Tips and Techniques to Improve Your Focus at Work
Learning how to make improvements in your concentration and focus is nothing more than learning and mastering a few techniques, or making a few lifestyle changes. Sometimes, it just takes forming a new habit and you'll see results immediately.
You probably know many of the techniques that will be introduced here. They're methods most people know, but we fail to implement them. Sometimes, this is simply because we don't understand just how important they can be in boosting focus and concentration.
You'll see some techniques you're already using and find a few that you can easily implement in your daily life. First, we'll look at tricks and healthy habits, and then ways to get organized for better focus and time management techniques. Use this as a toolbox of techniques and choose those that are most feasible and effective for you.
1. Tips to Boost Your Brain Power
Studies have consistently shown that regular exercise significantly improves focus and concentration. The guideline usually given for exercise is to get enough exercise three times a week that you break into a sweat.
Actually, more moderate exercise more frequently can have an even more pronounced effect. There are many things you can do daily without much effort (no need to break into a sweat here) such as:
Going on a few short walks throughout the day (the motion of the walk itself can help you improve your focus as well).
Standing at your desk or taking a short walk around the office frequently.
Stretching before and after work, or in the morning after waking up and at night right before bed.
If you decide to start exercising, make sure that you do it moderately. Don't take a 2-hour walk the first day. Exercise until you can physically feel it and then stop for the day. Within a few days, you'll feel stronger and you'll be able to do more. Don't strain yourself.
The source of lack of focus is often the barrage of technological communications we face all day every day. A good way to regain focus is to unplug for a set period of time each day. Turn everything off and engage yourself in some activity that's not tech-related, such as reading a book, cleaning, going for a walk, etc. Give yourself some "quiet time" free of high-tech noise.
Get in Touch with Nature
Go to a natural area near your house or office and spend some quality time in solitude surrounded by nature. Like the last technique we mentioned, you'll get the benefit of a break from technology. But you'll also feel your senses heightened by the natural environment and all of its color, movement and sounds.
You can never take too many breaks. You should take a break from work at least once per hour. These should be short breaks where you just get away from the task at hand for a few minutes. Stand up and move to another room or make some other change of environment if possible.
If you take a break after you already feel burnt out, it's much harder to recover. The key is to take short breaks before you feel tired. Take a break before you feel that you need it and you'll keep your momentum.
Most of us drink too much coffee or other caffeinated beverages when we're stuck behind a computer screen. We think that caffeine gives your brain a boost and helps you get more done. But caffeine can easily go the other way, sapping your energy and destroying your ability to focus.
The key to making caffeine work for you is to use it in moderation. Studies show that a little bit of caffeine helps the brain to function more efficiently (most coffee drinkers understand this on an experiential level). But too much caffeine leads to fatigue and loss of concentration.
Limit your caffeine consumption to one or two caffeinated beverages per day. Choose the right times of day for your dose of caffeine (in the morning, after lunch, etc.). Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon or evening because it can interfere with sleep.
If you don't drink coffee, you should take a good look at the beverages you drink each day and make sure they don't contain caffeine or high levels of sugar.
One good way to limit caffeine is to have one cup of coffee and then switch to hot, herbal tea, which has no caffeine. This gives you the placebo effect – you're still sipping something hot but it's not overloading your brain's synapses.
A great alternative to coffee for a perk-up is water. Fluids, and especially water, help you maintain your energy level. Dehydration leads to reduced focus, as well as possibly more severe problems like headaches or nausea. Doctors recommend drinking 8 cups of water per day and few of us ever do this.
If you're not a fan of water, there are a few ways to make it more palatable. One is to use filtered or bottled water, especially if you live in a region where the water doesn’t taste good. Try adding ice cubes to your cup of water. Another way to make it more flavorful is to add a slice of fruit or a bit of lemon or lime juice.
Sleep is a major factor in your brain's overall functioning. If you don't get enough sleep or if you don't sleep well, you'll be unable to focus the next day, and you'll probably be irritable as well.
Many of us who are trying to be as productive as possible get into a vicious cycle of too much coffee, too little exercise, and not enough sleep. All of this is related. If you exercise regularly, you'll reduce your stress level and sleep better. If you sleep well, you won't feel like sucking down coffee all day. And of course, if you lay off the coffee, you'll sleep better.
How much sleep is enough? This depends on several factors. First, everyone has different needs when it comes to sleep. Doctors tend to recommend eight hours, but some people find that they can get by and function perfectly well on five or six. Other people need nine or ten to feel fully "with it" during the day. Find what works for you and stick to it.
What's often more important than a set number of sleep hours is a set sleep schedule. Whether you're getting four or eight hours a night, an irregular sleep schedule will tend to interfere with your brain power. Try waking up at the same time each day.
The other factor is how well you sleep. If you sleep eight hours but still don't feel rested, you may have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor and follow his or her recommendations. On the other hand, if you learn to sleep more deeply, you may find that you can get away with fewer hours per night.
Waking up is hard to do and that's why it's good to establish a morning routine. We already discussed waking up at the same time each day. This is a good habit even if you don't have a regular work schedule to stick to.
Many people find that establishing and following a set morning routine is a good way to greet each day and prepare yourself for the work ahead of you. You should create your own work routine and do what works best for you, but here are some ideas to experiment with:
Do absolutely nothing for the first hour you're awake. Sit somewhere with a cup of coffee or tea and just think.
Start the day with exercise or meditation.
Start each day with something purely fun and enjoyable to get you into a positive mindset.
Don't check email or other electronic communications first thing in the morning, no matter how tempting it is.
Give yourself a "weekend." On non-work days, ditch the morning routine and be lazy.
Add a few organizing tasks to your morning routine, such as making or checking a daily task list
Of course, many of us wake up with only enough time to run a toothbrush across our teeth and a comb through our hair before we dash off to work. If this is the case for you, you have a few options. One is to try to wake up earlier. If you can wake up just an hour earlier than "go-time" so that you can establish a morning routine, it will really help your entire day.
If waking up early isn't possible, try to do at least something that will set the tone for the day, like reading on the train or listening to uplifting music on your commute to work. Try doing a couple of stretches or meditating for even just 3 minutes. Fit in whatever you can.
Your brain needs calories in order to function. When you starve your brain, it doesn't work properly. It's not possible to focus on an empty stomach.
Always eat a good breakfast. Make it a filling and balanced breakfast, and keep it low-sugar or sugar-free. If your mornings are too hectic, prepare meals the night before so you only have to heat them up in the morning, or choose meals that are cold and don't take any preparation. Try to balance convenience with healthy eating choices. Don't make it a fast food sandwich just to save time.
In addition to a good breakfast, you should snack throughout the day. Studies show that small amounts of snacking spaced throughout the day are great for focus. Small snacks are better than big meals, which can make you sleepy and tinker with your blood sugar level.
When you're tired or unable to focus, try reaching for a light, healthy snack instead of a cup of coffee. Your brain can use the boost of energy.