One moment you’re in the zone, determined to conquer this piece of assignment with time for more and the next you’ve got your phone in hand, scrolling through your tenth TikTok. Inability to focus? Guilty as charged.
Staying focused during work or at school is a common problem across all ages. A 2000s study on human concentration levels found that our average attention span has dwindled from 12 to 8 seconds owing to the growth of technology.
You’ll be glad to know that focus, like all other skills, can be trained and improved. Read on for 5 ways to take your concentration to the next level.
What is “focus”?
The dictionary defines focus as “the centre of interest or activity”. Essentially, being focused or focusing involves devoting undivided attention to a single task, thereby effectively eliminating regard for anything other than that particular task.
This is also why psychologists posit that multitasking is a myth. The brain can only really focus on one thing at a time and doing activities simultaneously ultimately slows down progress. Hence, completing a few tasks well is better than a slipshod many.
According to author and distinguished professor at Georgetown University, Cal Newport, a measure of true productivity depends on whether we’re engaging in shallow or deep work.
Shallow work is described as work that is non-taxing on the brain and often performed while distracted.
Conversely, deep work consists of high involvement that can create new value and improve skills. We tend to strive towards deep work in a professional setting.
Why can’t I focus?
Concentration can be quickly shattered in several ways, regardless of whether the task at hand is a simple chore or a mentally challenging project.
Some reasons for drifting focus range from minor issues to mental health conditions:
- Low self-discipline
- Poor self-care
- Lack of sleep
- Depression and anxiety
Actively locating and removing these focus-killing perpetrators is the first step towards enhanced performance and efficiency. To do this, try reflecting on your work style and identify any triggers to your attention span. This could be the chime of your Whatsapp notification or a coworker passing by in front of your desk.
If you feel that your wavering focus could stem from psychological conditions, seeking professional advice is recommended.
How to focus for greater outcomes
Now that the basics are established, here’s fool-proof ways you can improve focus like the pros and elevate productivity.
1. Draw up a to-do list and stick to it
Note down the tasks of the day and prioritise them in a way that makes sense to you and keeps to deadlines.
One way is to practice time-blocking which involves dividing the 24 hours in a day and allocating chunks of time to certain duties.
Another method is to pin down one “must-do task” per day. This is an absolutely non-negotiable job that cannot go undone by midnight. This method also helps improve self-discipline and time management.
2. Invest in your workspace
Decorating your work space can be as fun and therapeutic as it is work-enhancing.
Colour psychology in interior design shows that the hues that surround us have significant impacts on our mood and behaviour. Warm shades like gray-beige and earthy greens invoke calmness and are non-distracting. Corals and soft pinks raise concentration and spur creativity. So, for those seeking home office inspiration, look up some recommended tones for your desired results.
Generally, a clean and neat setup will motivate and promote productivity. Simply keep your desk clear with desk organisers and shelves.
Spice up the main working area with seat cushions and customisable LED lights. Whatever the case, make it comfortable but not too comfortable – you don’t want to end up napping instead.
3. Remove physical and digital distractions
Another effective way to raise focus levels is to prevent getting distracted at all.
Some physical distractions are easily solved. For example, turning your chair away from the hub of the office can minimise the risk of getting distracted by movement. Alternatively, be proactive and kindly inform colleagues of your schedule and when you’d prefer not to be disturbed.
Digital menaces can also be swiftly eradicated. The easiest solution would be to leave unnecessary devices like mobile phones and gaming equipment in another room, away from sight and reach.
Otherwise, muster the willpower to keep from social media or other online entertainment for a fixed time frame. This can be done by calling upon site-blocking applications to limit your Internet access or the smartphone’s “do not disturb” button and silent mode.
Productivity applications like Forest are useful tools that help “lock” your phone at the app screen, thereby forcing you to finish your work uninterrupted.
4. Switch to mindful snacking
The infamous food coma is no stranger. Avoid heavy meals before work or school to prevent unwanted drowsiness.
Instead, stock up on healthy snacks like granola bars and fruits to quell bouts of hunger and retain alertness. Next, prepare plenty of water by your table to fight dehydration and you’re good to go.
5. Try these hassle-free focus methods
A fast Internet search will uncover a slew of tried-and-tested productivity exercises and methods.
One of the most popular is the Pomodoro technique which encompasses staying attentive in short spurts of time:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working.
- When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break.
- Restart the timer and begin work.
- Repeat four times and after, allow yourself longer breaks (20-30 minutes)
Another way to dispel poor focus is to recognise when you’re getting distracted and immediately step away from that laptop. Instead of continuing your pseudo-concentration, take a break by engaging in relaxing activities or hobbies such as going on walks or yoga.
Once you’ve regained inspiration, jump back into work and watch the magic happen. Practising such self-reflection can also help increase your ability to focus over time.
There are also various “Study with me” channels where you can virtually work with the on-screen creator for hours on end. You can even make friends with like-minded hustlers in these wholesome communities.
Drifting focus can disrupt your work momentum and greatly reduce productivity. Steer clear of this by becoming aware of your weaknesses and setting clear, achievable boundaries when it comes to work and play.