Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on September 2, 2020

How to Improve Focus: 7 Ways to Train Your Brain

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 improve 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%.

Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

    Reference

    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 Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious 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

    Trending in Productivity

    1 13 Productive Things to Do on a Sunday 2 Delegation of Authority: The Complete Guide for Effective Leaders 3 How to Be Successful Even When Others Don’t Think You Can Be 4 5 Steps to Building Confidence That Is Unshakeable 5 A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Published on October 16, 2020

    13 Productive Things to Do on a Sunday

    13 Productive Things to Do on a Sunday

    Sunday’s are amazing days. For most of us, Sunday’s are a day of rest — a chance to relax, spend time with our family and friends and step away from work. Yet, for many people, Sunday’s can be a day of gloom. The thought of having to go back to work the next day and rejoin the hustle and bustle of everyday working life creates a dark cloud over a day that should be a joy.

    With the right approach, though, Sunday’s can be days of rejuvenation—a chance to recharge our batteries—and to set ourselves up for a fantastic week. It is just a matter of the way you look at Sundays.

    Sunday’s give me a chance to take stock of how my week has gone and decide what I want to achieve the following week. Each Sunday allows me to step back from the everyday grind and to measure my progress against the plan I had for the week and to reset that plan to make the next week even better.

    Here are 13 ways you can turn Sunday’s into amazingly productive days:

    1. Wake up at Your Normal Time

    I grew up thinking Sunday’s were a great day to ‘catch-up on my sleep’. The problem here is by over-sleeping on a Sunday, you often find it difficult to get to sleep Sunday night and that begins the cycle of sleep debt you want to avoid.[1]

    Waking up at your normal time maintains regular sleep patterns and this helps to make sure your sleep schedule is consistent throughout the week. When you are in a perpetual sleep debt all week, your productivity will sink. Ensuring you have a good night sleep every night, keeps you in a highly productive state.

    2. Start the Day With “Me-Time”

    “Me-time” is time you give to yourself.[2] It’s time you can spend doing all the things you love doing without the fear of being interrupted. That could be exercise, reading, going for a long walk or meditation.

    Before Google and smartphones, people in the U.K. used to wake up on a Sunday morning, take a short walk to the local newsagent to buy the Sunday papers. The Sunday papers had all sort of supplements on books, lifestyle, gardening and fashion.

    Advertising

    You would get home, settle into your favourite armchair and spend an hour or two reading through all these supplements. For me, I would put on some relaxing music and just relax with a nice cup of tea. It was a wonderful way to spend Sunday morning. No stress, no pressure, just me and the Sunday papers.

    Decide what you want to do with your Sunday morning, make sure it is focused on you and start this week. You will thank yourself for it.

    3. Do Some Exercise

    Now, this does not mean you go out and do a 10-mile run or spend one or two hours in the gym. What this means is to get outside and move.

    Our lifestyles today have taken away a lot of natural movement. This has become particularly prominent this year with many of us having to work from home. Those walks to the bus stop, train station and the office have gone. Now we get up, move from one room to another, sit down and start work.

    Sunday’s give you a chance to move. Take that opportunity. Get yourself outside for an hour or two. Enjoy nature. Go with your family or friends and just have a relaxing hour or two in nature. This is possibly one of the best ways to reduce stress, get some healthy exercise and set yourself up for a wonderful week.

    4. Plan the Day

    Not having a plan for the day will leave you at the mercy of outside events. Instead, decide on Saturday evening what you will do the next day. Make sure you wake up at your normal time, indulge in your favourite morning drink and start your day.

    Having no plan for the day, will likely result in you waking up late, making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep the next evening and you will waste the opportunity to make the day count.

    Your plan does not have to be too detailed. Something similar to:

    Advertising

    • Wake up and make coffee
    • Put on some great music
    • Sit down and enjoy coffee
    • Take a 2-hour walk
    • Read for an hour or two
    • Spend some time with the kids

    Just make sure you have a rough plan for the day, but keep things as flexible as possible.

    5. Watch a Sports Game

    This is a great way to get yourself away from thinking about work and your troubles. I’m a big rugby and motorsport fan and even in these difficult pandemic times, there are plenty of sports events I can watch on YouTube.

