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Last Updated on March 4, 2021

Why You Can’t Focus and 20 Things You Can Do to Fix It

Why You Can’t Focus and 20 Things You Can Do to Fix It

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 increase since you’re creating more pressure on yourself because you now have less time to work on that difficult task.

Signs and Reasons You Lack Concentration

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.

Sleep, diet, anxiety, stress, and even being hungry are just a few reasons why you can’t focus. However, the good news is that there are many ways to improve your levels of focus. These are the things you can do to get back on track today.

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[1].

Pomodoro Technique for Focus

    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.

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    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.[2]

    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.

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    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.[3]

    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%![4] 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.

    12. Meditate

    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.

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    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.[5]

    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.[6]

    By regularly tackling the hardest task first, it can become addictive as your productivity and confidence will go through the roof[7].

    How to eat the frog

      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.

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      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.

      More Tips for When You Can’t Focus

      Featured photo credit: Ilya Pavlov via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Ben Willmott

      Productivity and Project Management blogger for at work and at home

      Why You Can’t Focus and 20 Things You Can Do to Fix It How to Compartmentalize to Live a Stress-Free and Successful Life 5 Steps (And 4 Techniques) for Effective Problem Solving How to Set OKRs to Keep Your Goals on Track 8 Essential Project Management Skills for Productive Work

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      Last Updated on June 22, 2021

      How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

      How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

      Every one of my team members has a bucket load of tasks that they need to deal with every working day. On top of that, most of their tasks are either creative tasks or problem-solving tasks. Each one of them has had to learn how to prioritize tasks in order to get everything done.

      Despite having many tasks to handle, our team is able to stay focused and creative and work towards our goals consistently in a set amount of time.

      I’m going to reveal to you how I helped my team get more things done in less time through the power of correct prioritization. A few minutes spent reading this article could literally save you thousands of hours in the long run. So, let’s get started with my method on how to prioritize things:

      How to Prioritize With the Scales Method

      One of our new editors came to me the other day and told me how she was struggling to keep up with the many tasks she needed to handle and the deadlines she constantly needed to stick to.

      At the end of each day, she felt like she had done a lot of things but often failed to come up with creative ideas and to get articles successfully published. From what she told me, it was obvious that she felt overwhelmed and was growing increasingly frustrated about failing to achieve her targets despite putting in extra hours most days. All of this was making it impossible for her to develop a good work life balance in the long term.

      After she listened to my advice about utilizing the Scales Method, she immediately experienced a dramatic rise in productivity, which looked like this:

      • She could produce three times more creative ideas for blog articles.
      • She could publish all her articles on time.
      • And she could finish all her work on time every day (no more overtime!).

      If you’re curious how she did it, read on for the step-by-step guide:

      1. Set Aside 10 Minutes for Planning

      When it comes to tackling productivity issues, it makes sense to plan before taking action. However, don’t become so involved in planning that you become trapped in it and never move beyond first base.

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      My recommendation is to give yourself a specific time period for planning, but keep it short. 10 or 15 minutes should be adequate to think about your plan.

      Use this time to:

      • Look at the big picture.
      • Think about the current goal and target that you need/want to achieve.
      • Lay out all the tasks you need to do.

      2. Align Your Tasks With Your Goal

      This is the core component that makes the Scales Method effective as you learn how to prioritize.

      It works like this:

      Take a look at all the tasks you’re doing, and review the importance of each of them. Specifically, measure a task’s importance by its cost and benefit.

      By cost, I am referring to the effort needed per task (including time, money, and other resources). The benefit is how closely the task can contribute to your goal.

        To make this easier for you, I’ve listed below four combinations that will enable you to quickly and easily determine the priority of each of your tasks:

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        Low Cost + High Benefit

        Do these tasks first because they’re the simplest ones to complete, but they’ll help you get closer to your goal.

        Approving artwork created for a sales brochure would likely fit this category. You could easily decide on whether you liked the artwork/layout, but your decision to approve it would trigger the production of the leaflet and the subsequent sales benefits of sending it out to potential customers.

        High Cost + High Benefit

        Break the high cost task down into smaller ones. In other words, break the big task into mini ones that take less than an hour to complete, and then re-evaluate these small tasks and set their correct priority level.

        Imagine if you were asked to write a product launch plan for a new, diary-free, protein powder supplement. Instead of trying to write the plan in one sitting, aim to write the different sections at different times (e.g. spend 30 minutes writing the introduction, one hour writing the body text, and 30 minutes writing the conclusion).

        Low Cost + Low Benefit

        When learning how to prioritize time and tasks, this particular combination should be your lowest priority. Either give yourself 10-15 minutes to handle this task, or put these kinds of tasks in between valuable tasks as a useful break.

        These are probably necessary tasks (e.g. routine tasks like checking emails), but they don’t contribute much towards reaching your desired goal. Keep them way down your priority list.

        High Cost + Low Benefit

        Review if these tasks are really necessary. Think of ways to reduce the cost if you decide that the completion of the task is required.

        For instance, can any tools or systems help to speed up doing the task? In this category, you’re likely to find things like checking and updating sales contacts spreadsheets. This can be a fiddly and time-consuming thing to do without making mistakes. However, there are plenty of apps out there that can make this process instant and seamless.

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        Now, coming back to the editor who I referred to earlier, let’s take a look at her typical daily task list:

          After listening to my advice, she broke down the high cost + high benefit task into smaller ones. Her tasks then looked like this (in order of priority):

            And for the task about promoting articles to different platforms, after reviewing its benefits, we decided to focus on the most effective platform only, thereby significantly lowering the associated time cost.

            Once you’ve effectively analyzed the cost and benefits of your daily tasks, you can dive into this Full Life Planner to make sure you complete everything on your list in the best way possible.

            Bonus Tip: Tackling Tasks With Deadlines

            Once you’ve evaluated your tasks, you’ll know the importance of each of them. This will immediately give you a crystal-clear picture on how to prioritize based on which tasks would help you to achieve more (in terms of setting goals). Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to decide every task’s priority because there’ll be due dates set by external parties, such as managers and agencies.

            In cases like these, I suggest that, after considering the importance and values of your current tasks, align the list in a way that helps you meet deadlines and adjust the priorities accordingly.

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            For example, let’s dip into the editor’s world again.

            Some of the articles she edited needed to be published by specific dates, so these are urgent and important tasks. The Scales Method allows for this, and in this case, her amended task list would look something like this:

              Hopefully, you can now see how easy it is to evaluate the importance of tasks and how to prioritize them into a workable order.

              The Bottom Line

              The Scales Method is different from anything else you’ve tried. By adopting the Scales Method, you’ll begin to correctly prioritize your work and boost your productivity by up to 10 times!

              Unlike other methods that don’t really explain how to decide the importance of a task, my method will help you break down each of your tasks into two parts: cost and benefit. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefit combinations, which can boost your career development overall.

              Start right now by spending 10 minutes to evaluate your common daily tasks and how they align with your goal(s). Once you have this information, it’ll be very easy to put your tasks into a priority list. All that remains is that you kick off your next working day by following your new master list.

              More Productivity Tips

              Featured photo credit: Scott Graham via unsplash.com

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