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How to Improve Concentration and Sharpen Your Attention at Work

How to Improve Concentration and Sharpen Your Attention at Work
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Keeping focused and paying attention are core competencies needed to excel and stay productive at work. But we all have those moments when our mind starts to wander and all of a sudden we find ourselves scrolling endlessly through Twitter instead of working on the tasks that are due at the end of the working day.

According to a Microsoft study, humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.[1] Where a goldfish can hold their attention spans for 9 seconds, ours starts to decline after 8 seconds. This comes as no surprise considering the climate of information overload that we currently live in.

With notifications buzzing left, right, and center, our focus on a task is so easily pulled away by the lure of a bit of new information. So much so that a study from UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, found that people, on average, checked their smartphones every 12 minutes while awake![2]

And not only do we have phones, but when we’re at work—for those of us who work in an office that is—we also have access to computers and tablets as well. So, it’s not hard to understand why it can be difficult to keep our attention sharpened and focused.

In this article, you will learn how to improve concentration and sharpen your attention; so you will stay focused and get stuck into the task at hand instead of being distracted.

1. Do One Thing at a Time

With so many duties to take care of and deadlines to meet, it’s easy to think that multitasking would be the best solution to get things done. While it may appear that we’d be more effective and efficient tackling more than one task at a time, it actually makes things worse.

Trying to do more than one task simultaneously is not an ideal option for staying concentrated. In fact, research suggests that our brain can’t actually do multiple things at once, instead it just switches tasks quickly.[3] This means that every time we switch tasks, the process stops and restarts in our brains.

So, to stay focused, it’s best to stick to completing one thing at a time.

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2. Switch off Notifications

Notifications are a great way to keep informed of the world going on around you. Many of us are signed up to countless apps and are involved in numerous group chats just so we’re not left in the dark when it comes to new information; whether it’s a breaking global news or something that happened to one of our friends.

But the constant buzz of accumulating notifications can be distracting. Your best bet on how to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work is to turn off all your notifications. This includes your smartphone, tablet, and even on your work desktop.

If you’re worried about friends and family not being able to get a hold of you in case of an emergency, make sure they have your work number.

3. Increase Your Concentration Step by Step

The Pomodoro technique is a time management philosophy created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. The technique aims to stop you from falling prey to procrastination and equip you with optimal focus through a method of incremental task management.

The idea is that you work on your tasks for 25 minutes then take a five minute breaks. This is considered one pomodoro.

You repeat this process 4 times (100 minutes of work and 15 minutes of breaks) and then increase your break time to 15 to 20 minutes. Taking regular breaks can keep your mind refreshed and your attention sharpened.

It’s advisable to keep track of your progress by marking an “X” for every pomodoro you complete, as well as recording the number of times you were inclined to procrastinate. That way you can compare your development.

4. Keep a Distraction List

With the internet and search engines available at our fingertips, it’s easy to succumb to the questions that run through your heads while you work. Keeping a distraction list can help keep any impulses at bay.

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A distraction list is a list where you write down unrelated questions, thoughts, and ideas that run through your head while you work. Once you finish your task or have the opportunity for a break, then you can look up the answers to those questions or research the thoughts and ideas you had.

This list acts as a barrier against distraction. Instead of looking up the answers to the things that fill your head while you work and interrupting your workflow, by writing them down, your thoughts won’t be forgotten and you know at the back of your mind that you can action them later.

5. Exercise

We already know that exercise is important for keeping our bodies healthy, but did you know that it can also have a significant effect on your mental health? A study by Dr Stewart Trost of Oregon State University discovered a link between exercise and improving concentration, behavior, and memory.[4]

If you find it difficult to focus on everyday tasks at work, try engaging in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Whether it’s participating in a team sport, doing a training program at the gym, or simply walking around the block; as long as you keep your body moving, it can help to enhance your mental health and well being.

6. Meditate

When most of us think of meditation, we probably think of it as something exclusive to gurus and yogis on retreats somewhere out in the middle of the forest. But in fact, it’s something that everyone can engage in regularly, even in the comfort of your own home!

Meditation is known to be great for freeing your mind from clutter which is why it’s a great option if you’re asking yourself how to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work. It recharges your brain and can leave you in a restful and restoring state.

Along with clearing your head, other benefits of meditation include recovering from distractions, handling stress better, and helping to overcoming Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).

7. Listen to Music

Working in an office can get noisy. From the phone ringing, to people chatting, to the sound of the coffee machine or kettle going off every minute, it can get distracting.

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Listening to music can help drown out the noises from your surroundings and keep you concentrated on your tasks.

According to Dr Masha Godkin from Northcentral University, listening to music can activate both the left and right brain simultaneously, and the activation of both hemispheres can optimize learning and improve memory.[5]

Genres such as classical, ambient, and new age electronic music are recommended as they don’t usually contain lyrics that can distract you. The tempo and volume are also aspects to keep in mind. You want something that’s 60-70 beats per minute and not loud enough so as to overpower your thoughts.

Here’re some music recommendations to help you stay productive: Enhance Focus with Productivity Music (Recommended Playlists)

8. Handwrite

Nowadays, when it comes to written communication, going down the digital route has eclipsed writing things down with a pen. But even something as simple as writing out the letters of the alphabet can help sharpen your attention.

Handwriting has been known to enhance memory and learning skills.[6] Think about it, when you are writing something down, it requires you to focus on the task at hand. You have to concentrate on forming the letters as they turn into words which eventually turn into sentences.

So the next time you have to remember something important, opt for writing it down on a sticky note instead of typing it out on an online document or your digital planner.

9. Stay Hydrated

One of the many benefits of drinking water is that it can improve your cognitive abilities and energy levels, which is why staying well hydrated is important. In contrast, dehydration can deplete short term memory skills.

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The ideal daily intake of water is dependant on the individual. Factors such as age, sex, weight, and health conditions can influence the amount, however, the average adult should aim for something between 1.5 to 2.5 litres a day.

If you find that you keep forgetting to drink enough water, a good tip is to keep a bottle on your desk. Not only will water be easily accessible when you feel thirsty, but having it in front of you can act as a reminder to drink it!

Another tip, for those who find the taste of water a little bland, is to spruce it up with fruits such as lemon and cucumber for added flavor.

The Bottom Line

The ability to focus on a task and attentively observe are important elements for staying productive at work but, living in this world of information overload can make it difficult.

There are so many things that can prove to be distracting, from the noises in the office, to the incessant buzz of notifications. Yet here’s hoping that the aforementioned tips can help with keeping them in check.

While you shouldn’t deny yourself the luxury and convenience of smartphones and the internet, it’s probably best to keep it aside while you’re in the office so as to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work.

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Featured photo credit: Studio Republic via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dinnie Muslihat

Writer, content marketer & productivity enthusiast

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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