The way we live is very different from the way that our ancestors lived. We are no longer hunter-gatherers who need to focus on avoiding predators and finding prey, and this means that it’s getting harder for us to focus on the task of the day. Sitting in front of a computer and thinking isn’t what our brains are wired to do. The good news is that there are ways that we can improve our focus and concentration, and with a few tweaks to our daily routine, we can become more productive and less stressed. Here are eight simple tweaks that we can use to focus better.
Believe You Can Focus
A lot of people convince themselves that they aren’t good at focusing. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They become so stressed about how they can’t focus to get things done, that they become unable to get things done. Relax and just let yourself work, and it becomes easier to get into the flow state.
If you have a lot of things to get done, it’s easy to fall into the trap of task paralysis. Instead of worrying about multiple things at once, tell yourself that you will do a specific task at an appropriate time. So you will work on your powerpoint presentation during office hours, and pay your bills at night time. To-do lists have remained popular for a reason. They help to reduce task anxiety and make it easier to get things done 1.
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Limit Social Media Use
Social media is a huge productivity killer. Try to limit how much you use it. Turn off Facebook notification on your desktop, and tell yourself that you will only check your social media accounts during your breaks. Task switching (and alt-tabbing to check Twitter or Facebook while working counts as task switching) makes you less productive and stops you from entering the flow state. Social media use can lower self-esteem, and cause depressive feelings, even in young people 2.
Get More Sleep
Sleep deprivation can produce significant cognitive impairment. You might think that you can survive on less than six hours per night, but it’s more likely that you’re simply accustomed to having a persistent brain fog. Make time to get some more sleep. After a few days of sleeping better, you will likely find that you focus much better at school or work. Those who suffer from insomnia are more likely to take time off work, more likely to be involved in accidents, and are less productive 3.
Feed Your Brain
Nutrition matters more than you think! Your brain needs healthy fats to survive, and it uses energy from carbohydrates too. When your energy levels are low, you might crave sugar, but the benefits of eating sugary snacks are shortlived. Aim to give your brain a steady supply of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats, to keep your energy levels stable throughout the day. If you are active, then taking in complex carbohydrates can be useful for keeping up your cognitive performance throughout the day 4.
High-level athletes often have pre-game rituals that border on being superstitious, but that help them to perform well in important matches 5. Every athlete does something different, which shows that it’s not “the act” that matters, rather it’s what performing that act means to the athlete in question. If you struggle to get started on a morning or to return to your desk and focus after lunch, start building something into your routine. Allow yourself to go for a walk and spin a PokeStop before work every morning. Make your first task after lunch “sorting the mail”. Do that every day, to signify that you are ready to work. After a few weeks, it will become a productive habit.
Make Time to Meditate
If you are constantly worrying about being productive, then you will be at risk of burning out. As counter-intuitive as it seems, if you make some time to clear your head and meditate, your productivity will be better during the times when you are trying to work. An hour of productive work is far better than three hours of sitting staring at a desk. Meditating can boost your mood, reduce your stress levels, and generally help you to be more productive.
Employ Your Sense of Smell
Aromatherapy can help to improve your productivity and focus. There are some aromatherapy scents, such as peppermint that help to improve your memory and boost alertness 6. Others, such as orange and lavender, can help to reduce anxiety and stress, again making it easier for you to focus 7. Combine your favorite scents into a blend that has pleasant associations, and you will find it much easier to get started at work.
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