Published on January 19, 2021

Why Can’t I Focus? 8 Reasons and Possible Solutions

Why Can’t I Focus? 8 Reasons and Possible Solutions

Information once came at a premium. The Internet and smartphone changed all that and leveled the playing field. What separates those uber achievers from the average person is their ability to use that information. The Elon Musks and Steve Jobs of the world have figured out that one thing is the key component of success in a world inundated with knowledge: focus. What we need to be asking ourselves as we start off 2021 is “Why can’t I focus?”

In dealing with clients in different industries with all different backgrounds, I can say that many people know what they should be doing, but there is a big difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Moreover, many people make the mistake of thinking they are using their time most effectively when they really aren’t.

People have difficulty gauging time accurately. People tend to overestimate how much time they are actually being productive. In his book The Compound Effect, bestselling author Darren Hardy talks about the day when he actually decided to calculate how much time he spent selling in front of his clients when he was young. He assumed it was a few hours when, actually, the number was closer to 20 minutes.

Focus is not something we can see or feel, making us guesstimate a lot of what we do. Even the best of us is derailed by obstacles that prevent us from focusing.

So, the million-dollar question is why can’t we focus?

Our once silent world has been replaced by constant buzzes from emails, messages, notifications, and reminders. Statistically, it has been said we get distracted on average every four minutes. The problem with that is it takes 23 minutes to regain focus[1].

Essentially, we are, by and large, never in a state of focus. Instead, we are moving between one task and another. To fix this we must first understand where the roadblocks are. Once we know where we are falling short, we need to implement shields to keep the noise out and allow us to focus on the tasks at hand.


One of the points on the list below is likely the reason you can’t focus. If it resonates with you, we have possible solutions to help.

1. Your Smartphone

Our greatest tool is also our greatest enemy when it comes to productivity. Like any tool, the smartphone can be used for good or evil. For every person that uses their smartphone to listen to personal development material, there are 100 that will listen to their favorite jams or play video games.

Every successful person I have met understands the dangers that come with their smartphone and adjust accordingly.

Possible solution: Turn your smartphone into a smart business tool by only installing absolutely necessary apps.

2. Notifications

This goes hand in hand with reason number one. We are connected to everyone via email, social media, and SNS through our smartphones. That results in hundreds of notifications a day. Every like, response to your post, email, chat message, app notification, and news update results in a buzz.

Possible solution: You are not a doctor. Turn off all unnecessary notifications.

3. Lack of Motivation

2020 was one for the ages. COVID-19, masks, and lockdowns hit many businesses hard. It’s been well documented by news outlets, but what is not talked about as much is the incredible effects the lockdowns are having on our mental health, specifically our motivation.


Suicides and anxiety are skyrocketing as a result, but we won’t know the true tally for some time. In dark times, it’s easy to lose motivation, to ask ourselves why bother?

But in the grand scheme of things, it’s nowhere near the Spanish flu or the Black Plague. We survived those at a time when medicine was nowhere near what it is today. With vaccines being introduced, things will get better, and we need to be ready for the opportunities when they do.

Possible solution: The best way to fight a lack of motivation is brute force. Grab yourself a copy of Zig Ziglar’s How to Stay Motivated or listen to the master motivator himself Tony Robbins with his Get the Edge or Personal Power audio programs. Shove them on your smartphone and then listen to them over and over.

4. Multitasking

People love to think they can do two things at the same time, but that’s the exact opposite of focus. It’s tempting to want to move onto another task when we get struck doing another.

When it gets hard, we look for easy solutions, but moving onto another task will inevitably leave you with two unfinished tasks. Single-minded focus is about working on one until it’s done, or a predetermined time is met.

Possible solutions: Avoid the temptation to do more; instead, single-task everything. It might seem like you’d do less, but single-minded focus gets tasks done in less than half the time.

5. Health Issues

There’s no getting around the fact that poor health will affect your ability to focus. Having sciatica personally, I can say that pain is a serious impediment to focus. That’s why I like to say, “The better you feel, the better you do.”


As an added bonus of making health a priority in life, you’ll save yourself tens of hours spent out of bed or visiting clinics.

Possible solution: It’s pretty much everything we know we should do: eat better, exercise regularly, and stay away from alcohol and caffeine. The best advice is to tackle this one step at a time. Cold turkey is not the answer.

First, introduce a very light stretching routine. Slowly reduce your Starbucks visits. Most of us can’t handle change overnight, but by doing it slowly we can achieve incredible results over time.

6. Poor Sleep

Sleep is often the first thing to go for people who want to get ahead or enjoy their lives more. The logic is that they can manage on five or six hours of sleep a night, so those extra two hours can be out to better use.

While I understand there are times we need to burn the midnight oil, sleep is when our body and mind get to recharge. Chemical imbalances, stress, anxiety and more can often be tracked back to poor sleeping habits. Running on less than six hours for most people will result in a lack of focus and lower productivity. When our brain is tired, errors increase, which can lead to lengthy corrections.

Possible solution: Make sleep a priority. Schedule it into your daily routine. For those days when we have to cut our sleep short at night due to a big project or presentation, try and grab a nap sometime during the next day.

Lebron James, one of the elite athletes in the world today, gets eight hours of sleep a night and takes naps when he feels he needs a little more rest. Let that sink in.


7. Screens

Sadly, we live in the Information Age. I am typing this article on my iPad. Most people today spend between eight and ten hours a day looking at one screen or another. If it’s not their smartphone, it’s their tablet or TV. Pick your poison, but our eyes suffer because of it. There’s no getting around needing screens.

Possible solution: Use the KitKat strategy and have a break. We need to constantly remind ourselves that screens are not real life. Just as we must schedule sleep, we must schedule our breaks as well. I once heard someone say that an optometrist told him 20-20-20 was the key to dealing with screens. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 meters away for 20 seconds.

You can also try blue light glasses. Modern screens are seriously bright. They take color to the next level, but that’s not good news for everyone. Some people get headaches and eye-strain from sitting in front of screens for too long. If that’s you, a $50 investment into blue light glasses could be the answer you’re looking for.

8. Social Media

I personally don’t use social media to keep in touch with friends and followers, but more as a business tool. I share information with clients, offer services, and gather new ideas for articles or presentations.

That’s not what most people do. They get sucked in spending hours upon hours going through their Twitter feed.

Possible solution: Set a time limit to spend. It’s amazing how little time you really need to do everything you want on social media if you try.

The Bottom Line

If you find yourself asking, “Why can’t I focus?” it’s time to do some self-reflection and figure out what may be causing your lack of focus. At least one of the above probably struck a nerve, so try to tackle that one first. You may find that one change is all you needed to be productive again.


More on Regaining Focus

Featured photo credit: via


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Adrian Shepherd

Adrian is a productivity consultant and the CEO of iSucceed

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Last Updated on September 9, 2021

The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work

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.


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.


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.


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


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



[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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