Most of us struggle to stay focused. We live in a world of constant distractions – where emails ping up on our cell phones, where entertainment is always just a click away.
The problem is, a lack of concentration can destroy your ability to work effectively.
- You'll make silly mistakes. How many times have you sent an email without its attachment? How many times have you forgotten a call that you meant to make?
- You'll lose your thread. Ever got distracted half way through writing a sentence – only to completely forget what you were going to type?
- You'll produce shoddy work. If you can't concentrate easily, you'll end up rushing your work to meet deadlines – or you'll end up missing those deadlines altogether.
Chances are, you can think of plenty of times when you were totally focused on whatever you were doing. Maybe you were playing a video game, and time just slipped by. Perhaps you were deep into a book, and background noises – even loud ones – didn't distract you at all.
You can access that same concentration in your work (or your studying), too. Here's how:
- Find the Purpose in Your Work
It's hard to stay focused when you simply don't care. If you're doing a boring or frustrating task, look for the reason why.
Perhaps you're writing a grant application to win your organization much-needed funds. Sure, that application form might be tedious – but you're doing it for a great reason.
Or maybe you're studying for a particular qualification. You're not exactly gripped by the material, but you know that if you pass your exam, you'll be a step closer to your dream job.
When you've got a purpose in mind, you'll be motivated to do the work. And when you're motivated, it's much easier to concentrate.
- Plan Before You Start
Have you ever started on a particular task, only to end up feeling overwhelmed or bewildered? Sometimes, it's a mistake to jump straight into a particular piece of work – you'll soon end up stuck.
So, any time you're tackling something big or something new, take a few minutes to plan out how it's going to work. What will you need to do first? Are you missing any pieces of information? Who can help show you what to do?
If you have a plan, it's easy to keep moving forwards. You won't suddenly stop and wonder what to do next (which kills concentration – it's all too easy to open up your email, or start browsing the net).
- Take Regular Breaks
You might think that the best way to concentrate is to sit at your desk, stare grimly at the computer screen, and try to force yourself to work for hours at a time.
It's actually much more effective to work for short periods and then take breaks. If you're really focusing, you can't easily concentrate for more than about 45 minutes at a time. After that, you need to take a break to let your brain recharge.
Plus, if you know that you've got a scheduled break coming up, it's easier to stay on task. Instead of trying to work for three hours and getting distracted every ten minutes, you can tell yourself "I just need to concentrate for half an hour".
- Shut Your Office Door
This one's deceptively simple – but are you doing it?
Sure, we don't all have offices with doors to shut. But wherever you're working, find a way to let people know that you're trying to concentrate.
That might mean telling your spouse and kids that you're going to be reading for an hour, and you'd appreciate it if they don't interrupt you. It might mean putting on headphones in an open-plan office, so that colleagues are less likely to interrupt you for a chat.
- Eat Enough – But Not Too Much
If you're distracted by a growling stomach, you'll struggle to focus. Your attention levels drop when your blood sugar is low – and you'll probably find yourself in a bad mood, too.
Don't compensate by scoffing a huge lunch. Eating a big meal mid-day will make you sleepy and lethargic in the afternoon – killing your concentration. If you have a regular afternoon slump, try spacing out your food more evenly: instead of eating a huge lunch, have a sandwich and salad at noon and a granola bar or piece of fruit at 3pm, for instance.
- Turn Off Your Internet Connection
Again, this is a really simple trick – but do you ever do it?
It's so easy to jump on Twitter or Facebook, click on a link, and end up spending ten minutes totally off-task. This might not be a big deal in itself, but every time you switch away from your work, you take time to get back into it again. You might lose the thread of your thoughts, or start to lose interest.
By turning off your internet connection, you remove a load of potential distractions. Just one hour each day without being plugged in can make a huge difference to your work. Unitasking is so much more efficient than multitasking.
- Slow Down
The final secret to great concentration is to slow down.
If you live life in a rush, dashing from one thing to the next, it's no surprise that you find yourself frazzled and unable to focus. When you're in a hurry, you make mistakes much more easily – which results in wasted time while you put things right.
If you've ever accidentally deleted a piece of work, sent an embarrassing text or email to the wrong person, or forgotten some vital errand, you'll know that one tiny mistake can turn your entire day into a total disaster.
Slowing down lets you become more efficient. You'll be able to focus – instead of rushing forwards manically – and you'll find that you actually get more done.