Have you ever had that time when you are intent on accomplishing a task because the deadline is at 5 PM that day, but you just can’t find it in you to focus on the work? Perhaps it’s because of your gossiping co-workers, or the constant ringing of your next-cubicle neighbor’s phone. Or maybe it’s the pinging of the notifications on your desktop. You wave your arms in exasperation, thinking “How can I EVER get things done?”
If you always find yourself distracted by the constant hustle and bustle of the world around you, you are not alone. Numerous studies have already proven that lack of concentration affects work productivity, relationships, and even our health, both physically and mentally. Add that to the simple fact that not being able to get things done increases our stress and decreases our confidence in ourselves. Most even develop mental health problems because of this.
That is why it is essential to know how to improve our concentration now more than ever. Here are six ways you can do it:
Know your energy “groove.”
In dancing, the groove or rhythm of a song is usually the basis of the choreography or routine. In this case, knowing your rhythm or your energy highs and lows would help you in planning the tasks you will do for that day.
To put it simply, you have to know what time of the day your brain is most active and when it is tired or unfocused－is it in the morning or mid-afternoon? Schedule your most mind-heavy tasks on your peak period (writing, accounting, researching) and the mindless ones on the lowest (sorting files, answering emails, making calls).
Take it a step further by also finding out what period you are most active physically and make use of the time to squeeze in some exercise.
Have an excellent diet PLUS exercise.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle can significantly help in boosting your concentration levels. For one, exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, helping you become more alert and focused. And you don’t have to make it heavy; even a light walk during your 5-minute breaks can already do wonders for your brain.
As for food intake, some studies show that eating specific items like blueberries and avocados can give the same effect as exercise (we still recommend that you do it, though) aside from the fact that it can boost brain power. Dark chocolates and green tea enhance alertness by providing a healthy dose of caffeine–one that doesn’t give you heart tremors after consuming a cup (We’re looking at you, coffee!).
Get some sleep.
As if you don’t have any more reason to get enough shuteye, getting enough sleep helps in clearing your head from all the mental turmoil it went through the day before. After all, our brain handles every move and thought we do each day.
I’m sure that most of us know the feeling of working on a mind-heavy task with little to no sleep－your head feels heavy, your brain feels like it’s filled with a murky fog, and all you could think about is when you can get home and spend time on your bed. Definitely not a good formula if you want to improve your concentration. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep every day.
Take every thought captive.
The number one enemy of concentration is distraction. Studies show that office employees experience interruptions at least three minutes, whether by physical (slamming of doors, ringing of phone) or mental (paying the bills, thinking about lunch) means. And with technological advancements in this day and age, looking away from our Facebook newsfeed and steering clear from clickbait sites often require Herculean effort. Add that to the fact that we are frequently bombarded by personal problems and concerns any time of the day.
One way you can treat this problem is by setting aside a “worry time” in your schedule. Have a notepad or scratch paper nearby while concentrating on your work. Once an irrelevant thought pass by in your head, write it down. It doesn’t matter if it’s scattered like your thoughts－what matters is you take note of that idea so that you can deal with it later in the day or during your “worry time.”
Take this activity a notch higher by writing down a concrete action plan right next to that thought. For example, as of this writing, my Internet bill suddenly popped into my head. I wrote it down in my notebook. During my break, I put “Ask roommate for Internet bill contribution, pay bill at the nearest supermarket.”
By writing down my worries, I can imagine it leaving my head and going to the paper. Hopefully, it can work for you, too.
Crush everything you believe about “multi-tasking.”
In fact, avoid doing it as much as you can. First of all, multi-tasking is a myth. Our brain could not handle everything at one time in the same way none of us can do clockwise circles with our right foot while writing number 6 with our right hand at the same time (Trust me, I tried).
Why do some people able to “multi-task,” then? Again, they don’t. Their brains are just quick and reactive enough to shift their focus from one task to another. Using the same activity above, try doing the clockwise circles then immediately change to writing number 6, then back again. That’s your brain on multi-tasking.
Second, it is opposite of what concentration really is: focusing on one thing and one thing only at one time. Jumping from one task to another may not help you finish anything by the end of the day. Tackle an assignment one at a time before moving on to another one. The feeling of accomplishing even just one item on your to-do list can motivate you in finishing another, then another, until you’re done with them all.
Stretch it out.
Much like building muscles, your concentration level can be stretched and buffed up for extended periods of time. One activity you can do is what they call “Concentration Clock.” Find a real, physical, and tangible analog clock or watch (not the one on your phone) then watch the second hand tick and move around the clock－literally－for five minutes. You must not let yourself be distracted by anything; just focus on the second hand.
Once you are used to the five-minute interval, stretch it to ten minutes, then 15, and so on. It seems easy, but with all the outside stimuli, this can be hard!
Another thing you can do is to adopt a “Five more…” attitude. For example, if you plan to write ten pages of your thesis in one sitting, push yourself a little harder and write five more sheets on top of it.
Being able to concentrate well is now considered a life skill because not everyone can do it anymore. Thankfully, it can be acquired and learned through time and constant practice. Try doing any of this tips today!