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Last Updated on October 2, 2018

Easily Distracted and Hard to Focus? Try Doing This

Easily Distracted and Hard to Focus? Try Doing This

Are you reading this article because you’re currently searching for a solution or method to help improve your focus? Trying to find a way to concentrate better so that you can get more done in your day? Do you feel like you spend a lot of time being easily distracted on things other than what you’re meant to be focusing on?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! As society becomes more and more advanced, there is much more information for us to digest and more opportunities to experience. This can definitely be distracting! Whether it’s a work proposal that you’re trying to focus on writing, or a goal in life that you’re striving for, distractions do get in the way. And, they come in a wide variety!

For example, many of us are easily distracted by our mobile phones. Whether it’s the constant notifications popping up, or the need to scroll through your social media news feeds, these are all distractions that cost us time. There are also bigger distractions like wanting to go to a game on a beautiful day, or taking a weekend holiday even though you have a deadline due on Monday or an important presentation that needs to be prepared.

What are Distractions?

Let’s go deeper to break down and understand how distractions happen. Distractions are things that divert away your attention from the action you’re trying to do. They make you lose focus and put you off track. The problem with distractions is that they not only cost time, they dilute your energy, too. Repeated interruptions of this sort can lead to demotivation, because you’ll feel like you’re overwhelmed… yet not getting anything done.

Contrary to popular belief, our brains perform best when we’re focused on one objective at a time. We’re generally not good at constantly switching our attention between different tasks. Multiple studies have shown that when we do this, the performance of each task suffers compared to if we focused on them one by one. So multitasking isn’t the best option when it comes to wanting to get more done quickly.

The Cost of Distractions

As I mentioned previously, in today’s society, we’re faced with so much information that it’s easy to be bombarded by distractions.

If you’re a typical working American, you’ll be distracted every 11 minutes, and it will take you 25 minutes to settle down again to your task. Additionally, the more complicated your project, the longer it will take to regain your focus. This happens because your brain has to put in considerable effort when switching between complex objectives.

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Distractions have a huge cost on our focus and productivity. If you want to improve or increase your focus, you need to learn to deal with the distractions in your life.

What are Internal Distractions?

When it comes to distractions, we tend to think of them as external occurrences–your phone starts ringing, someone talks to you and interrupts your train of thought when you were immersed in something important, or the sudden onset of construction noise when you’re in an important meeting.

It’s very easy to blame external distractions as the cause when you can’t focus. But there’s actually a hidden type of distraction beneath the surface that is just as, if not more, responsible for taking away your focus. These are Internal Distractions.

The problem with internal distractions is, if you’re not acutely aware of them, you can be wasting both time and energy without even knowing it. So, before tackling external distractions effectively, you first have to take care of your internal distractions.

Priority Chaos

There are a few types of internal distractions, but let’s start with probably the most common one: the concept of Priority Chaos.

One of the most common distractions we encounter is that we have too many options on hand. This can cause priority chaos.

For example, some people may find it hard to focus at home because there are too many options to choose from. You can choose to feed your dog, read a book, watch TV, have a snack or take a nap.

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Besides the costs of distraction mentioned before, priority chaos is a big demotivator. When there are too many potentially attractive options, it’s hard to focus your energy and choose one of them – ideally the one you should be doing.

Priority chaos is also a demotivator because it makes you feel guilty. When you let your internal distractions overtake your focus, you’re the one who chooses to divert your own attention and energy away from your task. So when the task you wanted to complete doesn’t get done, you can’t blame an external factor. Whether you do it consciously or not, you’ll end up blaming yourself!

Why Does Priority Chaos Happen?

Your brain subconsciously prioritizes tasks based on three factors.

  1. To fulfill an existing need. For example, you need to go to the bathroom urgently, so your brain is guaranteed to prioritize it.
  2. To achieve a certain feeling of satisfaction, such as the satisfaction of eating a delicious chocolate fudge cake.
  3. The perceived cost of achieving the benefit. What is the effort, energy or time required to complete this action?

The brain automatically take these 3 factors into account even when you’re not thinking about it.  

Unfortunately, unless you’re consciously making an effort, your brain is not always the best at making accurate judgement calls. It tends to have a bias towards short term benefits and short term costs.

As there are often many more options our brains link to short term benefits, when you’re trying to focus on a task that gives you a long term benefit, that task usually becomes low priority. This is the essence of Priority Chaos.

How to Overcome Priority Chaos?

The good news is that it’s not so difficult to overcome this common internal distraction.

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The first step that you can take is to identify what task needs the most focus to get accomplished. Once you have that figured out, simply break down the that task into smaller, bite-sized tasks. Each bite-sized task should have a very clear short term benefit (something that you can easily describe in one sentence), and a very clear short term cost (something that you can quantify, such as time spent).

For example, let’s say you have a grant proposal to write for an upcoming project at work. The first bite sized task that you can accomplish is to outline the grant proposal and split it into 4 different categories. This will ensure that you cover everything that is needed, and allows you to focus on each section one at a time.

Also, set a time limit or duration for each bite sized task. The time limit should be short enough so that it’s a no-brainer to want to check it off. Remember, the brain has a bias towards short term benefits, so it’s likely you’ll find it hard to resist checking off a bite-sized task!

