7 Ways to Improve Focus and Concentration at Work
One of my biggest challenges since childhood has been my tendency to daydream. The wandering mind is great for creative thinking and ideas, but not so much when it comes to the practical skills needed to stay focused on my work and keep deadlines!
There is a lot of advice out there about how to concentrate. A lot of it involves “discipline” or “willpower” - etc. That “just focus!” mantra doesn't really work and while taking a short break and coming back can be helpful, it isn't always practical at the moment you most feel the need to break away.
What follows are the best techniques for increasing focus and concentration that I've found work for me. I hope some will help you as well.
First things first, lose the notion of multitasking. It makes you more prone to anxiety, and less prone to being productive. As a natural multi-tasker; this was a tough habit to break. Once I did, I was much happier and better equipped to make deadlines without agonizing over them. It's difficult to stay focused on the task at hand when your mind is juggling all the things you “have” to do. If your brain is able to stay fully engaged with one task at a time; you will naturally become more efficient. Trust me; it works.
I work as a freelance writer and graphic designer. This means juggling several jobs a month. Each morning I assess what needs to be done and then I prioritize those tasks in order of importance, going through my checklist one by one. Checking things off also boosts motivation. Bonus! As you see things being crossed off; it energizes you and gives you the desire to keep going.
Listen to Binaural Beats
This is a specific type of tone that when you stimulates both sides of the brain, allowing not only for greater focus and concentration after just a few minutes of listening, but also more creative whole brain thinking. I didn't buy this either when I first heard about it, but I started listening to some on YouTube and I was hooked pretty quickly when I sat down to do an assignment and didn't look up again for over 2 hours. My mind did not wander; the brain was fully engaged with the task at hand.
This video below is a good example, but if you do a search on YouTube for “focus and concentration binaural beats” more than 50,000 results will pop up. You'll find them embedded into a variety of styles of music – mostly trance-like music. It doesn't make you tired like you would expect. It simultaneously relaxes and stimulates. Pretty amazing stuff!
Use a Timer
At first, this seems like it would heighten anxiety or add pressure, but what it does is give you an accurate idea of what you can accomplish in a certain amount of time. Many of us with “wandering minds” also struggle with time management and tend to overestimate what we are able to complete within a set time frame. It also allows you to schedule quick breaks that can refresh your mind. Time your breaks too!
There are free desktop timers that are not intrusive. The one I use is very simple, you set the time at the end it beeps you hit reset. It doesn't take up a lot of memory and you can move the little clock wherever or even hide it.
Use your timer as a way to make sure you concentrate and take breaks at specific intervals so that you develop those good habits. Also, use it to track your progress and get better estimates of what you can handle without becoming overburdened or more stressed. Sometimes, it can be fun to “beat your time” too, to ease boredom with repetitive tasks, but don't do this if it's going to interfere with quality. After all, it sucks up more time to have to go back and fix multiple errors.
Free Timer to Keep You on Track
- Free Desktop Timer
Free Desktop Timer is a simple utility that allows you to create multiple timers on your desktop. This is a handy tool that enables you to close the PC after you have gone to bed or left home.
Block Distractions & Time Wasters
If you work a desk job where you have access to the internet you may not realize how much time you fritter away on social media and other sites. You may think you're taking just a quick minute to check in on Facebook or read email, but those minutes, over the course of the day, week, and year add up to a LOT of lost productivity.
Lets say you wasted a total of one hour a day, that's 365 hours at the end of the year – just over 15 days! 15 days of work is a lot of time and money. Yes, most of us don't work 365 days a year ;), but many do kill more than an hour easily with distractions. Think about it. If you freelance like I do, the more time wasted, the lower the paycheck!
If you use Firefox browser, there is a lovely free add-on you can get called “Leechblock”. This little tool is so versatile! You can block entire sites for specific hours on specific days – or you can allow access for only so many minutes per hour. You can set it up in a way that works for you. If you find you try to visit the blocked sites you will get a screen that tells you this site has been blocked. You may be shocked the first few days how many times you trigger that screen. I know I was!
Learn more about LeechBlock here: LeechBlock Add-on
Purchase Noise Canceling Headphones
If you work in a noisy environment that tends to break your concentration; consider investing in a set of noise canceling headphones. Trust me, the investment is well worth the money for what they can do to enhance productivity and focus. They work to reduce ambient noise, but when it comes to music, they bring it to life.
You can hear all the subtle variations in tunes you may not have noticed before. If you use them with concentration enhancing music – wow, it's almost otherworldly and you can truly get lost in your work. I find it not only helps productivity, it makes my writing flow easier and I don't have to do a lot of editing.
Exercise at Work
I know this isn't always practical for everyone, but do what you can. Every hour you sit, you should spend 5-10 minutes moving. This increases blood flow to the brain, making it easier to concentrate. It also helps prevent the numerous life-threatening illnesses that can result from a sedentary lifestyle.
Do some yoga poses, get up and walk around a few minutes, or spend your lunch break standing and on your feet if you sit all day. If you are able, get a standing desk where you can do at least some of your work upright. It's less hard on your body than sitting constantly.
Toss a set of dumbbells under your desk and use them a couple of times a day. There are all kinds of ways to sneak in movement. It will make work flow smoother and make you less inclined to be sleepy, bored and distracted later in the day.
Features to Make Your Office Space More Work Friendly
Focus and concentration require a friendly environment that you enjoy being in. Add color to your environment that is soothing. Greens work very well. Green is a soothing color, but not so soothing it lulls you to sleep like shades of blue. Avoid an abundance of blue in an office area or your urge to nap mid-day may be stronger than your will to work.
A touch of bright color like Yellow can be cheery, but too much is taxing on the eyes. Use sparingly. Avoid “dreary” colors also like gray.
Try to get plenty of natural light from the window. If the outdoor scenes are distracting hang mini blinds and open them enough to let light in but block most of the view. Open a window on nice days for fresh air.
Bring in a fountain or other feature that provides soft, neutral noise in the background. This is more soothing than the whir of a computer fan or sounds of people walking around etc. Use headphones when possible that cancel out outside noise.
I love Himalayan salt lamps also. They are very affordable and very soothing when lit. They release negative ions into the air that help you breathe easier. If you ever walk by the ocean and breathe the salt air and find it clears your mind and helps you feel energized – that's why. The release of negative ions from the salt. A salt lamp can impart some of that same peaceful energy. Salt lamps are also very pretty and come in a variety of natural shades from pale pinks to deep oranges.
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© 2014 Christin Sander
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