9 Common Sense Ways to Improve Focus and Concentration
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Updated: February 10, 2018
Many of us desire to improve focus and concentration. We want to be mentally sharp so that we perform at our maximum effectiveness, including optimal levels of efficiency and creativity.
Here's the problem...
You have loads of work to complete, seemingly endless projects or chores, and you can't seem to focus long enough to get through even one of them.
We've all been there.
Given the tremendous responsibility on women today, it's not surprising that many of us struggle with lack of focus and low levels of concentration.
Between jobs, kids, spouses, community...and sometimes add to the mix aging parents, special needs of the family, and financial problems...our minds never have a moment of peace.
And there are always distractions.
Trying to concentrate for just a few moments without experiencing a diversion or interruption of some sort can be a real struggle.
Unfortunately, these days, very few of us are exempt from this kind of pressure. Whether you're a CEO, stay at home mom, small-business entrepreneur, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, the pressure is on to hold everything together.
How can that be accomplished though, when every time you sit down to focus on something or complete a task, five other things instantly pop up?
Or...you suddenly remember twelve things you forgot to do.
Or that last argument with your spouse or friend keeps replaying on that infinite loop in your mind?
Believe it or not, there are ways you can combat distractions, sharpen focus and improve your concentration.
This is not rocket science.
It involves a bit of practice and takes some time to make into a regular habit, but it is possible to improve focus in a significant way.
Through regular performance of a few behavioral modifications and some fairly simple focus tips and tricks, you can train your brain to maintain focus, make distractions a thing of the past and have the needed concentration to accomplish the task at hand.
But to improve focus, it's initially important to look for clues as to what may be sabotaging your concentration in the first place.
Are you too much of a night owl? Do you love caffeine? Are you dehydrated?
If any of these sound familiar, your lack of focus may be attributed to characteristics of your lifestyle. Consider these concentration tips to help you improve focus, avoid distractions and be successful in your daily routine:
1. Make Sure You Are Not Dehydrated
I've said it before, I'll say it again. Drink more water!
Your body is 60% water! Your brain and your heart are each composed of 70% water! Water is crucial to the proper function of your body's systems.
It may seem unlikely, but studies have shown that even being only slightly dehydrated can cause a change in brain function that leads to inattention.
It is your body's way of trying to get your attention and let you know that something is not how it should be.
This clue can be easy to miss because we usually associate dehydration with extreme thirst. However, the truth is you may actually be dehydrated long before you feel really thirsty.
If drinking adequate amounts of water is difficult for you, try to change things up a bit from the usual.
Drink flavored water (no sugar).
Get a fun water bottle to take to work or to keep on your desk.
Set an alarm on your watch or smartphone to help remind you to take a drink if you slack off.
Just keep that water handy and drink up!
2. Fuel Your Body and Brain
Just as a lack of water can cause your body to react in a negative way, lack of proper nutrition can do the same thing.
Your body is a machine that needs specific fuel to function.
Without the nutrients it needs, your body, and more importantly your brain, cannot function in the way that they should or to their optimum potential.
Among other things, poor nutrition can result in decreased energy, focus and concentration. It can also be the cause of an increase in fatigue or irritability, none of which will help you in accomplishing what you need to.
This doesn't mean a triple latte for breakfast and donuts for lunch.
Though caffeine can temporarily help you feel more alert, it eventually wears off and you may struggle more than ever.
Try to limit caffeine-laden drinks to no more than one or two a day to avoid the possibility of becoming dependent on them.
Choose healthy meals and snacks and avoid overeating, which can make you sluggish.
Below we have provided a list of 16 foods which are easily found at your neighborhood grocery, that are good for your brain health and beneficial for improving focus and concentration.
Natural Foods That Promote Brain Health, Improved Focus and Improved Concentration
Avocados – A monounsaturated fat, nutrient dense food containing nearly 20 vitamins and minerals. Contributes to healthy blood flow which is great for your brain.
Bananas – Almost completely fat-free, no cholesterol, great fiber source. Natural source of several vitamins and minerals, most notably amino acids and potassium.
