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Last Updated on November 9, 2021

How to Concentrate And Focus Better to Boost Productivity

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How to Concentrate And Focus Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus better? How to concentrate and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

Here’re essential ways to help you focus:

Why Is It Difficult to Concentrate?

To become a focus ninja, you first have to understand how modern technology hijacks our attention. In his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal outlines how addictive products work in 4 steps:

1. Trigger

The trigger is the ‘hook’ that gets you scrolling on your phone. Usually it is external, like an app alert or audible notification. It is irresistible: you see it, you click.

Over time, that trigger becomes internally driven and you develop an impulse to open an app without being prompted.

2. Action

Click, tap, or scroll — whatever the intended action of the trigger was, you do it. That could be sharing that news story recommended to you in a push notification. Or tapping ‘Like’ on that witty Tweet. Apps are designed to minimize any barriers to entry so it is super easy to act on a trigger.

3. Variable Reward

For completing this action, you get a dopamine hit. Apps are gamified to hit our reward bells. Everything from the animation, to the endless scrollable content and sparkly UI is designed to keep us hooked on the app. Like a lottery, the reward is new and ever-changing: you will always find something fresh and exciting when you open up the app.

4. Investment

Lastly, the app secures your attention for the long term. It asks you to make some kind of investment, whether that is money, time or data. When you have to sacrifice something like this, you will be more likely to build a longer-term relationship with the product.

Pay attention the next time you feel an impulse to check your phone: chances are, you will go through each of the above 4 steps.

Now that you know why you struggle to focus, let’s look at how you can build up your concentration.

How to Concentrate And Build Your Focus

The great news is that you can and should improve your concentration. Think of your brain as a muscle that you can train to focus better so you can be more productive.

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Understand That Focus Is a Flow

Focus is the way in which you deliberately target your energy to push progress in something you care about.

Because focus takes energy, time, and effort, whatever it is that you need to focus on should be something meaningful to you, something that’s worth shutting down phone calls, text messages, and social media for.

Without a clear goal and road map, things can turn out frantic and frustrating, with many wrong turns. You also end up expending a lot more mental energy than needed. But, having a Focus Flow when learning how to focus better can help.

Let me show you how the Focus Flow works.

  1. It starts from a clear objective.
  2. This becomes a clear roadmap.
  3. Then it manifests into a state oftargeted attentionand effort.
  4. This results in pushing your progress towards your ultimate destination.

Setting a Clear Objective

To start off, you need to set a clear focus objective. If you don’t have an objective, how can you decide on which things are worth focusing on? You can’t focus on everything at the same time, so you have to make a choice.

Like driving a car, you need a destination.

In this case, you don’t want to drive around aimlessly. You want to arrive at your destination before you run out of gas.

A good focus objective, therefore, needs to be concrete. This means that it should be something you can visualize, such as determining how the new office is going to look after you’ve completed the renovation and moving in. If you can visualize it, that means you have a clear enough picture to know what’s needed to achieve it.

Drawing a Focus Roadmap

The second step is to lay out a practical focus roadmap. Once you have your ideas, setting an objective is easy. The most difficult part is determining how you’re going to achieve your objective.

There are lots of things you can do to work towards your goal, but what comes first? What’s more valuable, and how long will it take?

That’s where having a roadmap helps you answer these questions. Like driving, you need to have at least a rough idea of which major roads to drive on, and the order in which you need to drive them.

Yet, creating a roadmap can get tricky because you have absolute freedom on how you’re going to achieve your objective.

To create a good road map, you should include major milestones. These are targets you need to hit in order to achieve success. Your roadmap should also include feasible and realistic actions that you can achieve as you learn how to focus better.

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Need a little help in drawing this Focus Roadmap? The Full Life Planner can help you. It’s a practical planner to help you stay focused and on track with your most important goals and tasks in an organized way. Get yours today!

7 Tips to Help You Concentrate And Focus

Here are 7 essential tips that will help you master your ability to focus:

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

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Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

5. Start a Mindfulness Practice

In addition, practicing mindfulness is a great way to keep you from being tempted by distractions.

In fact, incorporating mindfulness into your day-to-day routine can be a game-changer. One of the many perks of meditative practices is an improved ability to concentrate. That’s because mindfulness teaches you to eliminate distractions and focus wholly on the present moment.

When you train your brain to show up mindfully, you can work with heightened focus.

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And mindfulness is for everyone. Even if you have never done it, there are tons of easy-to-follow guided meditations online. Don’t know where to start? Check out our simple guide to mindfulness for beginners.

Taking care of yourself mentally — before you even sit down to work — will train your brain to focus more deeply.

6. Use Time Blocking

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, recommends a great hack for focusing on the task at hand: time blocking.

To do this, block out chunks of your day to work on certain tasks. Batch similar tasks together, like replying to emails or reading articles, and complete them all within these allotted chunks of time.

What’s more, build in 20 minute breaks from the screen to prevent fatigue throughout your day. It seems counter-intuitive, but breaks are important. Your brain needs that time to refresh and to consolidate any new information.

