How to Improve your Focus and Concentration Skills
21 Jun 2021 • 9 min read
Is your phone constantly vibrating displaying one notification after another?
Are your colleagues always interrupting you at work? Do you often wonder how it’s already 4 o’clock in the afternoon and you’ve accomplished so little?
Unfortunately, distractions and interruptions are an integral part of our modern lifestyles. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we check our phones every 12 minutes on average. And with the rise of social media and digital activities, the collective attention span these days is 8 seconds. Indeed, as we consistently switch between topics, and consume a large volume of unrelated pieces of information for fear of missing out on something (FOMO), we train our minds to concentrate in short bursts and exhaust our attention.
And studies are clear; these ever-increasing interruptions and distractions are negatively affecting our focus and concentration skills. This can lead to procrastination and make it more difficult to be productive and reach your goals.
Fortunately, it’s not all gloom and doom ;)
There are ways to improve your focus and concentration, leading you to successfully complete your projects, and achieve your daily, weekly or long-term goals.
In this post, we’ll define what focus is and how it works before deep diving into the factors that affect concentration. And, of course, we’ll also give you some tips on how to improve your focus and concentration.
What Is Focus Exactly and How Does it Work?
In essence, the term focus refers to your ability to concentrate and pay attention to a specific task or activity without being distracted. As a result, it implies being able to ignore or say no to other tasks, activities, or interruptions. After all, only if you’re able to tune out and get into your zone, solely concentrating on the task or activity at hand, will you be able to efficiently accomplish this task. And Tim Ferris summarized this idea perfectly when he said “What you don’t do determines what you can do.”
So, the next question is, how does focus work?
Well, as you’re reading this article, your brain focuses using three types of attention to enable you to concentrate and process the information:
Selective attention allows you to focus on one single task and ignore other things. It is used in the midst of other activities. For instance, you could be having a conversation with a friend in a loud bar.
This refers to your ability to process multiple pieces of information at the same time and carry out several tasks at once. For instance, singing a song while driving your car or talking on the phone while cleaning your home requires divided attention.
Sustained attention is the ability to maintain your focus on a specific task or activity over a long period of time. For instance, if you’re reading a book for a couple of hours, or are working on a challenging project for a few hours in a row, your brain will be using sustained attention to complete these tasks.
Key Factors Affecting Concentration
Do you often have a hard time focusing while working on a project?
Have you ever noticed some of your friends or colleagues are able to concentrate for hours on one thing?
If the answer is yes, you might feel frustrated. We understand. But the great news is, once you know why you can’t concentrate and focus for as long as they do, you’ll be able to implement proper strategies to improve your concentration skills. And you too will be able to smash your goals!
So, to help you, we’ve listed below the top factors affecting your ability to concentrate:
Not getting enough sleep is a common reason for lack of concentration and focus. As a matter of fact, many studies have shown a positive correlation between sleep deprivation and lower alertness and concentration. Indeed, sleep allows your brain to recharge and prepare for the following day. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, hampers your ability to process and retain information, reason, and solve problems, and reduces your attention and focus.
Ever found yourself texting a friend while working on something on your laptop with the TV playing in the background?
It’s ok, we’re all guilty of this ;)
Unfortunately, interacting on multiple devices and constantly switching between activities is detrimental to your focus and concentration abilities. By interacting with different people on different communication platforms at the same time, or engaging in multiple activities at once, you’re creating an environment with too many sources of stimulation that inevitably leads to splitting your focus.
Not Handling your Problems
If something is bothering you, may it be personal or professional, not dealing with it could be costing you your focus and concentration. Indeed, ignoring your problems will most likely lead you to regularly think about them. And as you’re creating more clutter in your mind, your brain will be unable to properly focus on other things such as completing the task at hand.
Note that the same applies to things you need to do but constantly put off. They’ll start cluttering your mind and prevent you from being focused, productive, and efficient.
Bad eating habits and lack of physical activity are all factors that can contribute to lower concentration and focus.
On the other hand, research has shown that higher levels of fitness can lead to better focus and concentration. What’s more, certain foods such as berries, citrus fruit, or dark chocolate have been proven to help improve cognitive functions including memory, attention, focus, and concentration.
So, here’s an excellent excuse to eat more chocolate ;)
The Myth of Multitasking
Multitasking is the enemy of concentration, focus, and productivity. Sure, you might think you’re completing several things at once and optimizing your time this way. But in doing so, you’re also training your brain to split its focus and are therefore not devoting your undivided attention to each task. This will inevitably lead to mistakes, rush jobs, and ultimately lower performance and efficiency. Now, when we know that the whole point of multitasking is to be more efficient and get more done in less time, it’s easy to see why this concept is often referred to as a myth.
In fact, studies have demonstrated time after time that multitasking is a myth. The reality is that performing more than one thing at a time isn’t physically possible.
Our brain simply doesn’t work that way.
Indeed, as human beings, rather than performing multiple tasks at once, we rapidly shift our attention from one task to another. And when doing so, we’re fractionating our attention into little pieces, and never truly engage with any of the tasks we’re performing. The issue is that this constant shift between tasks exhausts our attention and depletes our brain of its neurochemicals, making us feel tired and lose our focus.
Therefore, the next time you feel like working on several things at once, don’t ;) You’ll lose your focus and concentration abilities and end up working less efficiently.
