Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on November 26, 2020

8 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating

8 Reasons Why You Have Trouble Concentrating

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 at 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. 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;
  • and run that Zoom tutorial with your partner again.

Those gaps in between? Those are buffer times. 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.

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?

Advertising

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?

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. 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.

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?

Advertising

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.

The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful

If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time.[1] Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter and focus on the present.

The good news is, 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. 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. 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.

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 your concentration issues.

Advertising

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, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders. For those, you need to seek medical treatment.

For most people, poor sleep is the result of 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 focus.

The Fix: Get Moving

Not everyone is an athlete. 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.

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. Depression and boredom are tightly linked.

Advertising

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.

If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.

Before You Get Distracted and Move On

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.

Read These Also if You Have Trouble Concentrating:

Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Columbia University: How Meditation Can Help You Focus

More by this author

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.

7 Ground Rules of Setting Goals (And Reaching Them) How To Focus on the Positive To Achieve Your Goal In Life How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better 9 Simple Ways to Delegate Tasks and Get More Done 10 Ways to Find Your Focus When You’re Stressed Out

Trending in Focus

1 How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better 2 How To Protect Your Focus From Being “Robbed” By Notifications and Social Media 3 13 Things to Put on Your Daily Checklist for Boosted Productivity 4 7 Science-Backed Ways To Stay Sharp, Alert And Focused 5 How to Work Remotely and Stay Productive and Focused

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on January 18, 2021

How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better

How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better

Go to business school, and you’ll hear it over and over again: What gets measured gets managed. Often attributed to Peter Drucker, this maxim also applies to time management.[1] The best way to improve your time management is to log your daily activities. Simply seeing how your time is spent empowers you to be more productive.

Before you begin recording your daily activities, you have two choices to make—where to do it and how to do it. Let’s discuss them both.

Where to Log Your Daily Activities

Generally speaking, you have two options for logging your daily activities: physically or digitally. Although there’s no “right” answer, there are reasons why people choose one over the other.

Digital Logging

For a few reasons, many people prefer to log their tasks in a calendar or productivity software:

1. Accessibility

Who wants to carry a planner everywhere they go? Digital tracking tools can be accessed from your phone, which is probably in your pocket from when you wake up to when you hit the hay. They can also be pulled up on your computer, where you’ll analyze the data.

2. Customizability

Do you like to view your tasks as a calendar or a list? Do you like to categorize them by type, participant, timeline, or something else? Do you color-code them? Digital activity logging tools put you in the driver’s seat. If you change your mind about a layout or color choice, you can always adjust it later.

3. Cost

Have you priced planners recently? A nice, hardback one can cost you a pretty penny. If you go this route, don’t buy online.

“One of the best things you can do is go out to a store and touch the planner, feel it and really look at it,” explains Jackie Reeve, who writes for The New York Times’ Wirecutter project. Most digital tracking tools are free. Some offer paid versions with more features, but even these are competitive with bound paper planners.

Advertising

Still, not everyone uses software to log their daily activities. So, what do the paper-planner folks like about them?

Physical Logging

Just as some people prefer print books to e-books, some would rather log their daily activities on paper. This option has a few advantages.

1. Memorization

Research suggests that writing things down helps us commit them to memory. If you’re trying to memorize a new routine, a paper activity planner might be your best bet.

2. Privacy

Although software companies spend a lot on data security, the reality is that breaches happen. If you worry about your schedule or activities leaking out to the wrong person, a paper planner could be the right choice.

Remember that paper logging puts more of the responsibility on your shoulders. Nobody is going to read your activity log if you keep it in a safe deposit box. But at the same time, how are you going to access it?

3. Visibility

To access your digital activity tracker, you need to think about it, pull up the app on your phone or computer, and log in. If you post a paper log in the right place, all you need to do is take a glance at it.

This is why many business professionals still keep a paper calendar on their desk, despite also maintaining a digital one. Nothing jogs the mind like a visual reminder.

Once you’ve decided where to put your activity data, you need to actually log and analyze it. Practice by clocking how long it takes you to review my six tips for doing so.

Advertising

How to Track Your Daily Activities

Some activities are easier to log than others. Digital ones, like videoconferences, might already be on your calendar by virtue of the invite you sent out. Others, like that wilderness hike you took on a whim, may require some planning and estimation.

