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Last Updated on January 27, 2021

8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

What were you doing when this article caught your eye? Chances are, you were having trouble concentrating on another project.

Even before COVID-19, balancing your work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge. These days, it can seem downright impossible.

Don’t let a little bad news—or good fun—break your focus. Here are eight reasons why you might have trouble concentrating, each with its own solution for getting back on track:

1. Digital Distractions

Right now, do a little experiment. Pull up your browser history, hit Ctrl+H, and see where you’ve been all day. Frightening, right?

You jumped in and out of email. You bounced from social media to 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?

The Fix: Schedule Your Day

Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, you can put together a daily schedule to help when you have trouble focusing. While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside blocks 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.

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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 sometimes. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than the spreadsheet you’re struggling to fill out. This causes you to have trouble concentrating on what you need to focus on.

Nonetheless, you have a deadline to meet, so how can you keep yourself focused when you have trouble concentrating?

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.

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.

3. Headaches

Nearly everyone has had a headache at some point during their lives. While you might be able to power through a mild one, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating.

Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, lack of sleep, diet, eyestrain, and medications[1]. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding.

The Fix: Use Your Head

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.

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If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. 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 sound familiar? Racing thoughts are common, especially among busy people, but they aren’t conducive to keeping your brain on track and focused and often cause you to have trouble concentrating.

The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful

If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time, causing concentration problems.[2] Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter and focus on the present.

The good news is that meditating is easy. 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.

5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments

Life is messy, and if you’re like me, one of the greatest concentration-killers is unresolved disputes.

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 won’t solve these issues, but they will distract you from your job.

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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 trouble concentrating.

6. Lack of Sleep

Poor sleep isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during the waking hours. There are medical reasons for poor sleep, like diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders. For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.

For most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about finances, kids, parents, or maybe that job change you’ve been considering. You have a lot on your mind, and this causes you to have trouble concentrating.

The Fix: Have Some Sweet Dreams

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 may be your routine. Key steps include:

  • 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

For many people, exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list. When they run out of time, they skip it—at the cost 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. At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability. 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.

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.

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8. Boredom

If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll have trouble concentrating on it. If you’re bored with life in general, you’ll find it difficult to focus on much of anything.

Boredom 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.

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. Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.

Even if you’re not comfortable with eating at a restaurant or visiting Grandma, there are things you can do. Zoom and Facetime are good options, but you might also think about having a couple of friends over on your patio while maintaining social distance. Keep it short so no one even has to use your bathroom.

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.

The Bottom Line

Concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. That’s why most people have trouble concentrating. 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.

More to Help You Concentrate

Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Headache: When to worry, what to do
[2] Columbia University: How Meditation Can Help You Focus

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John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

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Published on July 12, 2021

Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

Why Making Yourself a Priority Boosts Your Productivity

Conventional wisdom centers around giving more of yourself to others in your life than you would to what you want to accomplish. You’re taught to make sacrifices and put your needs secondary because that’s how you’ll become a better person. However, not making yourself a priority is keeping you from accomplishing your goals and getting more done.

Let me know if this sounds familiar. You work hard all day to accomplish your goals. During your moments of focus, there are requests from others and demands from outside distractions on your time. You start each day with a to-do list of items that you want to accomplish. By the time you come to the end of your day, you haven’t completed what you wanted. If you were to analyze your time, you would see that the reason is you’re constantly being distracted.

There’s a significant difference between being selfish and being self-centered. I won’t give you the analogy that you hear every time you get on an airplane, but if you’re going to accomplish your goals, you have to stop drowning—in a figurative sense.

The reality is that you’re giving more of yourself to others than you are giving to your goals and vision of the future. By not making yourself a priority, your goals have become secondary.

Here are six important reasons why everyone should understand the importance of self-prioritization. The key to getting more done starts with taking care of yourself first and foremost.

1. You Create the Bandwidth You’ll Need to Focus on Your Goals When You Make Yourself a Priority

It takes a lot of yourself to consistently put in the work that helps you get more done and accomplish your goals. You need energy, bandwidth, and mental clarity to wake up every day and work hard.

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By making yourself a priority, it allows you to see the path to accomplishment. Too many people aren’t accomplishing their goals because their goals get lost in the busyness of taking care of others. It becomes a negative habit and a complacent way to live life.

Life rarely works out as expected, and as you’re working on your goals, you’re going to experience unexpected setbacks. You need bandwidth and mental strength to withstand those frustrating moments and still maintain the motivation to accomplish your goals.

The vital part of accomplishment is that you are working on your goals.

When you are working on what you want to accomplish to make yourself better, you can stay focused on what it will take to get there. You learn to say no to anything that will derail your path, and this creates more space and time to work on what you need to. Create the proper bandwidth through self-prioritizing.

