14 Ways to Stay Focused
My brain didn't want to cooperate. I kept reading the same
paragraph and I kept understanding nothing. After many
unsuccessful attempts at trying to concentrate, I gave up. I knew I
needed help to stay focused.
So I decided write a list of things that would help me stay focused
when I need it the most. I hope you find this list helpful.
Why is it so hard to concentrate?
Distractions are everywhere! It's no wonder that we have such a
hard time concentrating. External as well as internal pollutants
make it hard for our brain to stay focused. Internal pollutants
(stress, pain, exhaustion) are just as distracting as external
pollutants (loud noises, calls, or text messages), if not more so.
Something else that doesn't help matters is the structure of our
brain. The part of the brain that deals with concentration (the pre-frontal
cortex) also happens to be the same part that deals with emotions.
So if you are experiencing any strong emotion - elation, anger,
sadness, fear - you are bound to be extremely distracted.
So what can we do to stay focused?
How much trouble do you have?
How many hours a day do you spend distracted?
1) Identify the problem
Find out what is distracting you. Is it something external or
internal? If it's something external, see if you can dispose of it.
Sometimes we are distracted by loud noises or by shoes that don't
fit right and we don't even become aware of this distraction until we
try hard to identify it.
Protein and concentration
Protein can help your brain stay focused and alert. Protein provides your body with tyrosene, which is an aminoacid that increases the production of neurotransmitters - such as dopamine and norepinephrine - which help keep your mind focused and productive.
However, don't mix carbohydrates and proteins. The calming effect of the carbs could cancel out the focusing properties of protein.
We all know that computers, internet and smart phones are major
distractors. You check your email to see if you have a message from
your boss, and somehow you end up looking at pictures of pretty
Save yourself the trouble (and the time) and turn off everything
that could potentially distract you. Turn off your phone and your wifi
and get to work.
3) Have a good breakfast
Eating a good, healthy breakfast can improve the brain's ability to
remain focused and to concentrate. Remember that a good
breakfast means quality not quantity.
4) Use headphones
Headphones are a universal signal that says:
"I don't want to talk to anyone."
And you know what? It works!
So if you want to stop your co-workers or family members from
distracting you, buy some big headphones and use them as your
Or you can be even more direct and make a sign that says "Do not
disturb", and place it where every one can see it.
5) Set goals
Before diving head first into the task that requires your full and undivided attention, set short term goals so you can have a clear picture of what you're trying to accomplish. After you reach each
little goal, reward yourself with a little break.
*I remember seeing a picture on reddit of a page that had a gummy bear at the end of each paragraph. If you ask me, that's one of the best ways to study!
6) Clean your work area
Even the smallest little thing can become a distractor when your brain isn't cooperating. If you have post-it notes plastered everywhere, or if your desk still has vestiges of yesterday's lunch,
clean it up! Get rid of anything that could become a source distraction, even if it means removing family pictures.
Everyone has trouble concentrating...
50% of US employees say that they can work for 15 straight minutes before they get distracted, while 53% say they waste 1 hour or more being distracted during work hours.
Caffeine can make most people feel more alert and awake. Coffee is the most popular source of caffeine, but there are other drinks out there that can be even more effective than coffee, such as yerba mate. Have you tried it? It keeps me up and focused for hours.
8) Find out when you're more awake
We all have those times of the day in which we feel more "in the zone" or when concentration just seems to come easier. For me, evenings are usually my best time, while others prefer the morning. Find out what time works best for you and create your routine
around that time, if at all possible.
Save the repepetive tasks for when you have less energy.
9) Eat right
There are foods that can be very heavy on our systems and drain us of any bit of energy we have left. It is easier to get distracted (and sleepy) after a heavy lunch, which leaves our brain vulnerable to any source of distraction, and resulting in complete loss of concentration.
10) Don't multitask
Do one thing at a time. Multitasking just makes it easier for your brain to lose focus. Every other activity you take on is like opening another window for distraction to come in. The more windows you have open, the easier it will be for distraction to enter your brain.
Sleep is essential for your body to keep energized and alert. Lack of sleep can make you feel and act like a zombie. You can't think clearly, and your brain feels all fogged up, as if clouds were lingering in every corner. It's impossible to focus under those conditions.
12) Divide big tasks into smaller ones
This method is useful for keeping you concentrating as well as for reducing stress. Instead of saying:
"I need to read this whole chapter."
"I need to read 5 paragraphs."
Reward yourself every time you finish a one of those small tasks.
13) Have everything ready
Think in advance of what you will need. For example, if I know I'm going to study, I gather everything I need before I actually sit down to study. So I grab my book, several pens of different colors, notebooks, highlighters, post-it notes and a cup of tea.
Every time you get up to get something you need, it's an opportunity for your brain to get distracted.
14) Train your mind
Sometimes you just won't be able to work under optimal circumstances. The solution? Train your brain to stay focused despite distractions. Do this exercise for 5 minutes a day, gradually increasing its duration as you see fit:
- Turn on the TV
- Turn on the radio
- Play some youTube video
- Sit down and read, and try your best to understand what you're reading.
Work on this exercise until you learn how to stay focused even if the world is falling apart.