types of attention systems, a conscious one and an unconscious one.
The conscious attention system helps you respond to the changes in the external environment, including focusing on your task in progress.
On the other hand, the unconscious attention system responds to emotional distractions. This system is subtler and faster compared to the former. The biggest problem is that the unconscious system never shuts down, forcing your mind to wander 24/7. Your brain becomes particularly vulnerable to emotional distractions if you are working on something you do not like.
Listening to music, however, significantly decreases the ability of the unconscious attention system to respond to emotional distractions. As listening to music blocks external sounds, it also reduces the effect of sensory distractions considerably. In other words, listening to music will stimulate your brain instead of distracting it.
4. Provide Nutrition to Your Brain
Diet and nutrition play crucial roles in improving focus and cognitive functions. The lack of essential nutrients and diet usually leads to procrastination and mental fatigue. As brain cells don’t store energy, they need a steady supply of glucose or blood sugar. That’s why low blood sugar makes us drowsy.
However, this doesn’t mean you should eat white sugar and refined carbohydrates to boost your blood sugar level as they will do more harm than good to your body. Instead, your daily diet should comprise essential proteins, vitamins, fats, and carbohydrates.
The human body uses proteins to synthesize neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. “Because the body makes brain-awakening neurotransmitters when you eat protein, start your day with a breakfast that includes it,” says Laura Stevens, M.S., a nutritionist at Purdue University. So, you should start your day with a protein-rich breakfast consisting of lean meat, poultry products, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, soybeans, and dairy products.
The human brain is mainly composed of saturated (healthy) fats. So, it also needs a steady supply of healthy fats. Try to include healthy high-fat foods such as nuts, avocados, clarified butter, and coconut oil in your diet. You also need to include vitamins and minerals in it.
Staying hydrated also helps boost your concentration. Unfortunately, most people tend to forget about drinking water during office hours. The adequate intake (total water intake) for young men and women (ages 19 to 30 years) is between 3.7L and 2.7L per day, respectively. You can make a habit of drinking water during your short breaks or every couple of hours throughout the day to stay hydrated.
Scientific studies documenting the benefits of meditation go back several years. However, recent scientific research seems to indicate that meditation can change the human brain at a cellular level. According to a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), individuals (subjects aged between 24 and 77 years) who meditate over extended periods have more gray matter volume in their brains compared to those who don’t.
Meditation can also help you reduce stress and anxiety, the two major factors responsible for decreasing your concentration. Meditation helps control your breathing, which makes it the best way to gain control over your emotions and thoughts. However, meditation is not a cure; it can bring your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium. Apart from improving your focus, it will also help you sleep better, increasing your overall productivity.
6. Get Enough Sleep
As mentioned earlier, getting adequate sleep can boost your productivity. Besides, getting poor quality sleep increases the risk of disorders such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity. Adequate sleep is crucial for several brain functions including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other.
In fact, the human brain consolidates the vital neural connections (memories) while you sleep. Inadequate sleep can affect your brain to a greater extent than you can imagine. According to a recent study, sleep-deprivation makes areas of the human brain responsible for problem-solving and concentration sluggish.
The question is how much sleep is enough? Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, the amount of adequate sleep varies significantly from person to person. Usually, sleep becomes short and light with advancing age.
It’s not the hours of sleep, but the quality of sleep that matters. If you are having trouble sleeping, lying down in bed for long hours isn’t going to help. That’s why you need to take different steps such as meditation, yoga, and exercise to develop a healthy sleeping pattern.
7. Take Short Breaks
As the human brain is not built to maintain constant attention, your mind will start wandering after a while. So, instead of pushing your mind to concentrate, take a short break to give it some rest before getting back to the task again. In fact, a new study suggests that taking brief mental breaks improves performance on a prolonged task.
“Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness,” says professor Alejandro Lleras who led the study. In other words, attention is not the problem as you are paying attention to something. The problem is to stay focused on a singular task. So, you need to split a long assignment into small tasks and include short breaks in-between.
Short breaks can mean anything, from taking a simple walk to solving Sudoku puzzles. The purpose of your break is to re-energize your brain in a short time. So, you can choose a suitable activity that makes you feel refreshed.
Staying focused throughout a hectic day is critical for professional as well as personal success. Sometimes, your mind tends to wander, making you lose focus irrespective of your best efforts. Following these tips will certainly help you improve your concentration and productivity.
However, learning to stay focused is a slow process. So, you will need to practice these techniques for some time before the results are evident. Do share the successful methods that helped you stay focused in the comment section below.