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Last Updated on August 4, 2021

How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain

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How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain

In this fast-paced world we’ve created, we’re only going to feel more overwhelmed by the directions and distractions we are pulled toward. With increasing demands, sustaining and improving focus on things that matter is getting tougher and tougher. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to learn how to improve focus.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that overcoming the struggle to focus is no longer about trying to discover secret weapons of willpower or self-discipline. With these initial self-reflective exercises and different brain-training techniques, you’ll no longer be having arguments with yourself to get on with the job!

Here are 7 ways to learn how to increase focus that you can start applying today.

1. Have a Plan You Feel Clear About

One of the most common reasons we struggle to maintain focus is because we lack clarity about what we need to do next. The next best action step does not feel clear to us.

If you are trying to lose weight but aren’t clear on which activities you need to do to get there, you increase your chances of staggered progress.

If there are not enough clear steps early in the process, these emotional obstacles will derail you.

The amount of detail you need to feel ready and confident to move forward will differ between you and the next person. Some people require more details to feel comfortable, others less.

Work on developing enough clarity and building enough resources in order to take the steps. When you do, stepping forward will be easy and momentum will flow.

2. Set Your Mood and Environment

It’s been argued that in above-ambient temperatures, you can be more creative. You feel more relaxed, and your productivity increases. Conversely, lower temperatures have also been found to more positively influence decision-making ability and alertness.

Cornell University conducted a study of office administration workers whereby their productivity positively correlated with increased office temperatures[1]. At 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the workers were typing with 90% accuracy. However, with a drop to 68 degrees, the typing rate nose-dived, along with an increased error rate of 25%.

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It’s not just temperature you need to pay attention to. Good lighting is essential. The wavelength of blue light emitted from most electronic devices generally increses our serotonin levels and keeps us awake[2].

Consider that natural light is best where possible. When your body is truly getting tired, you can honor its natural rhythms and listen to its cues for rest.

Set up your office correctly when learning how to improve focus

    Switch off communication applications. Make it hard for yourself to access such applications and devices by physically putting them in places that are inconvenient. Specifically, try the 20-second rule and make it take more time to access them. If you have to go outside to the garden shed to retrieve your phone (and it’s cold and raining outside), you’re less likely to do it!

    Maximize your exposure to visual messages that direct you to stay focused on the task at hand. Surround where you plan to execute most of your day’s work with deliberate messages that directly tell you to stay on track.

    3. Impose Time Limits for Distractions

    When you know you have to prepare a complex report or assignment, the temptation to get distracted will likely be stronger than ever. That story you spin yourself that you’re only spending a bit of time getting “up-to-date” becomes the only story you want to believe.

    In order to learn how to improve focus, use a designated period of time to scroll through social media or make personal phone calls. However, timing here is essential.

    After pounding through a chunk of work, submit to that guilty pleasure. When you engage in it, do it fully. If you’ve been studying straight for three hours, it’s time to stand up, stretch, and stroll to your favorite coffee shop and back. Go for a walk or make a healthy snack.

    Cold-turkey abstinence is hardly ever effective. Not only are you wasting time and energy resisting the urge, but you make the urge stronger by denying yourself! Learn to manage it wisely instead.

    4. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness

    If you’re yet to be convinced of how meditation can help you improve focus, there are plenty of studies you can look at. More and more of these studies are demonstrating how meditation can reduce rumination, stress, and anxiety and improve attention span, relationships, emotional stability, focus, and working memory capacity.

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    One scientific review found that “MBIs [mindfulness-based interventions] were moderately effective in reducing anxiety symptoms and improving mood….Moreover, improvements were sustained over an average of 27 weeks”[3].

    Meditating allows you to practice regaining focus. As you practice, you learn to notice when your mind is wandering off track. You then practice bringing it back to what you should be directing your attention to.

