I’ll put my hand up and admit it, I have been rubbish at focussing this week. Somehow, despite having fewer distractions, being able to work at home alone for the first time since the beginning of quarantine, I’ve lost my ability to really concentrate. So, I’ve been trialling some tricks to help improve focus.
Whether you’re studying, working or just trying to get something done, these tricks will help keep you on track.
I did a blog previously on my top long-term habits to improve your concentration, but today’s post will be more focused on exterior things you can incorporate into your routine right now to help you focus.
“The power to concentrate was the most important thing. Living without this power would be like opening one’s eyes without seeing anything.” – Haruki Murakami
1. Have a schedule
Hear me out here! I know so many people hate schedules and shy away from calendars, but used well, they’re such an underrated tool. It’s always struck me as strange that most people don’t like agendas, but I think the problem is mainly in how we use them.
I used to always fall off using an agenda. I’d try, but it would always get left behind. Until one day, I figured out why. I was only writing in my responsibilities. When I wake up in the morning, I didn’t want to look at my agenda – it was just a big list of things I had to get done. And that’s the key. To get excited about your agenda, you need to be excited about the day it’s showing you.
To make your schedule a friend, you need to schedule in a good day ~ something you’re excited to wake up to.
I started writing in my plans for the evening, little pockets of me-time, like taking a walk or visiting a friend. Of course, it also needs to include your responsibilities too, whether they’re things you enjoy or not, but you can still plan those to be good, fun activities. Plan to do your least favourite task of the day in a coffee shop, or somewhere outside. Do the hardest thing first, and then give yourself something to look forward to late in the day.
2. Minimise distractions
This one’s always a real kicker. It can take a lot of self-awareness and discipline to really recognise and admit to what distracts us. Putting your phone away, turning off irrelevant notifications and sitting down to crack on takes a lot of willpower!
I always find social media to be my downfall. It’s a part of my job, but I still check it a little too often and stay a little too long when I do. One trick I’ve learnt is to have designated times for checking things like social media or emails, to keep yourself out of the wormhole for the rest of the day. Setting a window also keeps you working effectively, not dawdling or scrolling when you could be getting on with something else.
But some distractions are a little less controllable, example number one: other people. In the office I used to work in, we had a headphones on=do not disturb rule that I always found really effective to keep people concentrating and in the zone. We’d leave a little message for them to come and see us when they were next free and left them to it. That way, nobody got disturbed without good reason.
3. Have a distraction to-do list
I mentioned this in my blog on concentration habits too, but I had to put it in here as well because I think it’s one of the best pieces of advice I can give. We’ve grown so used to the internet and limitless, instant information at our fingertips, that we’ve formed a habit of always following up on our distractions.
This might not sound so bad, but studies have shown that it can take up to 25 minutes to get back into the swing of things after being distracted from your work. So whilst they may seem small and harmless, following up on that two-second thought might just cost you 25 minutes.
Having a distraction to-do list gives you a space to list any impulsive questions or thoughts down to be looked up or acted on later.
“I wonder what the weather’s doing tomorrow”
“Did this song come out in ‘94 or ‘95?”
“Maybe we should go to the cinema at the weekend, I’ll just take a look at the ticket price”
Promising yourself you’ll look it up later might keep the thought sat, tapping its foot in the back of your head, not trusting you to remember it later on. So having somewhere to put those thoughts, knowing you’ll come back to them, should allow your brain to accept that they’re safe and looked after, and let you turn your full focus back to the task at hand.
4. Have a go-to focus playlist
The music debate is a big one and ultimately, I think it just comes down to personal preference. I like something bouncy, lyric-less, and upbeat when I work. I know others who would never stray from classical, and others who can only work with the chaotic sounds of some form of heavy metal I won’t pretend to know the name of.
We’re very habitual creatures, so using a cue like music to signal that you’re going to start working can make it easier for your brain to accept slipping into work mode. Have playlists for different tasks to keep things fresh and see what works for you.
5. Take stimulating, short breaks
It sounds counterintuitive to say to take a break when we’re talking about how to improve focus, but taking breaks really gives your brain the chance to refresh and catch up. Have breaks and use them for something! Walk around the block, go play with your dog, have a coffee in the kitchen and have a chat with somebody. Our brain needs rest to process and retain the information we’ve just taken in. If you’re slogging through difficult tasks, your brain might also just need a bit of fun.
So, when you take your break, don’t reach for your phone! Your phone provides a source of endless and extreme amounts of information, which will only turn up the temperature on your already over-cooked brain. Do something active, but fairly passive to keep you refreshed.
6. Use your space
I’m a person that’s really affected by my environment and I find myself so much more productive in a bright, tidy environment ~ clutter is my kryptonite. So I make it a priority to keep my workspace clean and tidy before I sit down. Maybe you work better when you have everything spread out in front of you, maybe you need visual reminders of your to-dos or bright coloured sticky notes everywhere to keep you on track. Whatever your preference is, don’t dismiss it, work with it and watch the benefits come.
I’m also a self-confessed work fidget. Even when I worked in an office, I’d struggle to do creative work at my desk and I’d spend my days scattered around the office to keep my creativity flowing. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but even just switching up the layout or how you sit at your desk can have a big effect on your productivity. It’s very specialised to you so have fun! Experiment!
You can even have dedicated spaces for types of tasks! When your brain sits at your desk, it’ll automatically jump into admin mode and when you sit back on the sofa, it’ll pump up the creativity juice (or at least mine does. Again, I’m a fidget).
There you have it! I even implemented these tricks whilst I was working on this blog and guess what? Quickest one I’ve written all week! The proof is in the pudding. Or, the believability is in the blog…?
Hopefully, these 6 tricks to help improve focus will help you put your all into your projects and make some headway in your work and goals. I wish you the best of luck with whatever you’re cracking on with.
Love, Ella-Rose xx