Concentration skills are necessary for completing everyday tasks like and meeting deadlines. For some, the concept of staying on task can be more difficult than for others. This isn’t an uncommon issue when you consider how technology has introduced more needs to be met than there were 10 years ago, and the rise of social media. Between your work and the Internet, there’s always something competing for your attention. Once we get going on a project, a notification lights up a phone screen that gets us scrolling instead of working. Besides technology, there are a lot of environmental and physiological factors that take away our focus. Staying focused isn’t a skill that can be improved overnight. Here are some reasons you might have trouble focusing and how to conquer them:
- Lack of objectives or organization
- Stress and anxiety
- Distracting environments
- Inadequate sleep
- Pre-existing conditions
- Unhealthy diets
Lack of objectives or organization
Staying focused is tough when you don’t rely on outside resources to keep track of deadlines and activities for the day. When you don’t have a grasp on what should be prioritized over something else, it’s hard to decide what to pay the most attention to. Typically having an unorganized thought process leads to jumping between tasks not leading to quality work.
The best way to organize work is by making daily to-do lists with prioritized activities. That way you have clear objectives to work towards. Another way to organize working time toward each task is breaking up the day into blocks. Attention spans only last so long before you have the tendency to move on to something else. Working in smaller chunks forces you to have activities accomplished at certain times of the day while not working against your natural attention span.
Stress and anxiety
Our emotional and mental well-being has a large effect on our ability to get work done. It’s not unreasonable to feel overwhelmed and unfocused if you are hyper-aware of the tough circumstances around you. Worrying causes mental energy to be taken away from the work at hand, leading to having trouble focusing.
Besides outside influences, one reason you may have increased stress is that your current work structure doesn’t compliment your true work style. Restructuring your day around your work preferences and times you are most energetic will increase your productivity and focus. If at all possible, don’t clump together difficult projects in the same day to prevent further burnout which only leads to more difficulty focusing.
An activity you can add to your routine to release stress is to practice mindful meditation. Mindfulness consists of being aware of your surroundings and what you’re experiencing, grounding you in reality and not in hypothetical situations. You can be mindful in meditation by finding a peaceful setting and choosing to only focus on sensations like breath and body position. Over time, mindful meditation is said to increase your attention span, manage stress levels, and have peaceful sleep.
Cutting distractions is typically people’s initial method to try and concentrate. What is considered a distraction? Generally visual and auditory stimulants that cause peak our interests are what get us off-track from work. These distractions need to be limited as to not overstimulate our senses like trying to watch TV as you work. Multitasking is not a successful method of getting things done when you have trouble focusing because dividing attention ends up dividing your productivity on each task.
To work around your brain’s need to divert attention to other stimulants, take breaks proportional to the amount of work you complete. While you are on a break, there are a few things to try to make your work go by efficiently. First, take a phone break to check social media or Google those random thoughts that popped into your head. Second, get on your feet and stretch or walk around to get blood flowing. Third, talk to some coworkers to pull focus on topics other than work.
Another cause of having trouble focusing could be your sleep. The main attribute of poor sleeping habits that affects your ability to focus is having too little of it. The Mayo Clinic and many other experts agree that adults require seven to nine hours of sleep a night for optimal cognitive function. For many, lifestyle choices and work can cut into this valuable time that otherwise makes you feel sluggish and exhausted if not taken advantage of.
The quality of your sleep is just as important as how much sleep you have a night. This refers to having uninterrupted, deep sleep every night to lower cortisol levels (the hormone that causes stress) and wake up well-rested in the morning. Prioritizing a consistent sleep schedule can lead to better focus, along with other health benefits. Having trouble sleeping can be solved by some upgrades to your pillow and mattress or speaking to your doctor.
While somewhat unlikely, there is a possibility that your trouble focusing is a symptom of another health condition. One cause might be hormone imbalances that are also associated with memory and cognition issues. Mental disorders caused by genetics or chemical imbalances are also known to take away focus from life events. Not only can health conditions cause trouble focusing but so can their treatments. Certain medications could cause drowsiness or fatigue that can impair focus.
Difficulty focusing is a symptom most often associated with ADHD and attention disorders. According to Mayo Clinic, some other signs of ADHD in adults include problems following through with tasks and making decisions. Signs of attention disorders manifest starting in childhood and can be treated with medication and behavioral therapy. If you believe your focus issues are due to a medical or psychological condition or a change in medication make sure to consult your doctor.
The last factor affecting your focus is an unhealthy diet. An excess of sugar and carbohydrates can lead to health problems which make it harder to have physical activity and pay attention. Instead, strive for a balanced diet including fruits and vegetables which don’t leave you exhausted as processed foods do. A balanced diet also is more likely to provide enough vitamin B. Vitamin B deficiencies are linked to more “brain fog” which can be resolved by eating vitamin-rich foods or supplements.
Having a cup of coffee every morning or multiple cups throughout the day is a popular way of boosting productivity. However, the practice can have some negative consequences. Just like sugar, caffeine is beneficial in small quantities but can lead to trouble focusing if too dependent on it. Since effects vary, keep track of your personal reactions for every cup of coffee but for some, it may be most productive to give up coffee altogether.
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