Concentration is fundamental to how well you manage your day. If you can’t focus, then doing a particular task will result in getting little or nothing done.
Have you ever found yourself on a rainy winter’s day staring out the window and daydreaming about sitting on a beach in the summertime while the clock ticks down on an urgent deadline?
Or have you tried to start that difficult task, but you’ve put it off and decided to work on something easier or not work on it at all?
This is a lack of focus we all have experienced at some point, but its impact on your anxiety and stress levels increases since you’re creating more pressure on yourself because you now have less time to work on that difficult task.
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Symptoms of Being Unable to Focus
There are multiple signs that your concentration and levels of focus are low. If you struggle to recall recent events because your short-term memory isn’t great, then you can’t relax, and you’ll always lose things and struggle to stay on task.
You may struggle to make decisions and lack energy, and you’re continually making mistakes or unable to finish the tasks you’ve been given.
What may seem like instances from days where you’re feeling ‘off’ or just a bad week, may actually be something more.
Symptoms of being unable to focus are easy to spot. Some of which are as follows:
- Having difficulty remembering things that happened moments ago.
- Being restless and unable to sit in one place for long without fidgeting.
- Misplacing things and frequently forgetting what you came into a room for.
- Procrastinating to a point where you miss important deadlines and meetings.
- Having a constant numb feeling known as ‘brain fog’.
- Finding it hard to perform both simple and complicated tasks.
- Feeling like you cannot think clearly or make decisions easily.
- Making careless mistakes and being excessively clumsy.
- Detaching from your work life since tasks in the office seem impossible to do.
- Catching yourself constantly zoning out or dissociating even when idle.
What Deficiency Causes a Lack of Focus?
A lack of focus can also be associated with a vitamin and nutrient deficiency in some cases. Mostly brain fog and lack of focus are caused by a lack of Vitamin B.
Vitamin B is associated with enhanced cognitive functioning whilst Vitamin C and D are also vital in supporting focus. A lack of these vitamins can affect focus and slow down your brain. But how do you find out if your lack of focus is due to a particular reason?
If you pay enough attention, you will be able to catch on to these symptoms as they are very clear. However, sometimes it may get a little difficult to catch on to them, because they are overlooked when treated like isolated incidents. This leads one to not notice that they’ve been unable to focus.
One must be in tune with their body and mind to catch onto these changes. If you feel like you’ve noticed any of these symptoms, do not brush them under the rug. Take it as a sign to reflect on how you’ve been feeling over the past few days
Most Common Reasons Why You Can’t Focus
The inability to focus can stem from a lot of causes. This is most commonly due to the following factors:
Our brain needs significant rest and sleep for proper cognitive functioning. Various studies have shown that a lack of proper sleep leads to bad retention, focus, attention to detail, and memory recall. A lack of sleep may also increase your blood pressure which puts further strain on your already rest-deprived body.
Some days even mundane tasks can seem herculean because you are simply too tired to do them. This can be due to being overworked, stressed, or even because of hormonal imbalances. No matter what the cause, it is imperative that humans get six to ten hours of sleep a day.
Living in the age of technology, we are surrounded by distractions that add to our inability to focus. Technology has introduced social media, mobile devices, and just a lot of screens to our lives that keep us away from things that really matter.
Most people nowadays spend more than 40% of their days on their mobile device or computer which is an unhealthy amount.
You Do Not Like What You’re Working On
There’s a reason most people advise you to do things you have an interest in so that you may remain focused. When you do work that does not bring joy to you, it’s hard to put your heart and mind into your work life.
You May Be Multitasking
Taking on too many tasks at the same time can also be a reason you are unable to focus on what you’re doing. Being overburdened can increase stress and anxiety which we already identified as causes for lack of focus.
Anxiety and Stress
Certain symptoms caused by anxiety and stress such as constant worrying, being preoccupied with your thoughts, perpetual fear can cause one to dissociate from reality. The reasons for your anxiety pull you away from your present and make it hard to focus.
If you’ve gone through something traumatic in the recent past or have been in a highly polarized environment, the resultant stress can cause you to lose focus. Sometimes work life can lead to the feeling of being stressed which impacts your focus.
Mental Health Problems
Some underlying mental health conditions such as ADHD and PTSD can frequently cause a loss of focus.  It is important that individuals exhibiting a severe lack of focus check out the possibility of mental health issues as well.
Sometimes, hormonal imbalance can cause a significant change in your ability to focus. This is because, as an organ, the brain relies on chemical functioning to do a lot of things.
Imbalances in many hormones can lead to general feelings of dissatisfaction, irritability, depression, aggression, and stress. All of these negatively affect your focus because they add excess strain to the brain and can undermine cognitive functioning.
20 Ways to Improve Your Focus
What can you do if you’re asking “Why can’t I focus on anything?” Here are 20 effective things to try:
1. Break Your Day Into 30-Minute Slots
Breaking your time into smaller, more focused slots helps you maintain your focus for longer. If you have a big task ahead of you, it’s hard not to procrastinate, as it can be overwhelming.