    Whatever sport you enjoy, take some time on Sunday to watch a game. Just getting into the game, enjoying the skills on show and marvelling at the professionalism removes you from your everyday world for a while. It’s a great way to give your brain some much-needed relaxation and provides a wonderful distraction from your everyday normal life.

    6. Make Sure You Do Something Different

    Doing the same things day after day will eventually turn every day into a grind. You want to be looking forward to your Sunday’s. Plan to go out for a drive in the countryside, or a walk in an unfamiliar park, or go to the cinema or an outside concert.

    Do anything that breaks up your routine. Like watching a sports game, it takes you away from the normal everyday life you lead and gives you something refreshingly different to enjoy and experience.

    7. Clean Up

    I know, most people hate doing house chores but having a clean, ordered home does wonders for your overall mental wellbeing. I love ending Sunday with a beautifully clean home, knowing everything is in its place, the floors are clean and all my laundry is put away and ready for the following week.

    It can be hard to find the time to stay on top of all the cleaning during the week, so setting aside some time each Sunday to do a cleanup leaves you feeling refreshed, energized and ready for whatever the following week will throw at you.

    8. Prepare You Clothes for the Following Week

    This may seem a bit excessive, but it saves so much time and cognitive overload. All it takes is one bad night’s sleep and you wake up and find yourself rushing around trying to get yourself ready for your first appointment.

    Advertising

    In that state, trying to decide what clothes to wear in another decision you just don’t need. It’s far better to make a rough plan on a Sunday what you will wear for work and have all these clothes ready, washed and ironed.

    It also prevents discovering the shirt you want to wear for the early morning meeting is still in the laundry basket when you need it. Plan ahead. It saves so much time and stress.

    9. Do a Weekly Planning Session

    I’ve experimented doing a weekly planning session on different days but by far, the best day to plan is Sunday. I find that Sunday evenings are the best times to open up my calendar and to-do list, and to plan for the week ahead. It sets me up for the week ahead.

    It also helps me to sleep better on Sunday evening, knowing exactly what I need to accomplish the following week. I can start Monday morning without wasting time trying to figure out where things were left the previous Friday.

    What I am looking for are where all my meetings are, which days I can focus on my deep and project work and to make sure I have everything processed from the week before.

    10. Clear Out Your Email

    What? Doing email on a Sunday? Yes. Why? Because the worst thing you can do is start the new week with an inbox full of last week’s unreplied-to emails.

    For most of us, Monday morning is likely to be the one day in the week we do not have a lot of email in our inboxes, so we can begin the day on our most important project work. If you spend an hour or two cleaning up your email from last week, you miss a tremendous opportunity to start with a clean slate.

    We don’t get a lot of email in on a Sunday, so you can process your inbox and actionable folders to make sure when the new week begins, you not only have a set of outcomes you want to achieve that week, but also begin the new week with no hangovers from the week before.

    Advertising

    11. Do Some Work on Your Side Project

    Now, this does not mean work. This means your own personal projects. It could be a DIY project, doing something in your garden, restoring an old car or writing your book.

    Sunday’s give you incredible opportunities to do all those things you dream of doing but never seem to find time to do them. Just getting on and doing these side projects removes you from your everyday work, and allows you a few hours to do the things you love doing.

    12. Read a Book

    During the week, it can be hard to read a good book. We get up, rush out the door to get to work (or move to our home work station and start the computer). When we finish the day, we are exhausted and just want to vegetate in front of the TV.

    Don’t waste Sunday’s. They give you a great opportunity to spend time with the books you want to read.

    13. Prepare You Meals for the Following Week

    This is a great one for those of you who are following a healthy diet and exercise plan. Preparing meals for the following week not only saves a lot of time, it also encourages you to eat healthy on those exhausting days when all you want to do is eating pizza and flopping down on the sofa.

    Having a set of pre-prepared meals reduces the temptation during the week when your willpower is at its lowest. It’s quick, healthy and easy to do. It makes sure you are sticking to your diet plan.

    Bottom Line

    I am not suggesting you try and fit all these things into Sunday. Just pick a few that resonate with you. Do those that will give you the biggest benefit and most joy.

    Sunday’s need to be restful, relaxing and give you a chance to do those things you do not normally have time to do. It’s an incredible day, so don’t waste it laying in bed watching endless episodes of your favourite TV series.

    More of What You Can Do During Weekend

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next