Knowing how to improve concentration is an essential life skill you must master.
Even before COVID-19, balancing work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge for many. These days, it can seem downright impossible.
From distractions at work to information overload on social media, technology has made concentration even more challenging to achieve. Think back to a time when your mind was truly at peace. Perhaps it was while on a long walk in the woods, or maybe it was relaxing on the beach.
As you recall the moment, you probably remember nothing else. Your mind was completely focused.
Now, the real question is, how hard did you have to concentrate in order to achieve that feeling?
Here is a simple guide and tips to help you concentrate better, so you show up less distracted in life.
Table of Contents
- How to Improve Concentration?
- 10 Common Causes of Troubled Concentration And How To Fix Them
- Health Conditions Related to Trouble Concentrating
- The Bottom Line
How to Improve Concentration?
1. Knowing The Struggles
Before you know how to improve concentration, you first need to know the signs that cause many to have trouble concentrating. The signs can vary from person to person. However, what we can experience are:
- Have a struggling working memory. You don’t know what occurred not that long ago
- Trouble sitting still
- Not being able to think clearly
- You frequently lose things or can’t remember where things were placed
- Have an inability to make decisions or perform complicated tasks
- Unable to focus
- Lacking physical or mental energy
- Constantly and consistently making mistakes even if you don’t mean to.
When it comes to difficulty concentrating, you may notice these symptoms occur at various points for people. Some people need to be in certain settings for these symptoms to happen. For others, it can be during a certain time of day.
2. Understand That Focus Is a Flow
Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about. Because focus takes energy, time, and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you, something that’s worth shutting down phone calls, text messages, and social media for.
Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with many wrong turns. You also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow when learning how to focus better can help.
This is how the Focus Flow works:
- It starts from a clear objective.
- This becomes a clear roadmap.
- Then it manifests into a state oftargeted attentionand effort.
- This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.
Setting a Clear Objective
To start off, you need to set a clear focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on which things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.
Like driving a car, you need a destination.
In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.
A good focus objective, therefore, needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize, such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.
Drawing a Focus Roadmap
The second step is to lay out a practical focus roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.
There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal, but what comes first? What’s more valuable, and how long will it take?
That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to have at least a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.
Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.
To create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your roadmap should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve as you learn how to focus better.
10 Common Causes of Troubled Concentration And How To Fix Them
Want to know how to improve concentration? Here are the 12 most common reasons why you have trouble concentrating and the fixes for each of them.
1. Digital Distractions
Right now, do a little experiment. Pull up your browser history and see where you’ve been all day. Frightening, right?
You jumped in and out of your email. You bounced from social media to a digital publication and back again. Oh, and look at those half-dozen retail sites you scrolled through looking for a new pair of shoes.
Then, there’s your smartphone. Every few seconds, you get a new notification from Twitter, Instagram, or CNN. Each time, your eyes dart from your computer screen to your phone. You’d hate to miss something, right? This already speaks volumes of your lack of concentration.
The Fix: Schedule Your Day
While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside a period of time for tasks you know you’ll need to complete.
Schedule time to:
- Read and respond to work emails
- Make headway on your top two or three work projects
- Engage in professional development
- Do household chores
- Help the kids with homework
- Run that Zoom tutorial with your partner again
Leave short gaps in between as buffer times in case something goes over the intended time. Everyone needs to unwind with a good distraction now and again.
The key is controlling when you do so, rather than letting it control you.
Aside from that, try turning off your devices or notifications.
Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital, and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.
So turn them off and your battery will thank you for it. More importantly, when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.
2. Daydreams and Memories
Remember that little café where your spouse proposed to you 15 years ago? Wouldn’t your dining room look great with the same little tables and subway tile on the floor?
Everyone loses themselves in daydreams and memories. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than what you’re handling at that time. This causes you to have some trouble concentrating and away from what you need to focus on.
The Fix: Stay in the Present
Daydreaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagination can provide a spark of creative genius or visualization of what you want in life. You just need to do it when it makes sense, not when you should be focusing on work, since this will make way for a lack of focus.