By breaking down your efforts into smaller, 30-minutes slots, you’re making a little promise to yourself that no matter what, you’re going to only work on this task and nothing else during this time.
2. Use Timers
Using timers to help you stay focused is an effortless way to manage your time. Once you’ve decided on the task you want to work on, set a timer for how long you want to work on that task. You can try the Pomodoro technique to get you started.
If the task is large, then don’t set a timer that lasts the whole morning since this is too long for you to be entirely focused without being distracted. Break the time slots into smaller periods.
Click start on the timer when you’re ready to go, but don’t stop until that timer ends. You can use the timer on your phone or do a quick Google search for an online timer.
3. Create a Personal Parking Lot
One of the advantages of being intensely focused is that your brain can get really creative, so new ideas, thoughts, and actions pop into it. Although this is great, it can harm your focus for the current task you’re working on.
You don’t want to stop these creative thoughts, so to prevent you from starting to multi-task and leaving this deeply focused mindset, have a notepad and pen next to you at all times.
As soon as a thought or action that isn’t related to the task in hand pops into your mind, write it down. Just write one or two words max, so when you can go back to it later, it’s enough for you to remember why you added it.
4. Take Control of Your Day
During a busy day at work, many distractions can pull you away from the essential tasks. These could be email notifications, Slack messages, a phone call, or colleagues chatting around the office.
In a busy work environment, it’s hard to know what’s urgent versus important, so you can easily get diverted to a request or feeling like your email is building up, so you then spend time responding to them. This approach means you can’t focus on what’s truly important and what needs to be answered urgently.
To help take back control, you need to plan out your day in a structured way. Start by prioritizing what you need to work on that day: things that are urgent and important.
Then, break these tasks into work segments throughout the working day. These segments can also include when you look at your inbox, Slack, etc. Therefore, you’re controlling your day versus the tools controlling you.
5. Sleep More
You can practice all the focus techniques in the world, but if you’re experiencing sleep deprivation, then your mental energy will be low, and your ability to start focusing will never improve.
It’s often tempting to work late when you’re busy, and in some cases, this is necessary.
Recognize that the later you work and the less sleep you get, the longer it’s going to take for you to complete the task as your ability to remain focused will diminish.
Prioritize sleep over everything else, as this is the time for your body and mind to recover. The higher the quality of your sleep, the greater your focus will be.
6. Stop Multitasking
Multitasking is an approach that sounds very appealing, but in reality, it often results in starting lots of tasks but finishing none of them.
When working, the temptation to multitask increases as you jump from email to Slack and back to the presentation you’re working on. Working this way, you’re never fully present in any of them as you’re always thinking about where to move next.
To increase the quality of your work, dedicate time to one thing, and do that one thing well before you move on.
7. Caffeine Works, but Don’t Rely on It
Caffeine consumption is shown to improve memory and cognitive function. One study by the Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology at the University of Barcelona found that caffeinated drinks, when taken with glucose, actually improves cognitive function as we age when it comes to attention and memory.
Caffeine is excellent if you can’t focus, but if you drink too much of it and too late in the day, it can impact your sleep and increase anxiety. Less sleep decreases your ability to focus, and if you’re already stressed, the adrenaline spikes it produces can have the opposite effect you’re after.
Therefore, drink caffeine in moderation, and don’t rely on it solely as your way of staying focused.
8. Take a Walk
Talking a walk during a particularly busy time may seem counterproductive, as you may feel that you don’t have time for it. However, giving your mind a rest can improve your productivity and your work performance.
Research published in the International Journal of Advances in Chemical Engineering and Biological Sciences states that some exposure to daylight enhances your attention, as well as your work performance.
9. Drink More of the Good Stuff
When you’re really busy, it’s easy to forget to drink water, especially when you’re on a roll with a particular piece of work.
Your brain is made up of 75% water, but it doesn’t store any of that, so it needs a constant flow to be able to carry out every conscious function, including your memory and the ability to concentrate.
A study by the University of Westminster found that drinking just 300ml of water can increase your attention by 20%! That’s a huge increase, so make sure you always have a bottle of water nearby to help your brain cells function at their best.
10. Remove Distractions
We have so many distractions around us, and many of these, like cell phones and social media, are so ingrained in our lives that they’re almost part of us. If you can’t focus, recognizing the distractions around you can help you start paying attention.
For example, a clean desk and work space reduce the temptation to stop and tidy up. A tidy workspace also helps you relax because there is less to think about when working.
Turn off all notifications on your cell phone and laptop while working, either in short bursts, or longer ones if you can. This includes the badge on the app showing how many unread messages you have.
Close down any applications on your laptop you’re not using, and go full screen with the one you’re working on to minimize all distractions.
Have a clean desktop and only one or two tabs open if you’re working in your browser. This is the same as having a clean working environment; it keeps you focused on the task at hand.
11. Don’t Read the News
“Don’t read the news” is an attention-grabbing headline, but what it means is don’t read it before you’re about to work on a task that requires you to have deep focus.
The news is typically a pretty depressing read, so why lump that on your brain before you begin?
Creating additional worry isn’t going to help your focus. If you can’t focus in the first place, this will only worsen it. So, if you do love to read the news, then reward yourself with a break once you’ve completed the task at hand.
