Whether you’re running a business, working or studying, staying focused through a long difficult task can be challenging. If you find your concentration dwindling, here are 6 things you can do to get your mind back on track.
#1 Break The Task Down
Having a long-term goal may be an important part of keeping motivated. But sitting down to a large task might have you feeling overwhelmed, which can drive you to procrastinate.
Try breaking the larger task into smaller, manageable parts.
Take some time to list the steps needed to complete the task or project, and think about what the most logical order is for each step.
This could be a rough outline, or a detailed timeline with deadlines for each part- the important thing is to find out which approach works for you.
#2 Get a Good Sleep
Sleep plays an important role in memory and cognition.
There are many benefits of a good night’s sleep. Research suggests that lack of adequate sleep impedes on focus, attention, mood and judgement. When we are deprived of sleep, our neurons become overworked and start to respond more slowly, making it difficult to take in new information and to access previously learned information.
So, how much sleep should you be getting to optimise your focus? Well, this differs based on age, but studies show that 7-9 hours of sleep is ideal for the average adult.
#3 Put on Some Music
Scientists have been studying how sound affects performance for over 40 years.
Researchers found that listening to some types of music before a task can increase performance. This has been referred to as the ‘Mozzart Effect’, and was initially based on the observation that performance in a spatial rotation task is increased after listening to Mozzart. However, further studies showed that the same was true for many types of music, as well as other sounds, such as AudioBooks.
This suggests that the improvement happens not because of the music itself, but because of its impact on the listener’s mood. In other words, the sounds alter your mood to the point where it is more optimal for the task your are about to complete.
So listening to your favourite music before you begin a task might help you stay focused throughout. Overall music can improve your health.
However, findings on how listening to music while working effects performance is a little more complicated. Whether music in the background makes you more of less productive, really depends on the type of task.
In general, listening to music while performing a tasks that requires creativity tends to increase performance. But the same music is more likely to hinder performance if the task requires rehearsing information in order. For reading and comprehension tasks, studies suggest that no music, or purely instrumental music, is ideal.
#4 Take Regular Breaks
When you feel like you’re on a roll, it can be tempting to skip breaks with the intention of saving time.
But studies show that this is generally counter-productive. Breaks, even short ones, boost memory and help to improve focus. Taking a break at work makes you a better employee.
Similar to sleep deprivation, working without a break can wear down your cognition and result in mental fatigue.
By taking breaks, you can gain new ideas and perspectives, and be able to spot mistakes more easily.
Though fidget-spinners have often been thought of as a children’s toy or a fad, they actually serve a functional purpose to many adults.
Research suggests that for some, fidgeting can actually improve focus. Psychologists have suggested that fidgeting distracts the part of the brain that’s becoming bored. If you’re engaging in a tasks that isn’t interesting enough to sustain your focus, fidgeting provides an additional sensory input that is mildly entertaining or stimulating, allowing your brain to better engage with the primary tasks.
The benefits of fidgeting have been observed by researchers through a range of different tasks. For example, studies find that on average, people process and retain information better when they write it by hand, compared to typing. Scribbling mindlessly on paper is also found to be conducive to focus.
While the idea that meditation has benefits for day-to-day life is certainly not new, scientists are still discovering new things about how it works on the brain.
In a 2010 study from the University of California, participants attended a meditation retreat, and were randomised into two groups. The first group of 30 participants attended the first retreat, and the control group attended a second retreat 3 months later. Both groups completed concentration tests before, during and after the retreat.
Participants who were meditating showed significantly higher levels of accuracy compared to those who were not meditating. Meditation can help you success in life.
But meditation does not need to be intensive in order for it to be beneficial. A study from the University of North Carolina showed that when it came to tasks designed to test their cognitive skills, students were able to increase their performance by meditating for just 20 minutes each day over four days.
While meditation isn’t a magical solution, many find that meditating a little everyday has is a great long-term strategy for improving their focus.