In our modern world, where distractions abound around every corner, concentration has become a bit of a lost art. This is unfortunate. To achieve great things, in business and in life, almost always requires a great deal of focus. So today we want to discuss how to improve concentration.
In this article, we’ll look at 11 focus-boosting techniques you can take advantage of today to sharpen your mind. Ready? Let’s get started!
1. Take Care of Your Body
Let’s start with a foundational concept: if you don’t take proper care of your body, you’ll never be able to improve your concentration — at least not to the extent that you’d like to. Make sure that you’re eating properly, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep each night.
Many people find that their concentration suffers when they haven’t eaten in a while. This makes perfect sense. Food fuels the brain and provides it with glucose, a substance it desperately needs to function at a high level. When you experience hunger, it’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s low on fuel.
To improve concentration, eat foods like walnuts, avocados, and small amounts of chocolate in addition to the regular healthy foods you (hopefully!) consume on a regular basis. These foods have been proven to help with cognitive functions.
A proper exercise regimen can also help you improve concentration. Studies have proven that folks who live an active lifestyle generally perform better on tasks that require a high level of attention.
But what if you don’t really enjoy exercising? We have good news for you! First off, the kind of exercises you perform aren’t nearly as important as simply exercising in general. Yoga, walks at the park, and pick up basketball games all count. Find an activity you enjoy and do it.
And second, you don’t have to become a professional athlete and spend hours a day at the gym to improve concentration. Even just 75 minutes a week (15 minutes a work day) can be beneficial.
Get Enough Sleep
And lastly, the amount of sleep you get on a regular basis and the quality of that sleep is very important if you’re trying to improve concentration. It’s much harder to focus on tasks when you’re sleepy. But simply spending more time in bed isn’t necessarily the answer. A fitful night of tossing and turning — even if you spent a full eight hours doing it — won’t help you concentrate better.
So do what you can to improve your sleep quality. Simple things like avoiding caffeine and blue light (the light from smartphones and other screen devices) at night, exercising during the day, and developing a consistent evening routine can help.
2. Eliminate Multitasking
Multitasking is the enemy of both productivity and concentration. Researchers have proven time and again that the human brain simply can’t focus on two things at one time. That doesn’t stop us from trying though.
Unfortunately, our efforts to talk on the phone and reply to emails or participate in company meetings while finishing up our latest projects are completely ruining our concentration. So, eliminate multitasking. Focus on one task at a time and you’ll see your ability to concentrate skyrocket.
3. Remove Distractions
You may not be able to concentrate as well as you’d like because you simply have too many distractions in your life. To boost focus, identify what they are and remove them. Here are a few common distractions that most people deal with on a regular basis:
- Cell Phones: We know, you love your phone! It allows you to stay connected with the people you care about, surf the internet, and watch an endless stream of cat videos on YouTube. It’s also an incredibly distracting little gizmo. When you really need to concentrate, consider turning your phone off, or at least setting it to airplane mode.
- Social Media: Social media is another great distraction likely plaguing your work environment. Again, we get it. Social networks are fun. They allow you to stay connected with people all over the world. But, to be completely honest, unless social media is part of your job description, these sites have no place in your work environment.
- Email: Email is pretty much a mandatory thing in the modern business world and it has many, many benefits. But when you need to concentrate, constant messages hitting your inbox are distracting. While working, consider logging out of your email and only checking it at specific times of the day. This goes for messaging apps like Slack as well.
- Co-Workers: As much as you may want to, no, we’re not giving you permission to physically remove annoying co-workers from your presence. What we are saying though, is that co-workers can be a distraction and minimizing that distraction while working will improve concentration. If you have your own office, close the door when you’re working. If you don’t, try wearing headphones to signify that you don’t want to be bothered.
4. Take Regular Breaks
One way to kill concentration levels is to simply concentrate too much. If you’ve been hard at work for a long period of time, your brain will likely start to get tired and slow down. This will make it much harder to focus and make you more susceptible to mistakes.
Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: just take a quick break. Give yourself 15 minutes or so to stand up, stretch your legs, and not think about the project you’re currently working on. When you get back to it, you’ll feel more energized, motivated, and focused.
Pro Tip: If you’re a management professional, make sure your team is taking breaks too. The time they spend not working will allow them to be more productive while they are and will likely lead to higher job satisfaction.
5. Get Out of the Office
Do you really want to improve concentration at the office? Then leave! That’s right, get out of the building where you work and into the outdoors. A walk through nature, time spent in the sun, the fresh air in your lungs. Studies show that time spent outside can boost focus.
Building on our last tip, your regular breaks is a great time to get out of the office and experience nature. Take a quick stroll around the block or visit the park down the street from your company. Even if you work in the middle of downtown, a leisurely jaunt outside will still allow you to get fresh air and sun.