Beans (Black beans and Lentils) – The brain needs glucose (sugar) to function properly. Beans provide a stable glucose/energy nutrition source for your body which promotes good brain function.
Beets – Can increase blood flow to the brain supplying it with more oxygen. Also helps brain neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to form, change and reorganize synaptic connections.)
Blueberries – In addition to their great benefits for heart health, blueberries are a great source of antioxidants and help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of Alzheimer's and dementia.
Broccoli – A source of vitamin K and Choline which improve the brain's cognitive function and memory.
Celery – A source of luteolin which may help reduce inflammation that contributes to neurodegeneration.
Dark Chocolate – Benefits memory, acts as an anti-inflammatory, helps with depression and is good for blood pressure.
Egg Yolks – Contain vitamins A, D, E and K, Omega-3 fats, and the nutrient Choline which supports normal brain development, healthy metabolism and energy levels.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Reverses oxidative brain damage affecting learning and memory. Contains antioxidants proven to reverse age- and disease-related learning and memory loss.
Kale – Extremely nutrient rich,contains plant-based Omega-3s great for your brain health, lowers risk of depression and contains carotenoids linked to increased optimism.
Oats/Oatmeal – Contains B-Vitamins that help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's Disease and brain shrinkage, and glucose that helps your brain to function.
Spinach – (and other “leafy” greens) Contain Vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotenes which promote optimal brain function and health, and are believed to be helpful in preventing dementia, and are good for heart health and blood circulation (which also benefits brain function).
Sunflower Seeds – Contain a high amount of thiamine (an important B vitamin) that increases the brain's cognitive function and memory, as well as tryptophan which the brain converts to serotonin that helps with both insomnia and mild depression.
Walnuts – Packed with brain-healthy nutrients such as omega-3 fats, folate, Vitamin E, antioxidants and more that support and promote brain health, improve cognitive function, and help prevent age-related brain decline.
Wild Salmon – Packed with numerous healthy nutrients including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, the antioxidant amino acid taurine, selenium, vitamins B6, B12 and D, choline, potassium, niacine and more, it helps protect your neurons (brain cells), helps produce neurotransmitters (critical to brain messaging), helps to protect your brain against memory loss and cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and mood disorders.
In addition, to all of the foods listed above, the spice turmeric, and the herb, rosemary are also healthy for your brain.
3. Get Enough Sleep
With all the "busy"ness of everyday life and our efforts to squeeze more and more into each 24-hour day, we often sacrifice in the only area we believe we can...sleep.
It may seem no big deal to lose an hour or two of sleep each night, but a constant pattern of sleep deprivation can have real, adverse effects on your health, including your ability to focus and concentrate.
Adults need a good 7 - 9 hours of sleep each night to function at optimal levels.
If you are not getting close to this amount, it may be the reason for difficulty in focusing.
No matter how much is on your plate, it is important to make sleep a priority for your own physical and mental health, and so you can be there for others when they need you as well.
4. Tame the Technology
Yes, technology is everywhere and yes, it may seem next to impossible, but finding ways to keep your devices at a distance for short periods can be done!
It's very difficult for even the most disciplined among us to concentrate with the constant “ping” of email notifications or pops from Facebook messages constantly sounding off.
Silence your devices or remove them entirely for at least 15 - 30 minutes at a time.
If you are awaiting something specific (and truly important), allow yourself to check every 15 minutes for that notification only, if you must.
It may be a shocking thought, but your life and the lives of those around you will not cease to function in the temporary absence of technology. Seriously.
When there are many tasks to accomplish, it's easy to begin to feel overwhelmed and at a loss of even where to start.
This is when you know that things are getting out of hand and a plan of action is required. It may be difficult, but take the time to sit down and prioritize all that you have to do.
Place your most critical, I-have-to-get-this-done-no-matter-what tasks at the top.
Be honest about what is really important and what is not. Is there anything you can eliminate all together?
You may be surprised to find out that certain things are not as urgent as you thought. Then, begin with the top of your list.
Finishing up high priority things can give you a sense of relief that will help carry you through your other tasks.
