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Last Updated on August 4, 2021

How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks

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How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks

Knowledge was what once separated the rich and successful from the rest of the pack. The internet combined with the iPhone leveled the playing field. Then came along social media and put people in touch from all corners of the world. Now, Clubhouse is rewriting all the rules again. While our knowledge grows exponentially, sadly, our focus doesn’t. We must learn—as Warren Buffet does—to “say no to almost everything”. The key to success isn’t how to learn more, but how to increase focus.

The working-from-home model (WFH) wasn’t something many companies embraced just a short time ago. Today, Covid-19 has made WFH ubiquitous. With it, all sorts of challenges have arisen and companies and individuals alike are still adjusting to the new normal.

Pre-Covid, people had to deal with distractions at the office from walk-ins, colleagues asking for assistance, office gossip, and the likes. Today’s environment, for many people, is completely different. Isolated at home, a lack of focus can’t be blamed on your micromanaging boss, obnoxious coworkers, or persistent customers. At home, your focus is entirely in your hands now. So, what can you do about it?

Here are 12 different ways you can increase your focus.

1. Exercise

Get your day started right by getting the blood flowing. In Japanese, companies used to have their employees start their mornings with some light exercise. Stretching, yoga, or easy calisthenics are all that’s needed. Exercise does so much good for our bodies and mind.

According to the Harvard Medical School, exercise “reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”[1]

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2. Monotask

Multitasking was a cute catchphrase that sounded as if you were able to get more done in less time. Science says that’s dead wrong. By jumping from one task to another, our brain needs time to restart.

According to psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life,

“multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls.”

Therefore, to increase focus, simply monotask. By limiting your mind to a single topic, you create a laser-like ability to cut through it.

3. Chunking

While we might not be able to multitask, we can do two activities simultaneously if they use different parts of our brain. That’s why we can drive and listen to podcasts at the same time and keep control of our cars—driving has become internalized. Watching TV while doing your exercise routine is another prime example.

While chunking doesn’t qualify as something that will increase focus, what it does is free up time that we can use for other tasks. Good time management means having the ability to do more. When we have so much on our plate, getting through it all can be daunting. But by chunking activities, we kill two birds with one stone.

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4. Music

You might not think music can increase our focus, but you’d be wrong. A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, done in 2007, states that music, specifically classical music, can help your brain absorb and interpret new information more easily.[2] If you’re looking for an easy way on how to increase focus, Mozart or Beethoven have got you covered.

5. Nature

David Strayer is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention. He’s also an avid backpacker, and he talks about something called the “3-day effect.” He demonstrated with a group of Outward Bound participants that after three days of a wilderness backpacking adventure, they performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks.[3]

According to him, “on the third day, my senses recalibrate – I smell things and hear things I didn’t hear before.” So, if you’ve been cramped up in your house during the lockdowns, a trip to the Great Outdoors might be just what the doctor ordered.

6. Mingle

The effects the lockdowns have had on our mental health have been severe. Isolating people isn’t good for us. We’re social animals. We need to get out and mingle. While we often view chit-chat as a mindless, time-wasting activity, it does have its benefits. Talking to different people exposes our minds to new and fresh ideas as well as alleviate stress. The less stress we have, the more we can focus.

7. Sleep

The simplest and easiest way to increase focus is having good old-fashioned sleep. Too many of us have gotten accustomed to cutting hours off our sleep to be able to watch another episode of Game of Thrones or get to the next level in the Spiderman: Miles Morales on the PlayStation 5.

None of us can operate at optimum levels for long periods of time without a good night’s rest. Short term, we might be able to get away with it, but over time the effects add up. In essence, by denying yourself sleep, you are denying your body the rest it needs to realign itself.

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8. Diet

The food we eat is the fuel for our bodies. A Ferrari can only perform its best with quality gasoline. The same can be said for our bodies, yet it seems too many people don’t connect the two.

While the vegetarian diet is certainly healthy, I prefer to take a more balanced approach. Fish, meat, and pork all provide us with amino acids essential for health. I compliment my proteins with a variety of vegetables and carbohydrates. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. Ever since I focused on creating a more balanced diet, I have not lost a day of work.

9. Cooking Timers

It sounds rather silly until you’ve tried it, but force yourself to work on one task for a solid 30 minutes—no interruptions of any kind. You’ll be amazed at how hard it is for us to do that. We have gotten so used to jumping from one browser tab to another. We happily bounce around on the internet whenever we see something that catches our eye. It’s amazing how much time we flutter away without knowing it. A cooking timer is your commitment to give a single task your undivided attention.

10. Switch Things Up

While I have spoken about focus, monotasking, and timers, we have to understand that there are times when we just get stuck. It’s at moments like that we need a change of scenery. It’s no use beating a dead horse.

There are days when our creative juices just aren’t flowing. At times like this, it’s better to just get your mind completely off what you’re doing. Clear your mind by doing something completely different. That breather will give your mind time to reboot itself. Playing a video game, reading a book, or doing something completely different from what you usually do can work. It’s amazing how, by simply switching things up, we can increase our focus.

11. Go for a Walk

Something as simple as going for a walk can be just what the doctor ordered. In fact, under the current circumstances of work-from-home, it’s something we all need to do more of.

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There were days when my wife didn’t go outside for days on end. She’d start going stir crazy. Going for a walk—away from technology—and breathing in the fresh air can make a world of difference to someone stuck at home.

12. Deadlines

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted. Put simply, we adjust our work to the time available for its completion.

Say you’re told to finish a project by next Tuesday. Most people will get it done by next Tuesday. Unlike school where we have the eager beavers, as adults, we have so much on our plate so we put off things that do not need our immediate attention. So, if you want to increase focus, simply bring in the time frame.

Don’t allow yourself to put things off and instead, attack them head-on. Combined with the other techniques and strategies outlined in this article, you’ll be able to rip right through things.

Conclusion

Focus, not knowledge, is the key to success in today’s world. Unfortunately, so many things are competing for our focus and attention. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and the new kid on the block—Clubhouse—are all vying for your attention, not to mention our friends, family, and colleagues.

It’s a battle for your mind, and you are in the driver’s seat. Armed with these 12 brain hacks, you’ll be able to win more wars than you lose.

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More Tips on How to Increase Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Chase Clark via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Exercising to relax
[2] Stanford Medicine: Study shows different brains have similar responses to music
[3] National Geographic: This Is Your Brain on Nature

More by this author

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

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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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