This article was last updated on December 29, 2015
We’ve all had that frantic moment when our focus and willpower seem to fail us. You need to concentrate – that big exam or project for work is due tomorrow and if you don’t finish it now, you’re doomed. Calm down. Breathe. Here are ten ways to increase your ability to focus.
10 concentration-boosting tricks
Those late night Netflix binges aren’t doing your concentration any favors. You can’t expect to be able to focus if you’re falling asleep. It’s very important to have 7-9 hours of restful sleep before you need to wake up and be productive.
This is all pretty self-explanatory, but if you want to get really scientific about it, there are plenty of sleep tracking apps that can monitor the regular rhythms in your sleep and wake you up within a window of time of your choosing.
Decide Where to Focus
It is impossible to focus if you don’t know what you need to focus on. Take the time you need to make an action plan for yourself, whether that means an overarching to-do list, or a list of simple steps required to complete a larger project. Even if it feels like a waste of time at the onset, it will save you a lot of time down the road.
Shut-Down Your Distractions
I don’t care what’s distracting you – just stop it, right now. Turn off your phone. Make a vow not to check your email until you’re done. Block Facebook if you have to. You’ll thank me later.
Get the Right Background Noise
Anyone who has ever had to study in a spot shared with a crying baby (hello, every airplane ride I’ve been on) or merry party-going roommates knows just how distracting certain background noises can be. On the other hand, try to work in a completely silent room and you may quickly find yourself going insane. It can be hard to strike a balance between a distraction and a motivational level of noise.
Personally, I find that listening to classical and instrumental music is great while I’m writing – music with words is just too disruptive when I’m trying to construct my own thoughts. But maybe working with music just isn’t for you. In that case, white noise is always a great option, like RainyMood (soothing rain sounds) or Coffeetivity (the ever-relaxing sounds of your local coffee shop). Or you could just head over to your local coffee shop. That works, too.
Do It Now
That’s right, now. Not after lunch. Not tomorrow. Not next week. If you’ve got a task you’ve just been dreading, tackling it will be a great concentration boost. Just imagine it: after you’re done you won’t have to worry about doing it anymore.
I see you reaching for your latte. What if, instead of getting yourself so drugged up on caffeine that your heart starts racing, you took a brisk walk around the block, or at the very least, around your building? When you rely on caffeine, you build up a tolerance and an expectation where your body needs the drug to feel focused. But cardio is free and wakes up other regions of your brain.
Eat for Concentration
Feeling sluggish? Believe it or not, that may be due to what you had for breakfast or lunch. According to the Society for Neuroscience, walnuts and blueberries help maintain and may even reverse the aging of your brain. Spinach and carrots are power foods as well. Be sure you’re eating organic to get the full benefits of increased nutrients. And if you love sushi, you’re in luck: eating fish gives your brain a huge boost, thanks to the Omega-3.
Feeling a little difficulty concentrating? It may mean you’re dehydrated. And this doesn’t only apply to when you are thirsty – as little as a 1.5% drop in your usual water volume can negatively affect your concentration. Next time you need to focus, prevent dehydration by drinking a glass of water beforehand.
The sensation of breathing deeply – where you really listen to your breath as it goes in and out of your body – is great for your concentration. If you put a focus on the way you are breathing, it will automatically slow down and allow for increased thinking ability.
See with New Eyes
Totally stumped? Maybe you’ve been looking at your problems for too long. Take a moment to really observe. Try to see the issue with new eyes, as though you are looking at it for the first time, or you’re an outsider. You may notice things you otherwise would have missed.
Concentration isn’t an achievable zen-like status that few of us ever reach. By combining the simple tricks outlined above, you will be setting yourself up for success.
Photo credit: Seth Capitulo