Concentration – Our attention span is waning, but the focus is a muscle you can build when you work at it. Pay attention: here are eight ways.
According to a 2015 study by Microsoft, the average human has an attention span of eight seconds – less than a goldfish. The number has dwindled over the years due to digital connectivity, and the brain is looking for the news and the future.
So what do you do when you need to focus on your work and not what’s going on around you? For most people, the first and most crucial step in increasing focus is changing the way you see it, says Elie Venezky, author of Hack Your Brain.
“Focus is a muscle, and you can build it,” he says. “Too many people labor under the idea that they’re just not focused, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you drop this mistaken belief, you can take a much more realistic approach to build focus.”
With a combination of mindset and tools, it is possible to create an environment that favors concentration. Here are eight tips and tricks to eliminate distractions and pay attention to what to do:
1. PREPARE YOUR BRAIN
Before an activity, calm your brain, says Venezky. “Take a minute or two to sit in a comfortable position and breathe in deeply into your stomach,” he says. “You don’t have to sit cross-legged or chant. Allow your body to relax before approaching work. You’ll find it helps you concentrate.”
2. UNDERSTAND WHERE YOUR FOCUS NEEDS TO BE
Concentration also includes understanding what your distraction is worthy of, says Ron Webb, executive director of the American Productivity and Quality Center, a nonprofit research organization. “Success comes down to embedding that focus into the flow of how you work,” he says.
Webb suggests taking the time to identify what deserves your attention for the year, the month, the week, and for the day. Then look at your calendar and block the time you spend on your engagement.
Attention also involves understanding what is worthy of your distraction.
3. TAKE A BREAK FROM SOCIAL MEDIA FOR 30 MINUTES
If you need to concentrate, log out of email, and social media. “Even if you live and die by email, do yourself a favor and disconnect for 30 minutes at the start of the day or for a period in the afternoon,” says Jan Bruce, co-author of meQuilibrium: 14 Days to Cooler, Calm and happier. “You won’t believe all the things you can do if you don’t always pause to resend emails.”
4. GRAB SOME CAFFEINE
Coffee that morning doesn’t just help you wake up; it enables you to focus on the day. If you need an attention booster in the afternoon, a coffee shop run could be the solution. In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, French physiologist Astrid Nehlig identified a link between caffeine and cognition. Although caffeine doesn’t improve learning or memory performance, Nehlig has found that it increases physiological arousal, making you less likely to be distracted and better pay attention during a challenging task.
5. CHECK THE AMBIANCE
If it gets too hot or too cold in your work environment, it can impact your concentration. A Cornell University study found that workers are more productive and make fewer mistakes in an environment between 68 and 77 degrees. Another study from Helsinki University of Technology in Finland states that the magical temperature is 71 degrees. If you don’t control the thermostat, you can choose to bring a sweater or a fan.
6. TURN ON SOME RELAXING MUSIC
Too much background noise can be very annoying, but according to a study by Wake Forest School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina published in Scientific Reports, playing music helps you focus on your thoughts. The catch? You must have liked the song.
“Given that musical preferences are uniquely individualized phenomena and that music can vary in acoustic complexity and the presence or absence of lyrics, the consistency of our results was unexpected,” the researchers wrote.
Whether it’s Beethoven, the Beatles, or the Beastie Boys, turn up the volume and get to work.
7. TAKE SHORT BREAKS
Rather than succumb to the distraction, embrace it, suggests a University of Illinois study. Psychologist Alejandro Lleras found that participants who received short breaks during a 50-minute activity performed better than those who worked directly.
The study examines a phenomenon called “decreased alertness” or loss of concentration over time. Taking a short break in the middle of a long task energizes the brain.
8. DOODLE or ART HEALING
If you’re attending a long meeting or conference, improve your focus and artistic skills by doodling. According to a study from the University of Plymouth in England, doodling helps with cognitive performance and memory.