It’s 9:00 am on a Monday, and you’re ready to start the week. You’ve written a to-do list, brewed yourself a nice cup of coffee, and turned on the computer. And then, your mind starts to wander; “Did I feed the cat?” “Should I get takeout or eat in tonight?” “Is it true that plants can communicate with each other?”
Why is it so hard to stay on task, especially when you have to do something boring, unpleasant, or just plain difficult? The answer, of course, depends on specific factors like your age, health status, psychological and physiological stressors, and more.
Individuals with ADHD have distinct brain chemistry that interferes with their ability to concentrate. Older adults usually have more difficulty tuning out distractions as a result of normal, age-related cognitive decline. And conditions like depression, anxiety, and insomnia, can also undermine your ability to stay focused.
Unfortunately, concentration is not something that you can force. It’s not really about willpower, either. You can spend hours sitting at your desk, resisting every temptation to walk away from your work, and still get nothing done at the end of the day. Like any muscle, it takes time and effort to train your brain, but with some practice, you can work towards building a razor-sharp focus and attention span.
Here’re 6 effective strategies to help you get started on a path to better concentration.
Identify triggers and distractions
It may sound obvious, but the first step to improving your mental focus is to identify any distractors that may be hijacking your productivity.
It’s easy to underestimate just how many distractions keep you from staying on task. People tend to think of diversions in terms of big disruptors — like the banging hammering of a construction site across the street, or radio blaring in the background. But even small intrusions, which often go unnoticed, can quickly do away with your attention.
Phone notifications are one concentration’s worst enemies. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that cell phone notifications, including banners, sounds, and even vibrations, can disrupt attention and trigger task-irrelevant thoughts. Interestingly, the researchers found that participants who received push notifications — even if they didn’t immediately respond or interact with their mobile device — were three times more likely to make a mistake on the task at hand than those who didn’t.
So, what can you do if your cell phone notifications are distracting you even when you ignore them? For one, you can permanently or temporarily disable your notifications. You could also turn off your phone while you are working. And if shutting off those pesky attention suckers is not really an option for you, consider using the “do not disturb” feature on your phone, which lets you choose when and how you want to be updated with push notifications and incoming calls while your phone is locked.
Use caffeine wisely
Coffee is the world’s most consumed psychoactive substance, and for good reason. The beloved beverage can infuse you with a healthy dose of energy, reduce brain fog, and boost concentration. But like any other drug, excessive use can become problematic.
The first thing to understand is that the much-desired caffeine buzz you feel after drinking a cuppa or two is only temporary. Just like the saying goes, what goes up must come down. And the caffeine crash that occurs a few hours after you’ve drunk more than your fair share of coffee can leave you feeling drained, cranky, and unable to focus.
To avoid caffeine’s productive-slashing effects, try making these simple modifications to your daily consumption:
- Prioritize sleep (i.e., don’t use caffeine to replace sleep. Listen to your body, if it’s telling you it’s tired, rest)
- Don’t drink coffee on an empty stomach
- Drink plenty of water
- Space out your cups of coffee throughout the day
- Set daily caffeine cut off time (preferably 3-4 hours before bed)
Get enough sleep
Not sleeping enough can throw your body out of whack. Classic symptoms of sleep deprivation include fatigue, irritability, moodiness, memory problems, and, of course, difficulty concentrating. Healthy sleep habits, on the other hand, can boost attention, lower the risk of chronic disease, and increase your productivity.
According to the CDC, the recommended amount of sleep for adults 18 years and older is 7 to 9 hours per night. But not all sleep is equal. To refresh, rejuvenate and reset your mind, reaching deep sleep is key because it is where all of the healing, rejuvenating and cellular repair occurs. Reaching deep sleep determines whether you will feel refreshed and alert the next day or groggy and unfocused.
Exercise your mind
Research suggests that challenging your brain to a difficult task — like learning a new language, playing an instrument, or doing brain games — can improve neuroplasticity, improve memory, and boost cognitive performance.
Some evidence-based activities that have been shown to keep your mind sharp and agile include:
- Card games, like solitaire or bridge
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Online or smartphone applications offer many games for training the brain: “Lumosity” is one of the more popular apps and is free to download on Android and iOS devices, though upgrading to a premium subscription costs $11.99 per month or $59.99 for 1 year.
- Knitting, drawing, painting, or anything that involves fine motor skills
- Mindfulness meditation
Take strategic breaks
It may seem counterintuitive, but taking short 5 to 20-minute breaks helps your brain stay on task for shorter periods to avoid fatigue and burnout. Forcing yourself to stay at your desk when your mind begins to wander is a one-way ticket to stress and anxiety, which will ultimately kill whatever attention you have left at that point.
Research suggests that the human brain prefers to work in short bursts of activity — the length varies depending on the person, but one hour or less is ideal for most people — and then switches off to rest for a while. To take advantage of your natural waves of productivity, take a break every one hour or whenever your mind is feeling saturated. And to make the best of these breaks and make sure your brain is well-rested when you go back to your task, do try:
- Standing up and walking around for at least 5 minutes
- Eating a healthy snack
- Drinking water
- Avoid spending the entire break looking at your phone
Leverage the power of natural brain boosters
Nootropics, also called “smart pills” or cognitive enhancers, are a class of natural or synthetic substances that support mental function. FDA-approved prescription nootropics are formulated with stimulants and other synthetic chemical compounds. They are used to treat conditions like ADHD, narcolepsy, and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. These drugs can cause serious side effects and physical dependence, so they should only be taken exactly as prescribed.
Over-the-counter nootropics, on the other hand, are herbs and dietary supplements that leverage natural stimulant ingredients to improve memory, support mental clarity, and reduce stress and anxiety. Some of our favorite nootropic ingredients, which you can find neatly packed in Akeso Health Sciences’ caffeine-free, expertly formulated Focus & Attention supplement, include:
- Ashwagandha extract
- Vitamin C
- Bacopa monnieri
- Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (metabolically active form of vitamin B-6)
- Saffron Extract
A final word
Boosting concentration and improving mental focus is not something you can do overnight. Fortunately, the brain can be trained to retain attention for longer and help you stay zoned in on the tasks that matter.
Other tips that may help improve your focus include eating a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet. Advocating for a “quiet space” at home or at work if you find the environment too disruptive for your concentration can also be helpful. Setting goals and breaking down each step into small tasks can be helpful and by giving yourself deadlines for each task, you make the action steps easier to organize and complete. If you feel your lack of focus is stress-related, consider the natural proven ingredients in Akeso’s “Calm & Clever” supplement to help balance cortisol levels (the stress hormone), to combat the effects of stress with the added boon of improving memory.
Give these focusing strategies a go and don’t be afraid to modify them to fit into your lifestyle.
Have a happy, healthy, and focused 2022!
Akeso Health Sciences
Helping you get well and stay well is our bottom line! Akeso Health Sciences formulates world class dietary supplements that provide nutritional support for the most common health issues that concern people most, such as migraines, headaches, joint health, stress & anxiety, memory, sleeplessness, ADHD, and more. Changing lives is the reasons we wake up every day passionate about the special products we provide to our customers.
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