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 is a simple guide and tips to help you concentrate better.
Signs of Trouble Concentrating
Signs and symptoms of not concentrating vary from person to person. However, what we can experience are:
- Have a struggling working memory. You don’t know what occurred not that long ago;
- Trouble sitting still;
- Not being able to think clearly;
- You frequently lose things or can’t remember where things were placed;
- Have an inability to make decisions or perform complicated tasks;
- Unable to focus
- Lacking physical or mental energy
- Constantly and consistently making mistakes even if you don’t mean to.
When it comes to difficulty concentrating, you may notice these symptoms occur at various points for people. Some people need to be in certain settings for these symptoms to happen. For others, it can be during a certain time of day.
10 Most Common Causes of Trouble Concentrating
Here’re 12 most common reasons why you have trouble concentration, and the fixes for each of them.
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
While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside a period 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.
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 what you’re handling at that time. 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.
While you might be able to power through mild ones, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating for a period of time.
Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, sleep deprivation, 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?
Does that scenario sound familiar? When you get busy, you suddenly remember five other items that you need to do or think about.
All of this can be so distracting that you’re unable to keep up and have difficulty 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.
Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter, restore cognitive functioning, 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 and arguments.
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 might be well placed, but it doesn’t help to linger on these things. Your brain cells are better used for something else.
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 difficulty concentrating.
6. Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during waking hours.
There are medical reasons for poor sleep too. Diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, generalized anxiety disorder and neurological disorders.
For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.
But for most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about all kinds of things. 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 is your routine. Key steps include to help restore cognitive functioning are:
- 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
Exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list for many people. When they run out of time, they skip it. But they pay the price later in the form 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. And that’s okay.
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.
If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. The same can happen when not enjoying what you’re doing too.
Boredom is the starting point that can spiral out of control easily. It 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 too so boredom could be a sign of something deeper.
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.
9. Excess Stress
The pandemic, politics, the economy, what’s happening in the news, your work, and more can be big points of stress. In some cases they are manageable.
But there are some days where you can’t help but worry and get stressed out about these things.
I understand that, however, it’s also a lifestyle choice for you to be getting stressed out about those things.
The Fix: Destressing
Stressing out over those things will not only cause a decrease in cognitive functioning and concentration but is also the starting point for other problems listed in this post.
To solve this, learning to destress in various ways will help out a lot. These methods include:
- Making it a rule to stress out about things you can control rather than worry about what you can’t control.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation
- Give yourself a break
- Talk to other people about your worries
- Avoid using drugs and alcohol and instead, find some other way to unwind
10. Lack Of Nutrients Or Hunger
Finally, the last reason you can’t concentrate is maybe you’re not getting the right nutrients or not eating enough, to begin with.
Lack of nutrition is very common since people can get distracted by other things that they forget to eat. That or they only grab small snacks and aren’t getting the nutrients they need.
The Fix: Eat Better And Healthier
It’s vital that you’re eating properly and that you’re getting the right nutrients in your body. Vitamins like D3 and B12 help out a lot and can be taken as supplements.
In terms of actual foods, blueberries, green tea, avocadoes, fish, water, dark chocolate, flax seeds, and nuts are all proven to help with focus and concentration.
Beyond that, ensure you are eating enough at each meal and that you are eating consistently over the course of the day.
Though it’s not very common, you may also have trouble concentrating due to chronic conditions. Difficulty concentrating is a side effect of:
When Should You Seek Help?
Looking for help should be a priority if you:
- Haven’t been diagnosed with any of the cognitive functioning disorders mentioned above and you’ve tried several of those methods mentioned above to fix difficulty concentrating;
- Experienced loss of consciousness, severe chest pains, severe headaches, sudden and unexplained working memory loss;
- Unusual feelings of tiredness;
- Trouble sleeping;
- Or seeing a decline in performance in work or school.
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