Need help staying focused? Try these tips…
Having trouble staying on task or paying attention to the details? Here’s some tips on how to get your focus back on track.
Firstly, what can cause you to struggle to focus? Some contributing factors include:
- Being hungry or thirsty
- Being tired or having poor quality sleep
- Being stressed, worried or anxious
- Being distracted by your environment
- Losing motivation
So… what can you do about this? Here are some behavioural practices that may help you improve your attention… let’s go!
Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Meditating or practising mindfulness activities has been known to strengthen wellbeing, mental fitness and help improve focus. Meditation can help you to relax and learn how to focus without letting other things distract you. You learn how to use your breath to bring your attention task.
Get rid of distractions
While you can’t always expect the perfect environment to focus in, there are things in your control that you can do to eliminate outside distractions and create that perfect environment for you.
Simple things could be:
- Moving to a quiet area
- Turning off notifications on your phone or even better, turning it off altogether. This includes blocking off social media!
- Closing the door to your office
- Telling others not to distract you for a period of time
- Closing any tabs, apps and programmes that aren’t essential
- Play ambient, calming music or white noise
- Declutter your space: you’ll feel clearer
Everyone considers different things a distraction: one person may find it impossible to work with music in the background, whereas others may need the music to get into the zone. Just do what works for you – try out different environments, work out what distracts you and make adjustments. You may even find the temperature or the amount of light in a room distracting, so be aware of that. “Listen to brown noise – this frequency is effective for quieting thoughts and allows you to focus more and be more productive. I often get distracted by lyrics of songs or words on a TV programme, so brown noise is perfect,” says Emily Gardiner, the Founder of Free To Be Creative.
Make sure to stay hydrated and eat snacks
Your attention will start to dip as your energy levels do, so having a small snack can boost your energy levels to allow optimum focus. If your body is lacking the right nutrients we may also experience symptoms like memory loss, fatigue, and lack of concentration so make sure to fuel it correctly.
Dehydration can lead to you feeling sluggish and unmotivated, so keep sipping away at your water.
“Make it easy. I love those reusable water bottles that keep your drinks hot or cold so you have plenty in front of you and it stays drinkable,” says Productivity and Time Coach Vikki Louise.
You may find caffeine as a helpful way too, but try not to overdo it or it’ll have the opposite effect!
Get enough sleep
It’s no secret that most of us don’t get enough sleep, or enough quality sleep at that. Not getting enough sleep can negatively impact your short- and long-term memory as well as your ability to concentrate. The recommended amount of sleep for adults between 18 and 60 is 7 or more hours a night… are you getting that? “And don’t worry, if you can’t get it at night you can always boost your sleep with a day nap,” says Productivity and Time Coach Vikki Louise.
Here are some quick tips to boost your sleep health
- Avoid caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and evening
- Switch off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime – those lights can stimulate your brain and prevent it from feeling sleepy!
- Make a bedtime ritual: take some time to wind down, read a book, take a warm bath and chill… get yourself in the right mindset to sleep
Want more tips? We’re talking more about sleep in our article.
Make a To-Do list
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes making a to-do list and marking it in terms of priority can help organise your mind and help you prioritise what really needs to be done. This can also help you keep your goal in mind and keep you focusing towards that. A lot of the time, a lack of focus can be due to motivation so setting down your goals and tasks could really help get you back on track.
This can also lead you to help break things down into smaller, more achievable tasks. “Block out a couple of hours on a Wednesday and Friday afternoon to tie up small bitty tasks so they don’t become overwhelming,” says Kate Kurdziej Founder of Olivier Consultancy.
Sometimes, getting overwhelmed can lead you to switch off, to lose focus and motivation all together so looking at it in another way, in smaller chunks can make it less overwhelming and more manageable. You may also be avoiding doing something so by putting it on paper and having it as a tangible thing, you’re more likely to do it.
“Each day, try to highlight 5 top things to do. They don’t necessarily have to be in order of importance, nor do they all have to be massive tasks. Something as simple as noting to respond to and check emails at specific points of the day can suffice as a task – don’t daunt yourself by thinking too far ahead. Looking too far ahead can easily lead you to a burnout spiral, so focus on the tasks that are timely for the week before you and focus only on them.
From there, I always recommend starting with the task you enjoy least first. While easier said than done, nothing beats the relief of completing a task you don’t enjoy, knowing you can move on to those you do. Similarly, there’s nothing worse than leaving your least favourite task to the end of the day. You’ll likely spend the day dreading it when there’s no need to: rip it off quickly like a plaster,” says Chris Caira, Project Manager at digital marketing agency Yard*
You can also group similar tasks together so you can switch between them when your brain is getting tired of one. However, if you find switching between tasks too distracting – don’t do this! “When your brain is getting tired of doing something, let it rest. Doing something else is like going from lifting weights to push ups, both using the same muscle. Instead allow your brain to get a break, be it walking outside, or practising a few minutes of mindfulness,” says Productivity and Time Coach Vikki Louise.
“Each day I write down my schedule and the top 3 things I need to achieve that day. I then split them into categories:
- 5 mins or less tasks that I can do in between calls
- 30-1 hour tasks.- deep focus work
I then map out my day accordingly,” says Sneha Morjaria Founder of The Growth Chain.
“You can’t work a solid 8 hours and be 100% effective, the human brain just isn’t capable of doing that. Instead, set realistic expectations so that you know exactly what needs to be done by the end of the day.
If you need to set deadlines for this to help you stop procrastinating then that also might help. By doing so, you create a sense of urgency, making it easier to achieve the state of flow and truly focus on an important task,” says Ben Austin, founder and CEO at Absolute Digital Media.
Practice the Pomodoro Technique
Trying to focus for hours on end isn’t always the best way to do it. For a lot of people, short bursts of really focused work followed by a break helps boosts their productivity and help them keep focused.
There’s a method called the Pomodoro technique which helps train your brain to stay on task for short periods. Here’s how it’s done:
- 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.
Breaks aren’t a bad thing! Overall, these can increase your productivity and keep you focused. “Sometimes the words on a screen or an intense task can get a bit much and you lose focus after a certain time, so go for a short 10 minute walk to clear your mind, and when you come back you will have a second wind!” says Emily Gardiner, Founder of Free To Be Creative.
This is something we also discussed in our post about how to deal with inbox overwhelm, but sometimes you may find that you can delegate certain tasks which can help with your workload. “Delegate – if you can, delegate your tasks to someone else so you can focus on what you are good at. The things we don’t enjoy or aren’t good at will inevitably take longer and take up your energy!” says Emily Gardiner, Founder of Free To Be Creative.
“Remember focus is created in your brain. And while the above all takes care of the brains hardware, we want to be thinking about it as a software too. One which we can program. And all that means is we can direct our brain. A super effective and powerful hack to creating focus is very simple: tell your brain “I’m all in”; “I am committing to this one test right now”. You can even write it down, read it AND say it out loud. You’ll be amazed at how effective this is.
Another thing that creates focus is challenge. If our brain perceives something as too easy, it gets bored and loses focus. So thinking something is hard isn’t a bad thing. You can use that as fuel to create focus. And if something is easy, make a challenge out of it. For example, ok this is easy and I want to know if I can get it done in ten minutes,” says Productivity and Time Coach Vikki Louise.
Sometimes, addressing some of the above factors can make all the difference when it comes to focusing. But if you’re experiencing this on a long-term scale and nothing seems to help, it could be a symptom of another condition such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, autism, learning disorders and more. So if you think it’s something more than a short-term inability to focus, please speak to a doctor.
Written by Jessica Reid