Our minds have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts per day, or 2500 to 3300 per hour. Therefore, at times, you can understand why it’s hard to focus, especially if you’re overwhelmed with negative thoughts.
Many times during the day, our minds are lost in thought, causing even more focus problems. Meditation helps you reduce the continuous “what might have been” or “what will happen” thoughts and extends your attention span while improving your overall mental health.
With regular practice, it can improve your concentration levels and reduce stress and anxiety, allowing you to focus for longer.
You can learn how to meditate here.
13. Listen to Music That Matches Your Mood and Work
Music can have a positive effect on your concentration levels if you find the right type of music to listen to when you can’t focus.
Music is also a great way to remove distractions around you, like noisy work colleagues.
Depending on your preference and mood, music can help you relax if you’re working on a particularly stressful task, or help you stay focused for long periods.
Pre-prepare some playlists that you can access when you need them to match your mood and work type.
14. Eat the Frog
“Eat the Frog” describes doing the hardest task first, and by doing it, everything is going to feel easier after that.
By regularly tackling the hardest task first, it can become addictive as your productivity and confidence will go through the roof.
15. Reward Yourself
An incentive to stay motivated and focused no matter how small the temptation gives you a positive mindset when trying to stay focused. This is because you know you’ll not only finish the task, but you’ll also get your reward.
Balance the reward with the difficulty and size of the task.
For example, consider a tough task that will take you 2 hours to finish. You could give yourself the reward of switching off work entirely for 20 minutes and having a slice of cake.
Or consider a longer, more demanding project you’re trying to finish. Once you complete it, you can buy yourself that new gadget you’ve had your eye on for months.
16. Break the Task Down
When starting a big task, it can often feel overwhelming, which results in you looking for anything to do other than this task. You can put it off, but all this does is make it harder to complete, as you have less time to do it, and your anxiety and stress levels increase.
It’s always better to start something than to put it off, so begin by breaking the task down into more straightforward, manageable tasks. You shouldn’t feel bad that you’re doing the easier tasks first, as what you’re doing is creating momentum.
17. Exercise First
If you can’t focus, doing even a small amount of exercise can help, as it can get rid of any restlessness you may have, or give you that boost of energy you may need to get going.
You don’t have to do a long run or workout to get this impact; it could be some push-ups, star jumps, or anything that will get your heart rate up. If you have a particularly hard task to work on, then this is a great way to get you alert and ready to start working.
18. Ask Yourself: What Will Happen If I Don’t Do This?
Thinking about the negative impact of what will happen if you don’t work on and complete this task is a great way to force yourself to stay focused. Think about how you’ll feel or how those around you will feel if you put the task off.
Another approach is to think of the positive things that will result in completing this task. What will it allow you to do when you’ve finished? How will you feel, and how will it affect those around you?
19. Collaborate With Someone
By simply working with someone, you’re more likely to work longer and harder yourself. Collaboration helps you focus since you know you’re not alone on this task, making it feel less overwhelming.
For the moments when you get stuck or are not sure what to do next, collaboration keeps you progressing as you work on the problem together. Working independently in these situations can often result in you stopping completely.
20. Set a Deadline
Setting a deadline can have a massive impact on your concentration and can help when you can’t focus. By making this small promise to yourself, you’ve created a target to be met. When you then have those moments of distraction, that deadline will pop into your head as a reminder for you to stay focused.
To increase the impact of setting a deadline, tell a friend or work colleague what your deadline is. You’ll have an even greater reason to complete the task at hand because you won’t want to tell that friend you haven’t done it.
The Bottom Line
The ability to focus for great lengths of time can’t be fixed in an instant or in a single way.
The good news is that there are many things that you can practice that will, over time, allow you to have a deeper focus for extended periods, so your productivity will go through the roof.
If you can’t focus, you can just do these things to help you. Combine these with great sleep, a good diet, and staying hydrated, and before you know it, it will feel like you have more hours in the day than before.
By following the methods and tips provided above, you will be able to bring productivity back into your life as the focus is something that not only helps you get the job done but provide direction to your life. And, having a steadfast direction is key to living a happy and content life.
More Tips for When You Can’t Focus
- How to Increase Mental Focus and Stay Sharp
- How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus
Featured photo credit: Ilya Pavlov via unsplash.com
|||^||USC University: How Liking Your Job Will Help You Succeed|
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|||^||Productive Club: Pomodoro Technique – A Detailed Beginner’s Guide|
|||^||BMED Report: Combined Consumption Of Caffeine And Glucose Improves The Efficiency Of Brain Activity|
|||^||International Journal of Advances in Chemical Engineering and Biological Sciences: Natural Light and Productivity: Analyzing the Impacts of Daylighting on Students’ and Workers’ Health and Alertness|
|||^||Oxbridge Essays: How drinking water increases your concentration|
|||^||North Central University: Can Music Help You Study and Focus?|
|||^||Brian Tracy International: Eat That Frog: Brian Tracy Explains the Truth About Frogs|
|||^||Todoist: Eat the Frog|