Best Ways to Improve your Focus and Increase Your Attention Span
If you’re struggling to concentrate on things that you want to complete, here are a few strategies you can use to strengthen your attention and improve your focus:
The term might be intimidating but brain music simply refers to the different types of music that have been shown to help strengthen cognitive skills such as focus and concentration. According to research, playing symphonies or nature sounds triggers the areas of the brain that are involved with paying attention. What’s more, music can have a therapeutic effect, and help you relax, alleviating stress and leading to better concentration.
Some of the best types of music to boost your focus and productivity include:
- Classical music
- Nature music such as crashing waves, rain, waterfall sounds, or bird songs
- Music between 50 and 80 beats per minute
- Your favorite songs
You can also check Brain.fm to listen to playlists specifically designed for enhanced focus and productivity.
How can your mind focus on the task at hand, if it’s busy thinking about the future or things that happened in the past? The answer is; it can’t.
Therefore, living in the moment is critical if you want to improve your focus and concentration. Indeed, as you shift your attention to the present, you’ll be able to ignore distractions and worries and concentrate on what you’re doing right now.
In essence, mindfulness trains your brain to relax, focus on the present, and concentrate on what is happening around you, or on the feelings inside your body right now. Therefore, using grounding exercises such as breathing, or noticing your moves is a fantastic way to improve your concentration and focus. Studies have even shown that 10 minutes of mindful meditation a day can significantly help strengthen cognitive skills such as concentration and focus.
Limiting distractions and interruptions is critical to allow your brain to concentrate, and focus on your current task, or activity. Some of the things you can do to ensure you’re in a distraction-free working environment encompass:
- Switching off your electronic devices including your phone and your TV.
- Turning off your emails and internal chat notifications.
- Closing your door to ensure people understand you’re busy.
- Using noise-canceling headphones.
Adopt a Healthier Lifestyle
Did you know that when you exercise your brain releases a chemical that encourages new brain connections? What’s more, restful sleep helps reduce harmful stress hormones in the brain!
It’s a scientific fact, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. The way you eat, your level of sleep, and regular exercise all affect your physical, mental, and emotional health. So, the better you eat, and the more rested and active you are, the better you’ll feel and the sharper your mind will be.
Here are a few steps to adopting a healthy lifestyle:
Aim at sleeping between 7 and 8 hours a night.
Eat a nutrient-rich diet
This can improve your mental alertness and your ability to concentrate. Some of the best scientifically-backed ’brain foods’’ include dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, berries, avocados, and oily fish.
Exercising on a regular basis can also help increase your focus and concentration so make sure to incorporate some aerobic activities into your daily routine. And if you’re not a gym-goer, no problem. You don’t have to hit the gym. Walking your dog, cycling to work, or playing team sports all count towards getting your brain cells fired up.
Spend time in natureNumerous studies have shown the positive effect plants and nature, in general, can have on focus, concentration, and productivity. So, make sure to get some fresh air as much as you can, enjoying forest-bathing and other outdoor activities in harmony with nature. This will help reduce your stress levels and increase your concentration.
Use the Chunking Technique
The chunking technique refers to the process of breaking down your overall goal or big project into smaller goals or tasks.
How does that help you, you ask?
When you’re working on a big project, there are many pieces and parts involved, just like in a big puzzle. This can prove extremely stressful or demotivating and lead you to lose focus as you become overwhelmed by the number of things you need to do.
However, by breaking down this massive project into smaller manageable tasks and listing them by order of importance, you’ll make this challenging enterprise much less daunting. You’ll be more relaxed, your mind will be clearer on what needs to be done and you’ll significantly improve your focus and productivity.
On a blank page, write all the tasks that need to be done to successfully complete this project. This is your masterlist. Keep in mind that you’ll be able to add more tasks to it as you go.
On a different page, create categories (for instance admin, business development, marketing, etc.). List the tasks from your masterlist based on the categories they belong to.
Within these categories, highlight the most urgent and important ones and do the same for less important tasks with another color.
Every time you complete a task, cross it from the list. This way, you’ll easily be able to visualize the entire project, where you’re at, and focus on the next step.
Sure, your brain is overwhelmed, bombarded with information and you feel like you’re constantly distracted. Yet, one of the best ways to solve this problem is to train your brain to focus. After all, just like your body needs to exercise, your brain needs to work out to function efficiently. Indeed, your brain works similarly to a muscle and needs to be regularly trained to be at its optimum.
Some of the best brain games and exercises to train your brain and increase your memory, focus, and concentration are:
- Learning dance choreographies
- Building your vocabulary
- Learning a new skill
- Playing music
Warren Buffett’s “2 List” Strategy for Focused Attention
If you’re looking for advice on how to improve your focus and productivity, you can’t go wrong by following recommendations from one of the most successful men in the world!
Buffett's approach consists of writing down a list of 25 goals (or tasks). Then divide this list into two lists. The first list will highlight your 5 most important goals and the second list the 20 other goals. The next step is to forget about the second list and focus on the first list until you’ve reached the goals listed on it. This strategy helps cut through the noise, eliminate tasks that aren’t so important to your success right now, and craft a plan of action.
Only then, when the path is clear, can your brain truly focus and concentrate on completing each goal or task.
In a fast-paced era where productivity and future goals fuel our daily lives, it’s easy to get sidetracked, lose focus, and stop paying attention to the present, our body, and our surroundings. That’s why we decided to write this article and provide you with some simple and easy-to-implement strategies to help you reconnect with the present, and increase your focus and concentration.
We hope you’ll try these strategies and if you do, please don’t hesitate to share your experience in the comment section below! We always love hearing from our readers :)