One of the keys to being successful at any endeavor, big or small, is to have focus and concentration. Much has been said and written about how to improve your concentration, but achieving and improving good focus and concentration is easier said than done. Focus and concentration is just as impactful to productivity as motivation, stress, emotions, leadership, and team culture. Especially in this digital age, distractions (even work-related things!) abound, and how to improve concentration and focus on work is a constant and everyday challenge.
The reality is that this fast-paced environment we live in is filled to the brim with distractions that take away our focus on the things that we really need to do. But when you think of it, even the technologies that allow us to work with and connect to the world on a much larger scale can also serve as disruptions to our successful completion of tasks; the irony is that with so much to do, many times it’s a struggle on how to improve your concentration with all the things that are on your plate at any given time. Add the mindset of always “needing to be busy” that it drives us to work above what we are really are capable of doing.
Take a look on some ways on how to improve concentration:
- Create a “to-do” list and stick to it
- Take measured, reasonable, and disciplined breaks
- Silence or music?
- Physical exercise helps
- Mental exercises help even more
- Get on some good fat
- Identify your distractions
- Get enough sleep
- Cultivate a mindset and work environment that promotes better concentration
- Employ the right tools to help augment and support concentration (and eliminate distractions)
Understanding concentration and focus, and their importance in the workplace
In a nutshell, concentration is the ability to pay attention to a specific task, as well as the details involved in completing that task. That means avoiding distractions like work emails, snacking, talking and socializing with co-workers and teammates, and being devoted to only the relevant activities you need to see the task to its completion. For example, completing a report, you’d need to study all the related summaries and data available to you (as well as decide which other data sets you need) in order to complete the said report.
In a way, how to improve concentration is related to the concept of “deep work”, where people operate in a distraction-free environment that allow for more advanced levels and abilities of analyzation and creativity that create new value for yourself, your team, and your organization that cannot be achieved through any other means. Sure, there are things like smart drugs that are said to help increase focus and concentration, but what is the cost? What toll do these things take on the body?
Essential to critical thinking
Concentration is considered essential to thinking processes like memory, perception, decision-making, learning, reasoning, critical thinking, and problem solving. A lack of concentration and focus means that you’ll be less effective in all of those things, which leads to a much lower quality of work, less efficiency, and much poorer productivity.
Moreover, a lack in concentration can also lead to mistakes, and can often be much less cost-effective. The gist of it is this: poor concentration leads to poor thinking. Poor thinking in turn lead to poorer decision-making, a lack of creativity, a lack of innovation and a lack of productivity. This is why knowing how to improve your concentration is such an essential key to improving success in business.
An essential for true productivity
Consider this: A study on focus and concentration show that it can take the brain up to a whopping 23 minutes to fully recover from a SINGLE distraction. That means even just a few distractions can cost several hours in terms of recovery time. The study also showed that the average worker went from one task to another task around every three minutes. That means that on average, many workers, workflows, and organizations are losing precious time and productivity because of distractions. No matter how many productivity hacks or company wellness programs you perform and implement, if there’s a lack of concentration and focus in the workplace, all is in vain.
Ways on how to improve your concentration
Remember, the brain is not equipped for multi-tasking. Studies and experts have a general consensus that our brain doesn’t work at its best when it’s handling multiple things at the same time. Moreover, there’s a “cognitive cost” whenever we attempt to switch rapidly and frequently from one task to another. As a result, we’re left with minimal real accomplishment.
Improving one’s concentration, however, helps see real tasks completed faster and more efficiently, and allows the brain to fully disengage from the past tasks and devote its full energy to the next one. So here a few things to keep in mind when you wonder about how to improve your concentration.
Create a “to-do” list and stick to it
And we’re not talk about simply ticking off boxes when things get done. List everything and complete tasks based on the level of their importance. The best thing to do would be to start with the big jobs and big undertakings first, and relegating the smaller, less impactful tasks to be the last to finish. You can also break down those big tasks into smaller related tasks so you’re less overwhelmed and you have a much more manageable step-by-step process of completing them.
In addition, consider the timeline you have for the different tasks you have on your plate — naturally, the ones with the earlier deadlines would need to be finished first. Failing to assign priority levels to tasks makes the whole workflow much more chaotic and makes you more prone to get distracted. Doing smaller tasks, for example, are a colossal waste of time (especially when you consider the amount of time it takes for mundane tasks like reading emails) — by the time you’re done with them, you’d still be lacking in any significant accomplishment.