6. Break Down Tasks into Smaller Segments
Similar to the point above, sometimes we have a large task that is so complex, it leaves us wondering how to get started and how we'll ever finish it all.
If you break down that large task into smaller, more easily achievable ones, it can give you some momentum as you check them off your list.
For instance, if you are in charge of planning the entire office party, you could break it down into smaller tasks such as - write the email invitation, reserve the venue, contact and confirm entertainment, finalize the menu, etc.
With each task that you are able to accomplish, you'll move closer and closer to finishing it as a whole. Besides, six check marks feels better than just one, especially after that much work!
7. Conquer One Task at a Time
Nothing can make you feel overwhelmed faster than trying to do several things all at once.
While the ability to multitask is a beneficial one and sometimes necessary, it is not always in your best interest to approach your to-do list that way.
Choose your highest priority task and dive into that, knowing you'll tackle other projects when you're done.
By focusing on one specific task, you'll be less distracted by all the other things you're trying to get done.
It may be difficult to put other things out of your mind at first; place visual reminders around you if you must, but once you finish the task - you're done!
Let that feeling of accomplishment spur you on to the next one.
8. Create a Distraction-Free Workplace
Whether you are working at a desk, a kitchen table, an office or your backyard, remove as many distractions as possible from the area in which you will be working.
This includes cell phones, tablets or music - only if it distracts you; sometimes instrumental music or "white noise" can be helpful in drowning out other distracting noises.
Check over the area where you are working and see if there's anything else that causes you to lose focus and remove it if possible.
While you can't always control what might pop into your mind, you can control (usually) the environment you work in so that you don't set yourself up for distractions before you even begin.
9. Reward Yourself
Despite what you may think, this is not a Kindergarten tactic. Hard work deserves an incentive and sometimes that's all it takes to give you enough extra motivation to get the job done.
What that incentive is can be totally up to you, but don't make it something that will sabotage another area of your life.
For instance, don't reward yourself with cheesecake if you're trying to eat healthier or lose weight.
Don't take a trip to the mall if you struggle to balance your budget each month. Make the reward appropriate to the task.
It doesn't have to be large or expensive, either. Watching a movie you've been wanting to see would be a welcome treat after finishing a tedious inventory report. Sometimes it only takes a little light in the distance to keep us moving forward.
Changing the way you work and approach tasks can be difficult at first and may take some time.
But this is time worth investing, and investing it now can lead to big payoffs in the future.
Once you are in the habit of working better, it will become second nature to you and finishing your to-do list won't be just a dream anymore.
But don't try to do it all at once.
Trying to implement all nine of these tips at once could be overwhelming.
Choose one or two of them to work on at a time.
If lack of sleep is dragging you down, work in more sleep 15 minutes at a time until you're up to where you should be.
If technology runs your life, start taking tech breaks for even a few minutes at a time to get used to the idea.
You may be surprised to find out that you enjoy this new kind of freedom!
However you choose to approach it, remember the goal is to improve focus and, therefore, productivity in your life.
The cure shouldn't be more stressful than the task, so if something seems to add more frustration than relieve it, move on to the next one.
This is an investment in yourself, so give it time.
Improved focus and concentration has infinitely valuable benefits.
It helps us to reduce stress (promoting longer and better quality life and health), build momentum (to propel us ever forward), “plug in” to what we're doing (increasing our engagement and satisfaction), attract more and better opportunities for what we desire, and improve our thinking and abilities to make better decisions.
Soon you'll find a balance that works for you and one that will help to improve your concentration, keep you focused and on task, and bring a higher quality of life to your daily routine.
And that is an investment worth making.
Do you have problems with focus and concentration? Let me know in the comments. And if you have friends, family or just someone you know that would benefit from this post in their personal journey, share this with them. Thanks!
Kimberly Clay is the founder and creative force behind What She Say. She’s a business professional, writer and editor who’s been creating and managing digital content for nearly twenty years. Her work is now focused in the areas of self-improvement and personal development, and she is passionate about helping other individuals, especially women, to find a path for living their best life.