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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 March 4, 2021

      7 Ways to Concentrate Better in a Toxic Work Environment

      7 Ways to Concentrate Better in a Toxic Work Environment

      Many of us have had the misfortune of working in a toxic work environment, where the atmosphere in the workplace is filled with negativity and politics. It’s unpleasant and can lead to stress, anxiety, and a more negative outlook on life.

      Many years ago, I found myself working in a small country house hotel and restaurant with a team of great front-of-house people who worked well together, but with a newly installed kitchen team that saw front-of-house employees as the enemy. They wanted to create conflict where there previously was none.

      The kitchen team was led by a highly respected head chef who was a minor celebrity TV chef, and when he joined our hotel, he insisted on bringing in his own team. This meant the existing kitchen team was fired, almost without notice, and overnight we were dealing with a team of strangers.

      At first managing this negative work culture was easy; we just stayed out of the kitchen as much as possible. But then one day, the general manager of the hotel left, and he was replaced by the head chef. From then on, it felt like open warfare.

      In less than a week, a workplace that was a pleasure to go to turned into a nightmare. I remember driving to work with a feeling of dread, bordering on fear. I wasn’t sleeping well, I smoked a lot more, and I had this constant, horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, even on days when I was not working.

      I remember one evening after we had finished a shift, and all the customers and kitchen team had gone home, sitting down with a colleague to talk about the situation. I was fortunate as my colleague was a little older and wiser than I, and he had a forward-looking, philosophical attitude to life. He taught me that no matter the environment you are working in, if you focus on doing your best work every day, and avoid getting caught up in the politics, you can rise above it.

      Looking back now, I am glad I experienced this culture. I learned a lot about how to deal with negativity in a toxic work environment, and the lessons I learned then still help me today.

      What Causes a Toxic Work Environment?

      A toxic work environment can come about in many ways, but poor communication is often at the root of it. This may include a lack of communication between the boss and the employees regarding roles and expectations, or a lack of communication between coworkers that leads to misunderstandings and resentment.

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      Poor leadership is another common culprit. If a workplace lacks a good leader, it can lead to a chaotic workplace or one where everyone looks out for only themselves instead of working together. In my case, the head chef favored one set of employees, making it difficult for the other set to enjoy their work.

      If a workplace has little opportunity for growth or learning, it can also turn toxic. When workers feel stagnant, they can experience the effects of burnout and boredom, which can cause other coworkers to feel less motivated to do their work well.

      Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage your mindset in a toxic work environment.

      How to Concentrate in a Toxic Work Environment

      Here are seven lessons I learned from experiencing two years of working in a highly toxic work environment.

      1. Don’t Get Sucked in

      We are faced with a choice in a toxic work environment. You can react to the negativity and become part of the problem, or you can rise above it. Rising above it involves not being provoked. Allow the negativity to pass over you.

      Instead, focus on doing the best work you can. When you arrive at work, start your day.

      If you are in sales, focus on being the best sales person. If you are in administration, focus on making sure you do your work accurately and in a timely way. If you are a bar manager (as I was), make sure your bar is clean, stocked, and open for business when the first customer comes in.

      Don’t give the negative influences and passive aggressive coworkers an excuse to attack you. When you see negative energy coming your way, pause, identify the emotions that are surfacing, and let them pass.

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      This, of course, can be easier said than done. For a little extra help, check out Lifehack’s free guide: End Distraction And Find Your Focus.

      2. Become a Beacon of Positivity

      Often a toxic work environment is caused by workplace bullying. When you see this happening, become a rock of support for the person or people experiencing these attacks to help them feel safe and heard. Be nice, attentive, and understanding. If you see your colleague make a mistake, quietly fix the mistake or gently point it out.

      Never attack or be negative. Instead, be a good listener, offer support, and take your attacked colleague out for lunch and give them the space to talk things through.

      If there are signs of a toxic workplace, having a non-judgmental colleague who offers support, an ear to listen, and kindness applies an antidote to the stress, upset, and fear[1].