2. Focused Energy Leads to More Production

Disorganization affects productivity. When it feels like you’re being pulled in many different directions, you can’t focus and create the energy needed for consistent production. A scattered mind leads to half-accomplished goals.

We know that in goal-setting, we need a plan. This plan has to be centered around what you want to accomplish. Self-prioritization allows you to create a plan that’s focused on the specific actions and steps it will take to achieve your goals.

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As you take action in an organized way, this leads to more production because your focus and energy are around the goals you know will help you be better and accomplish more. You simply get more done when you have the energy to do so.

3. Prioritizing Yourself Builds Clarity on What Boundaries You Should Set and Keep

Deep inside, you know when you should be saying no instead of saying yes. When you agree to anything that could derail your focus, it eats away at you inside. Prioritizing yourself and your goals helps you set boundaries and keep them because of the intense focus.

There will always be attempts and requests for your time and attention. As you start to build up yourself and accomplish more, others will notice. This will bring demand for your energy and your focus. If you give in to these requests, you won’t have the necessary bandwidth needed to work on your goals consistently.

Setting boundaries is an integral part of goal setting and living a healthy life. You have to be firm about what you allow and what you will not tolerate in your life. Human nature tends to lean towards people-pleasing—when you focus on pleasing others, you don’t please yourself.

Prioritize your goals and the things that you want to accomplish in your life. That’s the operative thing to understand—this is your life, and the focus has to be on what you want to achieve in that life. Use self-prioritization to clarify what boundaries need to be set and make sure you hold these boundaries firmly.

4. Sustainable Productivity happens With excitement for What You’re Working On

There are many reasons why people don’t accomplish their goals, but one that is not often thought about is a lack of excitement. When you spend the whole time working on things that drain you, your productivity diminishes with every second.

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Letting outside circumstances dictate your goals leads to a lack of excitement. By not focusing on making yourself a priority, you’re not creating an environment in which you are thrilled to be working on your goals. It will take a lot of hard work over a sustained period of time to accomplish your significant goals and be productive. It’s going to require energy and bandwidth to overcome the setbacks and stay focused.

Prioritizing yourself allows you to set challenging goals, but the outcome is exciting. If you look at what you’re working on and it’s not exciting, you won’t have sustainability. A lack of motivation will drain your productivity.

You’re a human being, not a machine. There will be things in your life that are not an exciting part of this process, but there has to be a balance between work and play. Work-life balance happens when the life part has an equal priority. Prioritizing what you want creates that balance and amplifies productivity.

5. It’s Mentally and Emotionally Freeing to Let Go of Outside Expectations

We are programmed to take on the baggage of outside circumstances. We’re taught that to be a good human being, we should take on what others are going through. By prioritizing yourself, you’ll come to understand that you are responsible for your life, and that involves your mental well-being.

Prioritizing yourself helps you see that you have to let go of the expectations of others. This is your life, and you have to live in the best way that you see fit. It’s important for you to spend the precious moments you have on this earth working on your goals and the things that help you live a better life.

When you let go of outside expectations of what you should be doing and how you should be doing it, it frees up bandwidth and creates mental clarity to be productive. No longer are you walking around with the burden of what others expect from you, it’s time to spend your time the way you’d like to.

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Other people’s expectations of your life don’t have to be part of your plan. It’s your responsibility to set the goals that help you live a free life and spend your time exactly how you’d like to spend it. Make yourself a priority by letting go and focusing on yourself first and foremost.

6. Optimizing Yourself Builds Every Area of Your Life

You’re probably working on your goals because you want to become the best version of yourself and create a life that brings more time freedom. The path to higher income, better relationships, more travel, and all the other things you want to accomplish happen through self-optimization and productive life.

When you can optimize yourself, it helps you be better in every other area of your life. The key to optimizing yourself starts by prioritizing yourself in more than just words. When you take action from a place of “you-first,” you’ll have the energy and capacity needed to push harder for longer.

Make yourself a priority by focusing on optimizing yourself and all the things you want to accomplish. Everything inside you might be screaming to help others first, but you can’t give what you don’t have. The best place to share is from a place of abundance, and that comes from optimizing yourself.

Final Thoughts

It’s time to take better care of yourself. It’s time to treat yourself as the most significant goal because that should always be the case. What you’d like to accomplish and your path to get there have to be a priority before you think about others.

The demands and energy of others can derail you if you let it. Self-prioritization means that you decide where your boundaries will be set and not allow others to violate them. You’ve probably spent a lot of your time up to this point focused on other people and outside circumstances. It’s time to take a dedicated period of time to put yourself first. You deserve a productive life.

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Debunk the programming that there’s something wrong with putting yourself first and making your goals the primary priority. You can always help others and be there for those who need you while making yourself a priority. It’s not an either-or situation—it’s a situation in which you can help strategically.

More Tips on How to Make Yourself a Priority

Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

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