The next step would be to evaluate your other options. Besides focusing on your grant proposal, what are all the possible things that you could be doing that would divert your attention away? Be realistic about what they are! Write them all down, and list out the benefits and the costs associated. You don’t have to write them down in detail, just a general description will do.

For instance, instead of writing your proposal, you could spend 20 minutes watching a comedy series on Netflix. The benefit is that you get entertained and have a good laugh. The cost is that you’ve just lost 20 minutes of your time, and that comedy series did nothing to help you with the grant proposal.

Once you have your list completed, start prioritizing them. You have a time limit, so you need to order your tasks by priority, starting with the focus task as your top priority. Then fit the others around it.

For any remaining tasks on the list that won’t fit within your allocated time, don’t worry. You don’t have to give them up. Just schedule them for another time.

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Long and Short Term Benefits

As explained earlier, our brains are not good at evaluating and comparing short term and long term benefits.

Short term benefits usually have a relatively low cost and are concrete, allowing our brains to easily grasp them. We usually associate long term benefits with high cost, and these perceived costs are usually not as clear cut. The longer term it is, the more effort it takes to imagine the benefits. This automatically creates a mental barrier and resistance in our brains. As a result, we tend to trade long term gain for short term gains.

This is the reason why you might know that something is good for you in the long term, such as losing weight and exercising, but for some reason, you can’t force yourself to feel excited about it. On the other hand, you might know that something is bad for you, such as binge eating junk food. But the anticipation of short term satisfaction overwhelms your conscious ability to resist it.

This is the next type of internal distraction that we face, and it is called Short & Long Term Mismatch. Thankfully, this can be tackled, too.

If you’d like to learn more about this internal distraction and how to overcome it, subscribe to our newsletter today, where you will automatically receive more such knowledge that will allow you to be in greater control of your situation and actions.

Whether it’s wanting to increase your focus to be more productive, or wanting to manage your time better, here at Lifehack, we’re committed to helping you find and become a better you. Are you ready to begin?

Featured photo credit: Erik Lucatero via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 17, 2018

7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

How is your memory? Is your cognitive function as strong as you’d like it to be?

If not, then you’re definitely going to be interested in the memory improvement tips I’ll be sharing with you in this article.

Despite what you might think – or have been told – improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it. (Don’t worry, as you won’t need to make any significant lifestyle changes.)

So how to improve memory? Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve your memory significantly.

1. Meditate

We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts and figures into our conscious minds.

Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. And research suggests that the more information and distractions, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory.[1]

Fortunately, meditation can help you out.

Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

If you need help in shifting into a meditative state, I recommend trying an app like Headspace – which can assist you to achieve this in a convenient and structured way.

And don’t forget, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

2. Get plenty of sleep

If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then I’m guessing you’re not remembering well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities – including your memory.

How much sleep should you be getting?

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Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation, you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things.

Now, I’ll be honest with you, maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!). But if you care about improving your short-term and long-term ability to remember things, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

Are there ways to hack the sleep cycle?

Yes, there are.

Try these three things:

  • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
  • Don’t eat too late
  • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory…

3. Challenge your brain

When was the last time you challenged your brain?

I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or undersleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and memory games.

To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself, has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-thinking ability and memory.

There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

  • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
  • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
  • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live – while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it, try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

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4. Take more breaks

When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctively remember working all the hours under the sun – and many under the moon too!

At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat and tears.

However, I was wrong.

Taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

Let me explain.

Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it – in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

Namely, extended study sessions are rarely a good thing, as your ability to retain information naturally declines after a certain period of time.

It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

It’s the same with your brain. If you overload it with information, you’ll suffer from mental fatigue.

What’s the answer?

Make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

If you don’t want to be as regimented as that, then take breaks as soon as you find yourself losing the ability to focus on the new material. Your brain will thank you – and your learning aptitude will move up a level.

5. Learn a new skill

I love this quote, as it’s 100% true – but frequently overlooked:

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

Let me give you an example of this:

Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day – many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you – rather than letting you work in your own way.

Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like, and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction in to learning a new skill (computer coding). It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career – and the ongoing learning made the call centre job much more bearable.

Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking our new information. And when learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly, becomes a habit too.

6. Start working out

If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory.

Regular exercise increases blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. And a well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

“But I just don’t have the time?,” I hear you say.

Not a problem.

A research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise, offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines.[2] So, if you’re short on time – now you know what to do.

Interested in getting started?

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Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

  • Join a gym
  • Join a sports team
  • Buy a bike
  • Take up hiking
  • Dance to your favorite music

7. Eat healthier foods

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

This applies to your brain too.

The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health too.

Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery and dark chocolate. But anything high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory.

Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain – leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

Want to be mentally healthy? Then eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

  • Turmeric – helps new brain cells grown
  • Broccoli – protects the brain against damage
  • Nuts – improves memory
  • Green tea – enhances brain performance, memory and focus[3]
  • Fish oilfish oil supplements can increase your brain power

Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

Final thoughts

I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be of help to you.

You don’t need to implement them all. I suggest just trying the ones that appeal to you.

But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested. I’m confident you won’t regret it.

Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

Reference

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