    The world, our bodies, and our minds work in rhythms. Learn to exercise your mind and focus as such. If you try to beat yourself cognitively into submission, you’re unlikely to win. You’ll be exhausting yourself in repeated attempts of trying.

    Here’s a beginner guide for meditation: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

    5. Schedule Planning, Review, and Recognition Periods Throughout Your Day

    Peter Bregman, the best-selling author of 18 Minutes, recommends a simple plan to help train your brain to remain focused and help you track your progress.

    Before the computer goes on, use the first five minutes of your day to invest in planning and write out your day’s activities. Physically writing down your activity goals for the day (using paper and pen, not electronic word processing) engages more functions within your brain (e.g. the generation effect)[4], which train it to recognize these activities as highly important.

    Bregman then recommends that for one minute at the end of each of the next eight hours, you stop and recall what you have accomplished in that hour. You congratulate yourself for what you have achieved and regain focus, recalibrate expectations, and take short breaks. You slow down to speed up.

    By reviewing what you have accomplished, you attach a positive emotional experience to your work and progress. This action in itself will increase your focus as you fuel your motivation to keep the wheels of your momentum rolling.

    Including a weekly review can also be incredibly helpful. Learn how to do so here.

    The final five minutes at the end of the day are spent in reviewing and planning the next day. Doing so makes it easy for you to build your ability to concentrate from one day to the next.

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    6. Create Goals That Satisfy Your Highest Priorities

    Whenever you’re resisting doing something, it’s likely that it’s because it’s not topping your priority charts.

    As a human being, you behave and act in ways which ultimately keep you feeling safe and comfortable. As long as we can see we will get to continue feeling safe and comfortable.

    However, the moment a notion arises of your needing to do something that feels unfamiliar (and hence, uncomfortable), you can guarantee you’ll feel a sting of resistance.

    The key is to examine and reframe what you need to do in a way that does satisfy your highest values and priorities.

    If you believe you know what your values and priorities are, spend time looking at the results you have achieved with your goals. This is important when you’re learning how to improve focus.

    For example, you may think that one of your priorities is to have a healthy bank balance. However, your balance statement shows a lack of savings. This shows that having a lot of money is actually not a high priority for you at this moment.

    At this point, you need to explore the variety of activities that yield a healthy bank balance that you’re not currently exercising. Saving, reducing costs, and finding ways to increase your income are all activities you need to explore. These things might sound dull and like hard work.

    That’s probably why you’re not doing them! The great news is that they don’t have to be.

    Work out which of these activities are the easiest and fun (i.e. create feelings of comfort and safety) for you.

    If you are good at generating income, engage a financial adviser to set up structures that will monitor and wisely manage your spending. You can have your cake and eat it, too.

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    Simply work out which parts of the cake you like eating the most and invite others along who like eating the other parts.

    7. Transform Information to Make Things More Interesting

    According to neurobiologists’ findings, we learn better when we actively do different things with the information. Not only are our experiences of learning more enjoyable, but we activate more parts of our brain. This allows lessons and memories to be more effectively encoded into long-term memory.

    You need to become clever at regularly stimulating your senses through variety.

    If you’re studying and want to learn how to improve focus, engage a variety of ways to exercise using the knowledge and skills you must develop. One particularly useful way to engage with information is to teach it to others. One study suggested that this is because teaching information forces you to continually focus to retrieve it[5].

    Drawing pictures and diagrams, creating voice memos about what you’re learning, and using colors and symbols activates different parts of the brain. More connections are developed in your neural circuitry to aid your recall and improve concentration.

    Before you know it, staying focused no longer feels like a chore.

    The Bottom Line

    The need to stay focused drops when you set goals and make choices that steer you toward satisfying your highest priorities, values, and principles.

    Having arduous experiences on your journey is inevitable. Using these exercises and strategies, you can forecast when distractions and boredom are approaching and transform these into some of the most effective and productive chapters ever.