Stay in the present by keeping your daily to-do list on your desk. When your mind starts to drift, pull yourself back to what’s right in front of you. Ground yourself by focusing on something real, like your breath, before turning your attention back to the task at hand.
With that said, make time to let your mind wander on occasion. Allow yourself the luxury of dreaming when it’s not pulling you away from something you need to get done.
While you might be able to power through mild ones, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating for a period of time.
Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, sleep deprivation, diet, eyestrain, and medications. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding. Lack of focus causes so many negative things, which is why you always need to examine yourself.
The Fix: Hydration and Pain Relief Products
Like that bottle of hand sanitizer, keep your headache and migraine medications on hand at all times. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge these days, migraine services like Nurx can diagnose you and deliver medication to your door.
If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. Difficulty focusing can be solved in simple ways. Some people find relief simply from drinking water, applying a cold compress, or inhaling essential oils.
4. Racing Thoughts
When is that project due? I’ve got to get something for Jane’s baby shower. I’m almost out of shampoo. I need those audit figures. What do I make for dinner tonight?
Does that scenario sound familiar? When you get busy, you suddenly remember five other items that you need to do or think about.
All of this can be so distracting that you’re unable to keep up and resulting in difficulty concentrating. If you want to know how to increase concentration, you need to calm your racing thoughts.
The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful
Figuring out how to concentrate intensely is no walk in the park. If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time, causing concentration problems. 
Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter, restore cognitive functioning, focus on the present, and restore razor focus.
The good news is that meditating is easy. This makes it one of the most effective concentration tricks you can master.
Simply sit somewhere comfortable, take off your shoes, and set a timer for ten minutes. Then, just focus on your breathing.
Don’t try to control it; simply notice your inhales and exhales, and let thoughts pass unjudged.
Mindfulness meditation, described above, is just one type. Mantra and movement meditations are also popular. Figure out what works for you, and keep those racing thoughts at bay.
Aside from that, keeping a distraction list can help keep any impulses at bay.
A distraction list is a list where you write down unrelated questions, thoughts, and ideas that run through your head while you work. Once you finish your task or have the opportunity for a break, then you can look up the answers to those questions or research the thoughts and ideas you had.
5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments
Life is messy, and if you’re like me, one of the greatest concentration killers is unresolved disputes and arguments.
Maybe you argued with your partner last night. Perhaps you both went to bed angry, and it’s been bothering you all morning. Or maybe you’re fed up with a co-worker who always talks louder than is necessary because they want everyone to hear about their latest date.
Your anger and annoyance might be well placed, but it doesn’t help to linger on these things. Your brain cells are better used for something else, such as finding ways on how to improve focus and concentration.
The Fix: Get Some Closure
Instead of leaving an argument up in the air, try to solve it. Stick to the point, stay calm, listen, and bring the disagreement to some sort of resolution.
If a co-worker does something to irritate you enough to interfere with your ability to concentrate, pull them aside and tell them. Be rational—not angry—and try to understand what might motivate their actions.
Otherwise, nothing is going to change, including the fact that you’re having difficulty concentrating.
6. Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during waking hours. There are medical reasons for poor sleep too. Diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, generalized anxiety disorder, and neurological disorders.
For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.
But for most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about all kinds of things. Finances, kids, parents, or maybe that job change you’ve been considering. This is one of the best tricks on how to concentrate better.
The Fix: Sleep Schedules
Losing as few as 16 minutes of sleep can throw you off your game the next day. Getting to sleep might be as easy as changing your mattress or your pillow, but the bigger culprit is your routine. Key steps include to help restore cognitive functioning are:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
- Control your exposure to light at night, including smartphones and computer screens. Use that time to confront those weighty things on your mind by making a list of concerns or updating your to-do list.
- Avoid overeating. Large meals close to bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine. Both substances interrupt your natural sleep cycle.
- When you do lie down, turn off the lights and close your eyes. Take some deep breaths, and drift into dreamland.