Take measured, reasonable, and disciplined breaks
It might sound counterintuitive on the surface but it’s important to remember that the brain needs to get rest too. So with your prioritized tasks planned out, you will be in a much better position to schedule reasonable break periods so you can stretch and unwind. Remember also though, that giving your brain a break means RESTING it, not subjecting it to the various content on your social media feed or doing other smaller work-tasks, as they are ultimately, still distractions and don’t really rest your brain at all. Be disciplined about your breaks, not only in how long you take them but also in what you do during that time.
Silence or music?
The jury is still out on music, but some people definitely see it as a means to help them concentrate. If you’re one of those people, then by all means, put on some headphones and listen to music that helps you concentrate. This will also isolate you from other distractions in the workplace like chatting co-workers and other noises. If music IS a distraction, then simply donning some secure earbuds or noise-cancelling earphones without playing music will still isolate you from noise and create a quiet atmosphere that will be much more conducive to helping you concentrate and focus.
Physical exercise helps
This doesn’t mean that you need to do heavy workouts or anything — simple stretching and short exercises that helps get the blood flowing will do. Physical exercise is not only good for your body, but it also aids in blood circulation, which in turn energizes your brain.
Mental exercises help even more
Try this: Set a timer for five minutes. Within that time, try concentrating COMPLETELY on the task you need to finish — read the research material, study datasets, etc. — then take a break for two minutes. As you go along, keep doubling the time you devote to concentrating on the task, as well as the time you take for a breather. This helps gradually honing your ability to concentrate and fully devote all your mental faculties to the task at hand.
Another exercise could comprise of meditating for around 10 minutes. In that time, clear your mind of distractions and worries, and after, you’ll be surprised at how better able to focus you will be. Another form of medication could be putting yourself in a relaxing environment (like talking a walk) and pondering on the task you have. It helps you get away from the pressure of the work environment and will greatly help you in coming back to the task with fresh eyes and fresh mind.
Taking the time to do mental exercises like these go a long way in improving concentration.
Get on some good fat
Not all fats are created equally. And while some do have a detrimental effect on your body, some fats actually help your brain function better. Food like avocadoes, salmon, nuts, whole eggs and the like contain polyunsaturated fat, DHA, and saturated fat, all of which improve your brain function.
Identify your distractions…
… and deal with them mercilessly. It’s important to take a long, hard look at the things that take your attention and concentration away from the tasks you need to finish. Constantly fiddling with mobile phones is probably the number one cause of distraction. Simply put it away and put it on silent so you aren’t bothered by it while you’re working. If you have a smartwatch, you’ll get to see the important notifications anyway, so you can work uninterrupted without having to check your phone every so often (but make sure that you tweak your phone’s settings so you only get the essential notifications). A more drastic approach would be to put your phone in airplane mode so it’s completely disconnected.
Get enough sleep
If your brain needs to rest, so does your body. If you want your brain to function properly, then it’s important to get enough rest. Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington advocates this based on her own experience. “[Burnout] is truly the disease of our urban civilization, and that we have come to devalue and scorn something absolutely essential for our bodies, our minds, and our souls, which is sleep,” she says, adding, “Nothing increases our stress faster than sleep deprivation. The hormone cortisol begins to flood our bodies, so inflammation and cortisol go up, immune system is suppressed, that’s a recipe for cumulative disease.”
As we talked about before, hustle culture, where we constantly try to fill our time with work and in the process, forsake proper sleep and rest, can have deadly consequences. Sleep is a very underrated but essential part of making our brains become better wired to be more productive, creative, efficient, and innovative.
Cultivate a mindset and work environment that promotes better concentration
Sometimes it’s as simple as informing people that you would not like to be disturbed (unless it was about something really important). But also think about the way you collaborate and work with your colleagues. Do you contribute to mindless chatter that takes away everyone’s time and minds from their respective tasks? If you’re a supervisor or manager, do you respect your workers’ work spaces or do you needlessly interrupt them?
Employ the right tools to help augment and support concentration (and eliminate distractions)
Improving concentration in the workplace is always helped along by the right tools — ones that are straight to the point and effective, efficient and easy to learn. Some tools can serve to complicate the work process, and is as such a detriment to any effort to improve concentration and focus.
Runrun.it’s tools, for example, such as the Smart Time Tracking system, helps you not only with timekeeping, but also provides the ability to better manage a team’s use of time and improves time tracking. It’s capable of providing data on things like how much time is being spent on a particular task, or how much time on average a certain kind of project takes. Used in tandem with Runrun.it’s Dashboard tool, which provides even more access to all sorts of operational data in real-time, managers and leaders are better equipped to make more informed decisions, prevent mistakes, and seek out points of improvement. For teams, access to data and other tools like these allow for better collaboration and cooperation, as well as improved transparency and communication. To see how Runrun.it’s tools can work and how it can help your organization achieve its goals, check out the free trial here.