Here’s where to start:

1. Check Your Calendar

Does what’s on your calendar match how you actually spend your time and how you want to be spending your time? It should, says Breakout Blueprint author Doug Foley—“If you learn to own your calendar instead of letting it own you, that’s the first step to building the life you want.”[2]

If it doesn’t, clean up your calendar. Remove activities and events that are no longer relevant. Say “no” to things you don’t want or can’t do. Fill those slots with activities that get you closer to your goals.

2. Use a Time Tracker

To track digital activities, use activity tracking tools like Toggl or Harvest. They can pull event details from your calendar and prompt you to log the amount of time you actually spent on each activity.

These tools are easiest to use with a widget, a miniaturized version of a program that displays only its essential tools. Time-tracking widgets let you start, pause, and stop the activity timer as you work.

If you’d prefer to use a physical activity log, get a stopwatch. Your phone has one built-in, or you can carry one on in your pocket if you prefer the track-coach experience. Either way, remembering to press “start” and “stop” after each activity takes practice. Expect to spend about two weeks building the habit.

3. Get Time Bounds Down to the Minute

When tracking your time, it’s easy to round. Perhaps you forget to click “start” on the timer, so you call it 3:25 p.m. instead of 3:23 p.m. Maybe your log from yesterday has a gap at 4 p.m., so you assume that you started the next task listed then.

Advertising

While that might not seem like a big deal, think about how it skews your activity log. Not only is your time for that task now inaccurate, but it may also cause you to shift the start or end times for tasks adjacent to it.

Sloppy logging becomes an even bigger issue when you need to analyze how you’re spending your time. If every five-minute “review email” task is off by two minutes, your analysis may lead you to believe that you’re spending barely half as much time in your email as you actually are.

4. Take Notes

Was your son or daughter distracting you while you were finishing up that proposal email? No wonder it took twice as long as the previous ones. Make note of the reason why in your activity log.

If you go the paper route, don’t do this in pen. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t make some sort of correction to my planner (more on that in a moment). Digital trackers allow you to not just attach notes to each activity, but update them as you wish.

When it comes to logging your time, the “why” matters just as much as the “when” and “how long.” You need to know why certain tasks took more or less time than expected if you want to become a better time manager.

5. Ask for Corrections

No matter how meticulous you are, everyone makes mistakes. If you’re logging a group activity—whether it’s a marketing campaign at work or cooking dinner at home—ask others in the group to periodically check your activity log.

Chances are good your time log will differ slightly from that of your partners. What’s important isn’t whose time is right, but identifying the types of tasks where discrepancies are common. Tasks that aren’t being logged correctly can’t be analyzed or acted on with confidence.

6. Back It Up

How good is your memory? Could you recite the last month of your activity log if it were lost or stolen? Probably not.

Advertising

If you use a paper activity tracker, take a photo of it each week. Upload the photos to a cloud storage solution like Google Drive. If you use a digital one, back up your activity log on a local storage device. You never know when the company behind your tracker is going to go bust.

7. Dig Into the Data

Once you have a month or more of activity data—and are confident it’s logged correctly—the fun begins. You can make better use of your time by analyzing how you’ve been spending it.

How you slice the data depends on what you want to do with it. Maybe all you need is a billable hours figure at the end of each month. That’s easy—just add up all the activities you did on behalf of your clients in the past four weeks.

Using your activity log to improve your personal life requires you to think about your interests and ideals. Does your morning routine consistently leave you enough time to eat breakfast? If not, you might need to start waking up earlier. Is your salaried job forcing you to work well beyond 40 hours per week? Then, it might be time to start looking for a new one.

Do More, Do Better

Your routine might not seem like anything special. But if you log your daily activities, you’ll see that you do a lot each day.

To better manage your time—either by cutting out unnecessary tasks or completing your existing ones more efficiently—you need to track your time. Opportunities for optimization are there—you just have to get started in identifying them.

More Tips on How to Manage Your Time Better

Featured photo credit: Paico Oficial via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: What Can’t Be Measured
[2] Author Hour: Breakout Blueprint: Doug Foley

Read Next