Ever find yourself struggling to focus? Yep, me too. In a constantly-connected world, we always seem to have distractions at our fingertips. Sitting down and concentrating, whether it’s on a report for work or an essay for school, can be really tough.
And, all too often, we make it harder on ourselves.
Here are four simple ways to boost your chances of concentrating.
1. Write Down What You’re Working On
This might sound like a silly tip, but it can be incredibly effective. When you start working on something, write down what you’re doing. For instance: “Finish report on widgets” or “Respond to all new emails”.
Whenever you get tempted to do something else, or when something “urgent” comes up, look down at your bit of paper and remind yourself of what you’re doing. If you do switch tasks, make a note of what you’ve changed to.
It’s surprising how often we end up working in a stimulus-response way, jumping to whatever grabs our attention or whatever happens to be on our mind.
(Quick bonus tip: You can also use your sheet of paper to jot down anything which you’re worried you’ll forget. If you suddenly think “I must send that check” then don’t stop and actually do it, just write yourself a reminder.)
2. Find a Quiet Environment
It’s very hard to stay focused if you’re in a busy, loud room. Conversations, phone calls, other people’s music, even traffic noise can be very intrusive. Of course, most of us don’t have the luxury of working in monastic silence – but do what you can to improve your environment.
That might mean taking your books to the library, instead of studying in your home. It could mean putting headphones on and playing your own music to drown out background distractions.
A “quiet” environment is also one which doesn’t have too many distractions. If your desk is piled high with clutter, or if you’ve got the television with your line of sight, it’s very easy to let your focus slip away from your work.
3. Make Yourself Physically Comfortable
If you’re tired, it’s hard to focus. I’m sometimes tempted to skip sleep in order to have an extra hour or two to get things done – but I know it’s a false economy. If I “save” an hour by not sleeping, I’ll end up losing more time than that because I’m slower and less productive during the day.
As a short-term fix, caffeine can perk you up and help you focus – but don’t get reliant on it.
As well as getting enough sleep, you’ll want to make sure you’re drinking enough water. Getting dehydrated will sap your concentration and your energy levels. I keep a bottle of water on my desk, so that I don’t need to keep getting up to refill a glass … and so that if I knock it over, I won’t get water in my keyboard.
Hunger cuts into your focus – but so does too heavy a lunch. Make sure you’re eating enough to keep energized, but avoid huge meals which will just make you sleepy. Having a small snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and a smaller lunch, may do wonders for your concentration.
4. Build Your Concentration Muscle
Okay, your ability to concentrate isn’t literally a muscle – but it can feel that way! Just like a muscle, your concentration gets stronger the more you use it. If you manage to maintain your focus despite feeling a bit distracted, you’ll find it that little bit easier to concentrate the next day. Conversely, if you always succumb to the temptation to check Facebook and Twitter and read web comics, you’ll find that it becomes a more and more ingrained habit.
How can you build up your ability to concentrate?
- Set a timer while you’re working, and try to make as much progress as you can before the timer goes off
- Turn off your internet connection, or install software to block certain websites (this can help break the habit of constantly multitasking)
- Keep a time log of exactly what you do during the day – writing down your actions makes you more self-aware
- Learn to watch your own thoughts – notice when you feel an impulse (like “I’ll check Twitter now”) and resist!
How good are you at concentrating? Do you have any tips to share – or any stories of times when an inability to concentrate gave you problems?