7. Lack of Exercise
Exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list for many people. When they run out of time, they skip it. But they pay the price later in the form of their concentration.
Even moderate, regular physical activity benefits your physical health, improves your sleep, lessens anxiety, and increases mental acuity.
If you aren’t making time for exercise during the day, you’re hurting your ability to stay focused.
The Fix: Get Moving
Not everyone is an athlete, and not everyone wants to work out under the scrutiny of their fellow gym-goers. And that’s okay.
At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability. If you find it difficult to focus on everyday tasks at work, try engaging in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
Rather than launch into that soon-to-fail New Year’s resolution approach to exercise, start with literal small steps, like walking the dog or taking the stairs. This is one of the most effective ways to focus better.
If it only takes you five minutes to eat that protein bar at your desk, use the rest of your lunch break to take a walk. Even if it’s around the block, you’ll come back feeling refreshed.
If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. The same can happen when you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, too.
Boredom is the starting point that can spiral out of control easily. It leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to fatigue, which leads to scrolling through your Facebook feed for hours, killing your ability to focus.
Depression and boredom are tightly linked, too, so boredom could be a sign of something deeper.
The Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective
The pandemic has put a stranglehold on our social lives. Despite the restrictions on seeing other people and going out in public, you need to find a way to put the “social” back in your life. This is one of the most important things to remember if you want to know how to improve concentration.
Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.
And about that boring work project? Tweak your attitude by thinking about how it will benefit your client.
Find a way to make it fun, perhaps by discussing it with colleagues who make you laugh. You can check out more ways to make boring work interesting in the following video:
If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.
9. Excess Stress
The pandemic, politics, the economy, what’s happening in the news, your work, and more can be big points of stress. In some cases, they are manageable.
But there are some days when you can’t help but worry and get stressed out about these things. I understand that, however, it’s also a lifestyle choice for you to be getting stressed out about those things.
The Fix: Taking Control of Your Feelings
Stressing out over those things will not only cause a decrease in cognitive functioning and concentration but is also the starting point for other problems listed in this post.
To solve this, learning to destress in various ways will help out a lot. These methods include:
- Making it a rule to stress out about things you can control rather than worry about what you can’t control.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation
- Give yourself a break
- Talk to other people about your worries
- Avoid using drugs and alcohol and instead, find some other way to unwind
10. Lack Of Nutrients Or Hunger
Finally, the last reason you can’t concentrate is maybe you’re not getting the right nutrients or not eating enough to begin with.
Lack of nutrition is very common since people can get distracted by other things that they forget to eat. That or they only grab small snacks and aren’t getting the nutrients they need.
The Fix: Eat Better And Healthier
It’s vital that you’re eating properly and that you’re getting the right nutrients in your body. Vitamins like D3 and B12 help out a lot and can be taken as supplements.
In terms of actual foods, blueberries, green tea, avocadoes, fish, water, dark chocolate, flax seeds, and nuts are all proven to help with focus and concentration.
Beyond that, ensure you are eating enough at each meal and that you are eating consistently over the course of the day.
Health Conditions Related to Trouble Concentrating
Though it’s not very common, you may also have trouble knowing how to improve concentration due to chronic conditions. Difficulty concentrating is a side effect of:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Cushing syndrome
- Major depressive disorder
When Should You Seek Help?
Looking for help should be a priority if you:
- Haven’t been diagnosed with any of the cognitive functioning disorders mentioned above, and you’ve tried several of those methods mentioned above to fix difficulty concentrating;
- Experienced loss of consciousness, severe chest pains, severe headaches, sudden and unexplained working memory loss
- Unusual feelings of tiredness
- Trouble sleeping
- Seeing a decline in performance in work or school.
The Bottom Line
Finding out how to improve concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. That’s why most people have trouble doing it. When there are all sorts of sounds, lights, and people competing for your attention, that combination can be elusive.
Do your best to remove distractions, clear your mind, and take care of yourself. Those work projects will practically check themselves off once you get into a groove.
Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com