    More on How to Improve Focus

    Featured photo credit: Magnet.me via unsplash.com

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    More by this author

    Helen D'Silva

    Performance Psychologist for Business and Entrepreneurship, Sport and Personal Development

    How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain How to Cope with Anxiety at Work: 5 Psychology Techniques How to Cultivate a Positive Mindset (A Step-By-Step Guide) How to Manage Anxiety: Sound Advice from a Mental Health Expert The Scary Truth About Nightmare Disorder And Top Treatments that Work

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    Last Updated on October 4, 2021

    How to Stay on Task And Avoid Distractions

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    How to Stay on Task And Avoid Distractions

    It has become more challenging to stay on task and avoid distractions. Unfortunately, the great benefits of today’s technologies have also become the biggest enemies of focused action. The pandemic has, of course, made its own corrections in the way we manage our time, business, family, and life. Did you know that the time-tracking market will increase worldwide by roughly 21 percent by 2025?[1]

    With more and more distractions appearing in our daily lives, it’s understandable that people keep pushing themselves to squeeze every minute out of the day. But only a few realize that outside distractions are fairly easy to avoid compared to our inner triggers.

    Mistakenly, we blame only outside distractions, thinking that they mess with our ability to stay on task and make it almost impossible to avoid them. However, our inner triggers are what play the biggest role in focused and productive action. While external triggers are cues from our environment that tell us what to do next, inner triggers are cues from within us. For example, when we’re hungry, we are cued to get something to eat and so on. Understanding what kind of trigger is pursuing you to take certain actions will help you determine the best solution to stay on task.

    While distractions are everywhere, it’s not impossible to minimize them. Distractions itself is a topic long, wide, and deep enough for a book at least. On Amazon alone, there are more than 9000 books with a “distraction” on the cover. This once again proves our need for solid tools, systems, and new approaches to help us stay on task and avoid distractions.

    Here is my formula for you to stay on task. It is not your typical “turn off your phone” and “close your emails” type of list. This formula has been crafted over years of experience, research, and knowledge. It looks deeper than external pings, rings, and dings.

    I aim to give you a different perspective on how you are managing your time, attention, and decision-making. If used with one mind and willingness to truly build a skill to stay on task, this formula might be just the right read for you.

    1. Manage Your Attention Before Trying to Manage Your Time

    We can manage our time better if we can manage our attention. Time management depends a lot on attention, focus, and flow management, rather than planning and scheduling. Although technical support is a big part of focused action, if we lack prioritizing and attentiveness, we will eventually waste time one way or the other and make it difficult for us to stay on task. Therefore, getting clear on our intention behind the task is crucial for staying on it and not getting distracted.

    Do you want to be more productive and feel good about what you accomplish at the end of the day? Do you want to have time to learn a new skill, building a better service so you can create more impact? Do you want to protect yourself from distraction, unwanted information, and more wasted time? Whatever your reasoning, if you can focus, you can get more important things done in less time. In that way, the focus is the ultimate “productivity hack.”

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    We all have the same 24 hours. But what matters more than the length of time you put into a task is the intensity of focus because if you have an intensity of focus, you can reduce the amount of time spent doing it to get the same or better results. Even if you’re not in a state of flow, focus helps you get more out of the day.

    A study from the University of California at Irvine found that, on average, participants (who worked in the tech field) could only work on a project for 11 minutes before being distracted. What’s worse is that it took them more than 25 minutes to regain their focus.[2]

    Focus keeps you productive. It’s what determines whether you do what you want to or spend the day distracted. But it goes much deeper than this.

    Being focused allows us to choose the life we want to live, not just react to what’s happening around us. So, let me give you some ideas on how to increase your attentiveness. If you want to improve your focus, you have to do more than just make yourself pay attention. Focus is as much about what you’re paying attention to as what you’re blocking out because unfortunately, the world around us is incredibly distracting and it makes challenging for our brain to focus on a task.