To stick to your time blocking schedule, try using timers. Set up alarms that notify you when it is time to switch to the next task of the day. When that alarm rings, move on.

Time blocking greatly improves productivity. It forces you to be intentional about how you spend your time throughout a day so you stay focused on one task at a time.

7. Make Technology Your Friend

In conversations about productivity, technology is often seen as the enemy. But some companies are now developing apps and programs that actually help you to concentrate and curb your desire to multitask.

Consider extensions like RescueTime to track your work hours and become more conscious about how you spend your time. Apps like Forest also turn staying focused into a game.

Also delete every app that is potentially addictive from your phone. Apps like AppLock block the play store and your internet browser to keep distractions away.

Used correctly, technology can be your ally in your mission to focus better.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

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More Tips on Improving Focus

Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on January 5, 2022

The 5 Fundamental Rules Of Working From Home

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The 5 Fundamental Rules Of Working From Home

Suppose you finally took the plunge: resigned your corporate job, decided to follow the passion of your life and (by lack of a new office space, of course), you started to work from home. Welcome to the club! Been there for a few years now and, guess what, it turned out that working from home is not as simple as I thought it would be.

It certainly has a tons of advantages, but those advantages won’t come in a sugary, care free, or all pinky and happy-go-lucky package. On the contrary. When you work from home, maintaining a constant productivity flow may be a real challenge. And there are many reasons for that.

For instance, you may still unconsciously assimilate your home with your relaxation space, hence a little nap on the couch, in the middle of the day, with still a ton of unfinished tasks, may seem like a viable option. Well, not! Or, because you’re working from home now, you think you can endlessly postpone some of your projects for ever, since nobody is on your back anymore. You’re your own boss and decided to be a gentle one. Fatal mistake. Or…

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OK, let’s stop with the reasons right here and move on to the practical part. So, what can you do to squeeze each and every inch of usefulness and productivity from your new working space and schedule (namely, your home)? What follows is a short list of what I found to be fundamentally necessary when you walk on this path.

1. Set Up A Specific Workplace

And stay there. That specific workspace may be a specific room (your home office), or a part of a room. Whatever it is, it must be clearly designed as a work area, with as little interference from your home space as possible. The coexistence of your home and work space is just a happy accident. But just because of that, those two spaces don’t necessarily have to blend together.

If you move your work space constantly around various parts of your house, instead of a single “anchor space”, something awkward will happen. Your home won’t feel like home anymore. That’s one of the most popular reasons for quitting working form home: “My home didn’t feel like home anymore”. Of course it didn’t if you mixed all its parts with your work space.

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2. Split Work Into Edible Chunks

Don’t aim too high. Don’t expect to do big chunks of work in a single step. That was one of the most surprising situations I encountered when I first started to work from home. Instead of a steady, constant flow of sustained activity, all I could do were short, compact sessions on various projects. It took a while to understand why.

When you work in a populated workspace, you behave differently. There is a subtle field of energy created by humans when they’re in their own proximity, and that field alone can be enough of an incentive to do much more than you normally do. Well, when you’re at home, alone, this ain’t gonna happen. That’s why you should use whatever productivity technique you’re comfortable with to split your work in small, edible chunks: GTD, pomodoro.

3. Work Outside Home

In coffee shops or other places, like shared offices. It may sound a little bit counterintuitive, to work outside your home when you’re working from home. But only in the beginning. You’ll soon realize that working from home doesn’t mean you have to stay there all the time. It basically means your home is also your office and you’re free to go outside if you want to.

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I know this may not apply to all of the “work from home” situations, but for those related to information processing, when all you need is a laptop an internet connection, that usually works beautifully. It adds a very necessary element of diversity and freshness. It can also be the source of some very interesting social interactions, especially when you have to solve all sort of digital nomad situations.

4. Go Out!

Working from home may be socially alienating. After almost 3 years of doing it, I finally accepted this as a fact. So, apart from balancing your home time with consistent sessions of working outside of your home, you should definitely go out more often. Our normal work routine, the one that is performed in an office, that is, makes for an important slice of our social interaction needs. Once you’re working from home, that slice won’t be there anymore. But your need for social contacts will remain constant.

So, my solution to this was to grow my social interaction significantly over what I was having when I was working in my own office. Going out to movies, running in the park, meeting for drinks or just chat, whatever it takes to get me out of my home/working space. On a one to ten scale, my social life before was around 3 and now is at a steady 7.

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5. Thoroughly Log Each And Every Day

It goes hand in hand with keeping a personal journal, but this time it’s about work, not personal feelings and experiences. Keep a detailed log of each project and be always ready to pick up from where you left one day or one week ago in just a matter of minutes. It’s not only a productivity enhancer, although it will help you be more productive, but it’s more on the accountability area.

When you work from home you’re your own boss. And, for any of you who are (or have been) bosses, this is not an easy position. You gotta keep track of all the information about your team and of every advancement in your projects. That’s what a boss is supposed to do, after all. When you work from home you have to perform this bossy role too, otherwise you will be lost in your own unfinished ideas and endless project stubs faster than you think.

Featured photo credit: Ian Harber via unsplash.com

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