Can focus be improved?
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
The short answer is: Yes, it can. But that’s probably not why you’re coming to a blog post. You want the hows and the tips and tricks and you’ll be happy to know you’ve come to the right place for that. 😊
There are many ways you can improve your focus. They can be roughly divided into two groups – all you can do so your brain works better (lifestyle, nutrition, etc.) and all you can do to change your environment, so your brain doesn’t have to work quite as hard to focus.
Let’s start with how we can improve our brain health so that it can function at peak capacity.
Brain Health Tips
Improving your sleep can make the biggest difference to your focus, especially if you’re currently not getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep is connected to not only loss of concentration, but also impaired memory and overall lower brain function.
What can you do to improve your sleep? Turning off any blue light devices such as mobile phones, tablets or the TV at least an hour before going to bed is a good start. Blue light will mess with your brain chemistry to make good sleep much harder.
Creating the perfect conditions for a good night’s sleep is called Sleep Hygiene (click the link to the Sleep Foundation to find out more).
We’re constantly being told to exercise and for good reason. Getting enough exercise, especially the aerobic kind can work wonders. It not only helps you sleep better at night (see above) and improves our overall health, it is also beneficial for our ability to concentrate. You don’t have to join a gym, simply adding a brisk walk to your daily schedule will do the trick.
Food & Drink
Getting the right nutrients will boost your memory and your ability to focus. Cut down on greasy processed foods that are rich in sugar and you will not only improve your brain but your overall health. Try incorporating foods such as fish, eggs, nuts and seeds as well as lots of fruits and vegetables. For a whole list of “brain foods” check out this post from the Healthline Blog.
Mindfulness & Meditation
Mindfulness is quite a buzzword these days and for good reasons. Studies have shown that a regular practice of mindfulness (or meditation for that matter) can increase your ability to focus and deal better with the stresses of everyday life.
It only takes a few minutes of practice each day to make a difference and be as simple as focussing on your breathing for a few minutes.
If you feel you’re doing everything you can but still find you can’t concentrate properly, it might be worth getting a health check. Many underlying conditions can cause a lack of focus or brain fog, so it’s worth finding out by getting a thorough medical check-up.
How to improve your environment
Being constantly surrounded by unfinished tasks, sticky notes with reminders and piles of unrelated work can wreak havoc with your concentration and focus. Only have the task you’re working on in your line of sight, whether that’s on your desk or even on your screen.
For screen related work, only keep the programmes and tabs open that you need or at least have them in the background with no notifications pinging in. Trust me, you’ll get more done this way.
Reduce notifications to absolute minimum
Talking about notifications: is your screen a perpetual “reminder machine”? Do you have email notifications, pinging in your ears and sliding into view constantly? Switch them off. All of them. Check your emails at regular intervals so important messages don’t fall through the cracks, but make sure you have set focus times where nothing is coming through. Technology is created to support us, not the other way round. Constant interruptions are not supportive.
Listen to music
Some people do work best in total silence. If that is you, simply skip this paragraph. For everyone else, find a style of music that works for you to work to. My recommendation is to choose something without lyrics or lyrics in a language you don’t speak at all. Otherwise, you might end up singing along and typing the lyrics into the document you’re working on. Don’t laugh – I’ve done that.
You can have a browser window with YouTube open in the background. Some of my personal favourites are classical, film soundtracks, epic music, lofi and Viking battle music – depending on my mood and the task at hand.
Taking breaks may sound counterintuitive but bear with me. As humans we can only concentrate for a certain amount of time before our minds start to wander. That is completely normal. For most people this time period is between 20 and 90 minutes – and yes, you can increase it with practice. When you feel your mind starts to wander, take a few minutes away from your desk. Make yourself a drink, do a few star jumps, walk around the block, then get back to work and you will find that your mind is refreshed and you’re able to concentrate again.
You can also plan these breaks by working in short intensive bursts of focus with a timer. Try what works best for you. The Pomodoro Technique is a structured approach that works for many of my clients.
Over to you
Now that you have the tools, all you need to do is implement them. Easy, right?
If you’d like a personalised programme to increase your focus as well as the accountability to implement it, you might be interested in my Productivity Coaching Programme. We’ll not only cover focus but also every other aspect of improving your productivity such as creating good work habits, improve planning, reducing distractions and overcoming procrastination. If you have any questions, simply get in touch at email@example.com and we’ll set up an informal chat via Zoom or phone.