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Last Updated on March 4, 2021

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

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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

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

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      Last Updated on September 9, 2021

      The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work

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      The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work

      Everyone has their favorite habits for boosting productivity. Your desk setup, morning routine, and diet all play a role. But there’s one thing that everyone agrees can make a difference: focus music.

      Soothing beats can keep distractions at bay, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Whether you’re trying to drown out mowers or simply get into a groove, put on a pair of headphones. Music can make all the difference in your focus.

      With that said, not all music is equally conducive to productivity. You need to be careful about what you listen to. Getting work done calls for very different sounds than getting a workout in.

      If you need a little more help to get rid of distractions, check out Lifehack’s free guide End Distraction And Find Your Focus. In this guide you’ll learn the simple techniques to stay focused and boost productivity. Grab your free guide here.

      This article will walk you through selecting the best music for productivity, as well as a list of tunes to help you get started.

      How to Pick the Best Focus Music For Yourself

      With so many genres and artists out there, there’s a lot of music to choose from. Before you press play, keep the following guidelines in mind:

      1. Stick With Instrumental

      Songs without words in them make it easier to focus. Lyrics can distract you from what you’re trying to accomplish because you might get the words mixed up with what you’re trying to read. If you’re writing something, you might find yourself typing the lyrics instead.

      Intelligence and instrumental music are correlated, perhaps because instrumental music is less intrusive.[1] Instrumental music tends to fade into the background, giving you a rhythm without pulling your mind away from the task at hand.

      Stay away from instrumental versions of songs you recognize. It’s easy to fill in the blanks with the lyrics if you’ve already committed them to memory.

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      However, some exceptions can be made. Creatives who produce videos or audio might prefer tracks that get their creative juices going, lyrics and all. However, if you find lyrics to be distracting, switch back to instrumental tunes.

      2. Take It Easy

      Not all instrumental music is calm and relaxing. Focus music should be, however. So, beware of instrumental songs that are too loud and stimulating. High volumes and tempos can work you up when you need to stay calm.

      Again, some roles can make exceptions. Physical laborers can use more rambunctious tunes to keep them energized. While calm tunes work best for those in desk-based roles, don’t go too extreme. Something that’s too soothing might make you feel tired, and yawning all day isn’t exactly the path to productivity.

      3. Pick Music You Enjoy

      At the end of the day, the best focus music is what you enjoy. If you hate classical music, don’t put together a classical playlist just because you stumbled on a study about its benefits.[2] Your dislike of the music will take away the productivity you’d otherwise get out of listening to it.

      Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’ve never worked while listening to jazz before, why not? Save songs you like for later listening. Over time, you’ll build a playlist of tried-and-true focus music.

      4. Update Your Setup

      Before jamming out to your productivity tunes, make sure you have the right equipment. Invest in a music streaming service so you don’t have to listen to ads. Purchase noise-canceling headphones to avoid distracting your co-workers.

      Focus music is all about ambience. Anything that interrupts your flow—whether that’s poor sound quality or glitchy streaming—needs to go.

      Expect to spend at least $100 on headphones or speakers. For the streaming service itself, Spotify Premium is the standard at $9.99 per month. Slacker, Apple Music, and YouTube Music are also popular.

      Building Your Perfect Playlist of Focus Music (With Recommendations)

      Now that you know what to look for in focus music and how to listen, it’s time to build your playlist. Get started with these smooth, instrumental genres, artists, and songs.

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      1. Chillhop Music

      This YouTube channel has almost 3 million subscribers. Its music videos run 24/7 and feature driving yet relaxing beats.

      Most songs on this channel fall into a category called “lofi hip hop,” a type of electronic R&B. Unlike traditional hip hop, lofi hip hop songs follow a slow, steady pattern that induces focus and relaxation.

      Chillhop playlists can also be streamed on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. Popular artists include nymano, No Signal, and Sleepy Fish.

      2. Andy McKee

      Andy McKee is an acoustic guitarist who became famous after “Drifting,” one of his early songs, went viral on YouTube. “Drifting” exemplifies the creative, quiet guitar techniques found in the rest of McKee’s music.

      Today, McKee has six albums of primarily acoustic guitar. One of McKee’s most popular pieces, “Rylynn,” is a perfect example of his soothing yet upbeat sound.

      3. John Butler Trio

      The band John Butler Trio became popular after releasing “Ocean,” a 2012 hit with more than 50 million listens on YouTube.[3] Heavy on acoustic guitar, “Ocean” is an intricate ballad that ebbs and flows like the ocean itself.

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      Known for flowing changes in key and mood, the John Butler Trio proves that fast songs can stand in as great focus music. The group’s long songs—“Ocean” is 12 minutes long—are less disruptive for long projects. Two other favorites by John Butler Trio are “Betterman” and “Spring to Come.”

      4. Classical Radio on Pandora

      Classical music has long been a staple for music lovers looking to get work done. Pandora’s classical station features a great mix, from Beethoven to modern artists like Maria Callas and Jorge Bolet.

      Pandora has radio stations for every genre imaginable. You can generate playlists based on genre, artist, or even a specific song.

      Other music apps offer similar playlists and radio stations you can turn to for your classical music fix. From piano-heavy tunes to violin concertos, you’ll find plenty to perk up your ears.

      5. Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack

      Movie soundtracks are full of amazing focus music. One of my favorites is the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which is lively and adventurous but not in your face.

      If you like what you hear, Hans Zimmer, the mastermind behind the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, has worked on a huge array of films. Zimmer also put together the soundtracks for The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Inception.

      One thing to watch out for with cinematic music is associations. As iconic as the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack is, if you’re thinking about Jack Sparrow instead of balancing spreadsheets, you should probably switch to a new song.

      6. Legend of Zelda Soundtrack

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      Another hotspot for instrumental music is video games. If you’re not sure where to start, check out selections from The Legend of Zelda.

      Anyone who’s played The Legend of Zelda games will immediately recognize what they hear. The soundtrack is light, airy, and full of awe. Keyboards, harps, and flutes feature prominently.

      Although you could spend hours listening to The Legend of Zelda music, don’t forget about fan-produced songs in this genre. The video-gaming community is robust, and instrumental re-creations of your favorite games’ soundtracks can be found all over the internet.

      7. Nature Sounds and White Noise

      This genre may be too relaxing for some, but others prefer less structured focus music. Sounds like thunder, wind, and rushing water can transport you to a quiet, idyllic place to get work done.

      One type of white noise to avoid is city-related sounds. Even without lyrics, honking horns or chattering crowds can be distracting.

      An advantage of this type of focus music is that it can be set on a loop. If you find a track you like, go ahead and put it on repeat. When it starts over, you won’t even notice.

      Ready, Set, Play

      The best part about focus music is that nothing is off-limits. Some people work better listening to Tom Petty tunes than instrumental music, and that’s okay. What’s important is that it’s motivating without being distracting.

      To unlock your next tier of productivity, spend a couple of hours clicking around on your favorite streaming music site. You’ll get more done, and best of all, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

      More Tips to Improve Your Focus

      Featured photo credit: Lala Azizli via unsplash.com

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      Reference

      [1] New York Post: Smarter people listen to instrumental music: study
      [2] Forbes: Does Classical Music Help Our Productivity?
      [3] YouTube: Ocean – John Butler – 2012 Studio Version

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