      Surviving a toxic work environment

        3. Have a Plan

        The best way to stay away from the negativity is to have a plan for the day. How will you start the day? What tasks will you accomplish by the end of the day?

        Having a plan for the day takes your focus away from the toxicity around you and puts your focus on doing your work.

        For me, I made sure the first task I did when I arrived at work was to clean my bar and make sure my fridges were stocked. I did not want to give an excuse to the unpleasant members of the team to attack me. My purpose every morning was to set an example, to be ready for when the diners came in. And when the diners did come in, I gave them my full, undivided attention.

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        This focus on my plan for the day kept me away from the politics. It gave me a positive purpose and enabled me to stay above what was going on around me.

        If you’ve lost your motivation while working in a toxic environment, you can check out this Lifehack Fast-Track Class to get back on track: Activate Your Motivation

        4. Stay Away From the Toxic People

        This is often easier said than done. Sometimes, the toxic people in your organization are your bosses and are unavoidable. However, in most workplaces today, there are quiet corners where you can get on with your work when you see the red flags of a hostile workplace.

        Working in an open-plan office can leave us at the mercy of disruptive colleagues and bosses, but if you can find yourself a quiet corner where you can get your head down and do you work, you will, for the most part, stay away from the negative forces working around you.

        When you “hang out” with the toxic people, they will drag you into their toxicity. Quietly and calmly explaining you have a lot of work to get on with and moving to a different place leaves you less vulnerable to their negative influence.

        5. Talk to Your HR Department

        This is one where you need to be careful. You do not want to make accusations or get involved in a blame game when you’re in a toxic work environment. Instead, you want to explain to your HR department that you find it difficult working with a particular person or team[2], and that it’s beginning to negatively affect your personal life.

        Where possible, make it out that this is your fault, not theirs—you do not want to make things worse for yourself. Explain that for you to do your work, you need to be moved somewhere else so you can concentrate and be more focused.

        In a toxic work environment, you will find your HR team is likely fully aware of the problem and will understand your request and do whatever they can to accommodate you.

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        The worst thing you can do is ignore the problem. If the situation is preventing you from doing your work, you need to have that conversation with HR, or if you do not have an HR department, your boss.

        You can learn more about when to go to HR or your boss here.

        6. Listen to Music

        Buy yourself some headphones, not earphones. This is a trick I use on airplanes. Sometimes I want to be left alone to think, read, or just be left with my thoughts. Having my headphones on stops my fellow passengers from interrupting me with questions about what I do, where I’m from, and where I’m going.

        In a toxic work environment, wearing headphones achieves the same result. When we see someone with a pair of headphones on, we automatically leave them alone unless we urgently need to ask them something.

        Whether you actually listen to music or not is less important. The wearing of headphones prevents interruptions and allows you to quietly get on with your work.

        7. Work From Home

        With the current global pandemic, the ability to work from home is more accessible than ever before. Being able to stay outside your toxic work environment will allow you to focus on your work and not on what is going on around you.

        If you do have the option to work from home, then do so for your mental and physical health. One thing I learned is that the people causing the toxic environment do not last long in a company, and the turnover rate is quite high. They either move on by their own accord or are fired or moved to another position where they can cause less harm.

        Final Thoughts

        I have intentionally not suggested that you leave your job, but if you do find yourself feeling stressed and fearful, then the best advice would be to find another company. Nobody should work in a toxic work environment, and if you have taken all the necessary steps to resolve the issue with your company and nothing changes, then you should take steps to leave.

        I understand this can be very difficult, particularly with a complicated job environment and toxic employees around you, but the harm to your health and wellbeing is not worth it. If you need the income, then start looking for a new job and work life. The good news is most companies do not have toxic work cultures, and with a little effort, you should be able to find a new job.

        More on Dealing With a Negative Workplace

        Featured photo credit: Siavash Ghanbari via unsplash.com

        Reference

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