Advertising
Advertising

10 Tips for Razor Sharp Concentration

10 Tips for Razor Sharp Concentration

Writing to-do lists and keeping a schedule may keep you organized, but does it really help you get more done? I believe that organization is important, but what you really need is focus. Being able to sit down and concentrate intensely on your work for a few hours. Even a half hour of focused effort can get more done than an entire day of distraction and multitasking.

Here’s some tips to get into a state of deep concentration where work flows easily:


1) Cut Off the Noise

It may be obvious that distractions aren’t helping your focus, but do you actually cut them out? I’ll admit, it can be tempting to put the e-mail alerts on, turn on the IM and answer every request sent your way. But in the end it is only preventing you from concentrating.

Getting into a state of concentration can take at least fifteen minutes. If you are getting distracted every five, you can’t possibly focus entirely on your work. Answer your e-mails at scheduled times. Request that people don’t interrupt you when working on a big project. If you are required to answer phones and drop-in’s immediately, schedule work when the office is less busy.

2) Structure Your Environment

Advertising

The place you work can have an impact on your ability to focus. Try to locate yourself so you are facing potential distractions such as doors, phones or windows. This way you can take a glance to assess sounds that would otherwise break your focus.

3) Clarify Objectives

Know what your goal is clearly before you start. If you aren’t sure what the end result is, the confusion will make it impossible to focus. Before I write any articles, I define the main focus of the article and get a brief mental picture of the structure. Unclear objectives often result in having to redo sections of work.

4) Divide Blobs

Advertising

Big blobs of tasks that have no clear start or end point destroy focus. If you have a large project that needs work, clearly identify a path that you will use to get started working on it. If the sequence of actions isn’t obvious, it will be difficult to concentrate. Taking a few minutes to plan not only your end result, but the order you will complete any steps, can save hours in wasted thinking.

5) Know the Rules

Get clear on what the guidelines are for the task ahead. What level of quality do you need? What standards do you need to follow? What constraints are there? If you are writing a program, get clear on how much commenting you need, what functions you want to use and the flexibility required. If you are writing an article, decide on the length and style.

If the rules aren’t clear from the outset, you will slip out of concentration as you ponder them later.

6) Set a Deadline

Advertising

Deadlines have both advantages and disadvantages when trying to force concentration. A deadline can make it easier to forget the non-essential and speed up your working time. If you give yourself only an hour to design a logo, you will keep it simple and avoid fiddling with extravagant designs.

Time limits have disadvantages when they cause you to worry about the time you have left instead of the task itself. I recommend using a deadline when:

  1. Time is limited. If you only have a day to complete work that could easily take weeks, chunking it into specific deadlines will strip away everything that isn’t crucial.
  2. It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. If your task could easily expand to have new features or ideas, use a deadline to keep it under control.
  3. To avoid procrastination. A tight deadline can save you if you are worried about procrastinating.


7) Break Down Roadblocks

Roadblocks occur whenever you hit a tricky problem in your work. This can happen when you run out of ideas or your focus wavers. Break down roadblocks by brainstorming or planning on a piece of paper. Writing out your thought processes can keep you focused even if you might become frustrated.

Advertising

8 ) Isolate Yourself

Become a hermit and stay away from other people if you want to get work done. Unless your work is based on other people they will only break your focus. Create a private space and refuse to talk to anyone until your work is finished. Put a sign on your door to steer away drop-ins and don’t answer your phone.

9) Healthy Body, Sharper Mind

What you put into your body affects the way you concentrate. Nobody would expect peak performance if they showed up drunk to work. But if you allow yourself to get chronic sleep deprivation, overuse stimulants like caffeine or eat dense, fatty foods your concentration will suffer. Try to cut out one of your unhealthy habits for just thirty days to see if there is a difference in your energy levels. I’ve found even small steps can create dramatic changes in my ability to focus.

10) Be Patient

Before I write an article, I often sit at my desk for a fifteen or twenty minutes before I put finger on the keyboard. During this time I feel a strong urge to leave or do something else. But I know that if I am patient, I’ll stumble upon an idea to write about and enter a state of flow. Without a little patience, you can’t take advantage of flow when it rushed through you.

If you need strong concentration I recommend periods of 90-120 minutes. Any less than that and you will waste too much time getting started before the flow can continue. More than this is possible to sustain focus, but you will probably benefit from a quick break.

More by this author

Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

15 Ways to Cultivate Continuous Learning for a Sharper Brain 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations

Trending in Featured

1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 3 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

Advertising

Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

Advertising

One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

Advertising

But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

Advertising

It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next