What was I doing again?
We’ve all had days where we can’t seem to focus, asking that question too many times to count. For some of us, those days are more common than we’d like.
Whether it’s fatigue, distractions, lack of motivation, or something else entirely, our inability to focus digs a hole in our productivity and, therefore, can jeopardize our chances of success.
But you don’t have to go to extremes, like the main character in the Wolf of Wall Street does, to get focused. There are better ways. Here are 15 tips that scientists have found enhance focus.
Multitaskers might seem superhuman, but they pay a big price, according to a 2009 Stanford study. In a sample of 100 Stanford students, about half identified themselves as media multitaskers. The other half did not.
The test examined attention spans, memory capacity, and ability to switch from one task to the next — and the multitaskers performed more poorly on each test.
'They're suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them,' Clifford Nass, who was a researcher for the study, said in a Stanford press release.
If the saying 'practice makes perfect' is true, then meditation is a sure way to enhance focus because it takes a great deal of concentration. Scientific experiments agree:
One study at the University of North Carolina, for example revealed that students who meditated for just 20 minutes a day for 4 days performed better on certain cognitive tests.
Exercise isn't just good for the body. It promotes brain health, too, which is important for memory capacity and concentration, according to John Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
In particular, scientists think regular exercise may help stimulate the release of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor(BDNF), which some research suggests helps rewire memory circuits to improve their functioning.
If you're feeling groggy, grab a cup of joe or other caffeinated substance. Studies suggest that caffeine may, in moderate doses, help to boost focus — particularly in those of us who are fatigued.
But don't get overzealous with the coffee, or you might get the caffeine jitters, which typically reduce your ability to concentrate.
One of the main symptoms of chronic sleep loss is poor concentration. Getting a solid 7 to 8 hours ahead of a busy work day could be the difference between being frazzled and being laser focused.
If you can disconnect from the Internet, there are fewer things to distract you from the work at hand. Experts think that every time you flip between tasks -- whether it be responding to a friend on Facebook or checking your inbox -- a little bit of your attention remains with the task you just left.
Sophie Leroy, a professor at the University of Washington Bothell coined the term 'attention residue' as the reason for why it's so hard to change tasks. Eliminating those online distractions can keep you from finding tasks to flip between and help you focus.
Focusing requires a lot of willpower, and so does making decisions. According to a concept called ego depletion, we have a finite amount of mental energy, and both decision-making and willpower can drain it.
To save that energy for concentration, proponents of the theory suggest getting rid of excess variables that require you to make decisions, like choosing where to work. Try working from the same location whenever you need to focus, for example. That way, when it's time to get the work done, you won't have to waste time deciding where to go.
If you're used to needing multiple forms of stimulation while 'relaxing,' it may have a negative impact on your ability to focus, says Newport. So instead of checking Facebook from your phone while watching Netflix, he suggests picking one of the two activities or taking an all-out break from stimulation.
In small doses, Newport says boredom can be helpful, especially if it keeps you from multitasking overload.
We've all been there. You show up to the coffee shop, the whole day's ahead of you, but you just can't focus for an hour or two.
Newport says giving yourself tighter parameters could help cut down the amount of decisions you have to make. Like picking a consistent focus spot, designating 'focus hours' also helps fend off ego depletion.
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