    Learn How to Take Control of Your Technologies

    There is no escaping from technology, but we need to understand that it is here to serve us, not the other way around. Many of the default settings on our devices are set to take our attention away, and it’s up to you to change them.

    Create a Focus-Friendly Work Environment

    This plays a massive role in your ability to focus., yet most of us don’t think much of it. Getting rid of clutter, organizing your stuff so you don’t waste time trying to find things, avoiding outside noise and unnecessary interruptions are what will help you stay on task.

    Stop Multitasking

    If you haven’t heard it enough times already, multitasking is a myth. When we try to do more than one thing at a time, we’re just quickly switching back and forth between the tasks. This isn’t very efficient, and it makes us more stressed. Even worse, the more you multitask, the more your brain looks for more things to do at once. It’s like your training your brain to be unproductive. However, focusing on one task at a time rebuilds your focus, lowers stress, and can even make you more creative.

    2. Declutter Your Mind as Well as Your Desk

    Clear space creates a clear head. It increases productivity and saves us from distractions. But clearing your desk is very technical. It’s fairly easy doable and repeatable. If you have a system in place that you love, you would only have to declutter once, and then you would just follow your path where clutter gets thrown away regularly. This allows for constant rotation of creative energy giving you space to evolve.

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    However, a tidy space actually can keep you on the task only for that long. It can give you only that much of a clear head and distraction-less space. While it immensely helps to shift the energy, it will not keep you distraction-less forever, and this is where your mindset comes in. The “clear space creates clear head” is only partly true.

    Clear space gives us more clear mind for that moment, but this is not your long-term solution. If you would have managed to keep your workspace clean, clutter-free, you would still have thoughts. According to research, an average person has 6000 thoughts every day![3]

    Will a decluttered space be able to help you with all of them? No! But this is where the mindset work comes in. No tool, tip, trick, or hack will be able to solve your timing or focus issues. Only you can do that because you are the one in charge of your time, your commitments, your schedule, your plan, and also your mind.

    If you ever tried to meditate, you know that it takes time to clear your head from thoughts, calm the mind, and thrive in presence. And it is definitely one practice that can help you understand how your mind works. If you are having difficulty staying on task, then it’s time to look for the cause.

    If you think that another great new productivity app will solve your problems and you will finally be able to stay on task, it will not support your long-term vision. Yes, it might help for a month or two, but then what? Are you willing to go back and search for other solutions while your to-do list keeps growing and your time freedom is non-existent?

    It is great to start by decluttering the mind. Support it with decluttered space on your way to great focus and productive work. Ask yourself: What is blocking you from undivided attention? Have you ever thought that you could be keeping yourself busy to feel worthy of your income? It’s a clue to your limiting beliefs! Imagine if you could replace that with a success mindset, how would your focus increase? It’s taking one mindset block at a time and working through it.

    3. Work on Your Pain

    What does pain have to do with focus? We waste our time when we get distracted, and we get distracted all the time. Imagine how much you would be able to achieve if you would stay focused on the task for that scheduled time, commit to that task and get it done. Who knows? You might even finish it in half the time you planned.

    But let me explain to you something about pain. We allow ourselves to get distracted because it’s our decision to check that ping, ring, and ding. We decide to focus somewhere else when that ring comes knocking. We make that choice because of the pain. We feel discomfort, and we all love comfort, right? Our natural way of avoiding pain and discomfort is what makes us lean towards distractions rather than stay on task. It’s worth looking deeper and understand what are the underlying issues that you’re trying to avoid when distracted.

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    Working on that pain will help you stay focused and committed to even the hardest of tasks. If you’re committed to your growth in all areas, it’s up to you to stay on task even when you don’t feel like it.

    I challenge you to look where that pain is coming from that causes you to get distracted. Find it, and let it go so you can be attentive, present, and focused.

    4. Rewrite Your Habits

    We are in charge of building our success habits, so what are you working on today to allow yourself to stay on task with as little effort as possible? Below are the most common distracting habits that probably have been creeping into your daily routine as well.