Pro Tip: While actually getting outside is ideal, bringing plants inside has been proven to boost productivity by 15%. So invest in a potted plant or two!
6. Use the Pomodoro Technique
Sometimes concentration is hard because the task you need to focus on is either boring or overwhelming. The Pomodoro technique can help with both these problems.
If you’re not familiar, the Pomodoro technique is a time management method that breaks down work into small intervals (typically 25 minutes long) and separates them with short breaks. The technique allows users to better focus because they’re never asked to do so for too long a period of time and get to take quick breaks regularly which rejuvenates the brain.
If you determine that your inability to focus is due to needing to perform a mundane task or complete a large, overwhelming project, we encourage you to try the Pomodoro technique. This time management method can also help reduce procrastination.
7. Practice Meditation
There are many benefits to meditation and that’s why many of the world’s elite performers have committed to practicing it daily. Improved concentration is one of these benefits. And just like we mentioned earlier in regards to exercise, this habit doesn’t need to take over your life.
You don’t need to become a Buddhist monk and meditate for hours every day to see the benefits. Even just 10 to 20 minutes a day spent meditating will help you improve concentration.
For those who have never meditated before and find the thought of doing so confusing or intimidating, there are tools to help you. Both the Headspace and Calm smartphone apps offer guided meditations to get you started. They each also offer different kinds of meditations depending on what your personal goals are.
Both apps are great but we recommend Headspace for those with shorter attention spans and Calm for those who crave variety.
8. Become a Serious Reader
Reading does wonders for the human brain. But while most of us read daily — texts, emails, social media posts, blogs, etc. — not all of us are reading material that will improve concentration. There’s a big difference between, say, reading a few texts from your significant other and a Charles Dickens novel.
That’s why we want to champion the idea of reading long form content like books. It will force your mind to concentrate on the topic at hand, visualize the author’s concepts in your mind, and engage in the learning process.
We also recommend reading (not skimming!) long-form articles on a regular basis as well. Publications like the New Yorker and the Economist put out great content that will expand your mind and improve your ability to focus.
Just remember, when reading, the idea is to engage with the material, not to quickly skim through and get a surface feel for its main points. That won’t improve concentration. Read slowly, understand the material, and expand your mind.
9. Listen to the Right Music
Music can also boost concentration. According to Dr. Masha Godkin, “Music activates both the left and right brain at the same time, and the activation of both hemispheres can maximize learning and improve memory.”
The key is to choose the right music to listen to while working. Classical music generally works well as does music made for meditation purposes and songs that include nature sounds like babbling brooks and bird noises.
For those who prefer electronic music to classical tunes, try to choose songs that don’t have lyrics. Lyrics tend to be very distracting and aren’t ideal for working environments. You may also want to consider the BPM (beats per minute) of the songs you listen to at the office. A BPM of 60 – 70 seems to be a good sweet spot.
10. Give Yourself Goals and Rewards
Sometimes the only thing you need to improve concentration is an incentive. By setting goals and giving yourself rewards for completing them, you’ll give yourself a strong reason to maintain focus. Think about it, if you promise yourself a chocolate bar for completing a project within the next hour, won’t you be more focused and compelled to complete it?
The trick here is to, first, set realistic goals, second, to promise yourself a reward you’ll really enjoy, and third, to only reward yourself when you complete the goal as planned — no cheating!
11. Perform Concentration Exercises
And finally, performing concentration exercises can, not surprisingly, improve concentration. Here are a few for you to try:
- Sit Completely Still: This exercise is performed exactly the way you think it would be: find a comfortable chair and sit in it, without moving, for 5 to 15 minutes. It’s harder than you think and will require complete concentration to fully relax and avoid involuntary muscle movements.
- Smell the Smells: Go for a walk and pay special attention to odors in the air. What can you smell? Do your best to identify a variety of different scents. Once you’ve completed this first step, choose one odor and focus on it exclusively. Try to block all others from your mind.
- Watch the Clock: Get yourself an old fashioned clock with a second hand and set it down in front of you. Now stare at the second hand for five minutes as it travels around the clock. Concentrate on nothing else but the second hand. Eliminate all other thoughts from your mind.
These may seem like odd exercises but they will improve concentration and, as an added bonus, can be practiced by just about anybody, regardless of financial position. Give them a try and see for yourself their focus-boosting power.
Over to You
Now it’s your turn. Are you serious about improving your concentration? Then take the 11 strategies outlined in this blog post and use them! Find the ones that work best for you and commit to practicing them on a regular basis. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll be able to improve concentration and propel your career forward. Good luck!