In this day and age, we are constantly bombarded by distractions; the text messages, the phone calls, the e-mails, the Facebook notifications. These distractions of everyday life is training our brain to be reactive to everything that comes our way. But being hyper reactive causes us to lose our concentration and thus leads to a decrease in productivity. So if you are getting sick of not being able to focus, learn how to improve your concentration by following these 7 tips you can incorporate into the way you work, and live.
1) Do Only One Thing at a Time (aka Multitasking Doesn’t Work)
Once you have mulled over what you have to do, you should be able to pinpoint the one thing you should or want to direct your attention to. Decide carefully what this thing will be; prioritize appropriately. For example, if you have numerous tasks to accomplish, decide which is most important (and least important) and which will take the most time. Most people are more comfortable getting the most important task out of the way so that their minds can be free of nagging thoughts about it. Some, on the other hand, favor the easy and fast tasks first so that later on, they can turn their attention to the most time-consuming tasks.
However you want to rank the things on your plate is solely up to you—but it is important that you concentrate solely on one thing at a time. Research has shown that multitasking simply doesn’t work. Molecular biologist John Medina, in his book Brain Rules, purported that people generally experience a 40 percent drop in productivity once they start multitasking. Not only is there a marked drop in productivity, it actually takes people 50 percent longer to finish a task, while increasing mistakes made at the same time. A 2010 French study noted that the human brain has two lobes and thus can handle two simultaneous tasks without compromising too much in quality and accuracy. However, adding a third simultaneous task will result in a sharp drop in productivity and accuracy. The human mind is simply not capable of handling that many competing tasks at the same time. So to be (more) productive, stop multitasking!
2) Meditate Your Way to Total Focus
Even though everyone has heard of meditation, not everyone knows about the benefits of meditation for the mind. Recent scientific research has shown that improved cognition can be achieved only after weeks of mindful meditation; mindful meditation has been shown to increase attention and memory, and decrease stress in the body.
Reaping all the benefits of meditation truly takes a lot of practice and dedication. However, you can still enjoy some of the benefits of meditation even if you don’t have lots of time. Dr. Andrew Newberg suggested in his latest research that the brain area that is responsible for attention starts to change after several weeks of only meditating for 12 minutes a day.
3) Take Short Breaks
Sometimes all it takes for your thoughts to converge and your mind to get its act together is a short break. After all, even robots and computers need a brief reprieve for them to function optimally. Get your body outside, and breathe in the fresh, invigorating air. Better yet, take a brisk walk around the facility’s perimeter, and give your eyes a rest from your work area. The important thing to remember here is that you need to set a time limit and stick to it. Short breaks from your work are reasonable; using up all your work hours on chatting up your peers or guzzling coffee and stuffing your face is absolutely unacceptable.
Experts have differing opinions on how often breaks should be taken—one of the more popular options is to break after every 25 minutes of focused work. This is referred to as the pomodoro method. However, new data seems to indicate that the most productive employees take a 17 minute break after 52 minutes of focused work.
4) Eat Brain Foods
Feeling the onset of dizziness or the start of a debilitating headache while working? This might be one way your body is using to tell you that you need to refuel. Instead of grabbing the nearest sugar doughnut or the greasy leftover burger from lunch, opt for healthier snacks that helps the brain function, such as fruits and vegetables. To get rid of the excuse of not having healthy options available, pack your very own snack box from home. Load it up with carrots, a good-sized apple, yogurt, or even just a handful of the nuts of your choice. Stay miles away from food items that are rich in sugar or fat, as they can make you extremely lethargic and sluggish.
5) Do Cardio
Cardio has been shown to be extremely beneficial to the brain. Research from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology identified changes in the middle-frontal and superior regions of the brain after cardio exercise. These two areas of the brain control goal-oriented focus, spatial attention, and decision-making skills. In addition, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that those who did cardio exercise of at least 40 minutes per week had bigger volume of neurons within the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that controls learning and memory. So if you want to learn how to improve your concentration, be sure to incorporate regular cardio into your routine. There hasn’t been too much research into the cognitive benefits of strength training but preliminary research seem to indicate that cardio exercise has more mental benefits than strength training. To read more about the various benefits of cardio for the brain, read our article on the cognitive benefits of exercise.
6) Exercise Your Brain to Increase Attention and Concentration
Just like your body, your brain needs regular exercise. One enjoyable way to make sure your brain gets enough exercise is to solve puzzles. Instead of dedicating your nights and weekends to your beloved television shows, devote your free time to sharpening your mind. Choose from among the different types of mentally challenging activities such as jigsaw puzzles, word searches, logic puzzles, or Sudoku. For best results, try your hand (and brain) at everything that challenges your brain and pushes its boundaries! Doing mentally challenging tasks will allow your brain to increase its capacity to pay attention.
There is a diminishing return on mental exercises after a certain point—that certain point is when the activity is no longer mentally challenging. As our mental capacity builds, things get a easier and less challenging. To constantly improve our brains, we have to constantly challenge it. Thus, doing the 10,000th crossword puzzle will yield less mental benefits than doing our 10th sudoku puzzle. So in order to maximize benefits of using mental exercise to boost your capacity for attention, concentration, and cognition, you should always be challenging your brain.
7) Become Aware and Pay Attention
Sometimes we can’t help but daze off. This might be because we are doing mind-numbing work or it is just because we are tired. But paying attention and being self-aware is crucial to staying concentrated on what you are doing. Once you are self-aware, you will know exactly when you are really getting work done and when you are just slacking off. And by virtue of just paying attention, you will be able to get yourself back on track much easier.