    Stop Adding Things to Your To-Do List

    To-do lists give you too much flexibility, too much freedom of choice, and too much space for procrastination to creep in. Everything you’re planning to do, schedule it in your calendar instead. Plan your tasks, and put timing next to every task. Like that, you will create space for important tasks, prioritize wiser, and won’t be able to overbook your time.

    If you think about it, putting your tasks into your calendar creates well-deserved peace of mind, gives you much more freedom, and keeps you productive. You’re no longer overshadowed by your never-ending to-do list that keeps growing by minutes and never gets completed. Staying committed to your calendar is a part that can’t be avoided if you want to stay on task. If it’s on your calendar, you have already committed to doing it. You have already decided that something is important enough to get on our calendar, so it’s worth your focus.

    Stop Notifying Yourself and Scrolling Your Screen

    Checking notifications, emails, messages as they come in. That “beep” sound distracts you in a fraction of a second, but unfortunately, it takes much longer to get back into your creative flow after an innocent “I will just quickly check-it might be urgent.”

    For better productivity, you should set certain times when you allow yourself to check emails and it should not be more than twice a day. Seriously, it is enough times (I’m talking from experience). Scrolling through social media is nothing new, yet it still is the biggest time-waster. You get sucked into random posts only to realize that another 20 minutes have passed without creating results for your future. Mind your own business (literally), and create before you consume.

    Stop Acting Like You’re Superhuman

    Multitasking is not an admirable ability, it’s destructive behavior. You have probably heard about it, but let me remind you again: trying to do more than one thing at a time diminishes your productivity. The human brain simply isn’t designed to multitask. Your brain slows down as it switches between tasks, which takes more time and makes you less efficient.

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    Focusing on one thing at a time will make you more effective. If you’re taking too many breaks, you end up lingering and not getting your focus back. Schedule your break to keep yourself in check and focused. Too many breaks lead to more wasted time. Oftentimes, it means working when exhausted. All it does is create more exhaustion and more mistakes. You may also end up facing burnout.

    Do yourself a favor and make sleep a priority. The time you spend resting will pay off when you’re awake and ready to take on the world. Once you are clear on what wasted your time, create a to-don’t list to get clear on things you know you should not be doing.

    5. Find Traction

    We are used to thinking that the opposite of distraction is focus—where we are fully present, attentive, and focused on what it is that we are doing. But the opposite of distraction is actually “traction,” and traction from Latin is an action that pulls you towards what you want to do. So, distractions are actions that pull you away from what you want to do, and tractions are actions that move you towards what you want to do. This means that any action can be either a distraction or traction depending on what you intend to do with your time.

    There’s nothing wrong with scrolling through your Facebook feed, watching YouTube videos, or playing a video game, as long as that’s what you intend to do. It’s when you do things unintentionally that you get into trouble. When you get pulled away from what you need to do to avoid discomfort, to avoid that hard work or that pressure dealing with a specific task, that’s when you allow yourself to get distracted.

    So, if you’re asking if it’s possible to avoid distractions, the answer is yes. But you don’t want to do it! You want to notice these moments of discomfort and understand what causes you to get distracted. What are you trying to avoid? Why are you letting yourself get pulled away from things that you need to do?

    If we dig deeper, we can see things for what they are, including ourselves, our believes, our thoughts, and anything that sabotages our focus without us realizing it.

    Final Thoughts

    Distractions are a very wide range of things. They are everywhere, looking for you to bring your attention to them. The good news is that you can stay on task if only you choose to. You are in charge, and now that you have a better insight into your triggers, it will hopefully allow you to get less distracted and more focused.

    No matter what your distractions are, you are in control of your time, what you do with it, and where you spend it. Be sure to keep that control in your hands.

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    More Tips on Improving Your Attention

    Featured photo credit: Surface via unsplash.com

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