From workplace interruptions to the rabbit hole that’s otherwise known as social media, it’s no wonder you have trouble concentrating. Distractions of all sorts are rampant everywhere, which explains why you might experience frequent feelings of frustration when it comes to sitting down and actually completing a task on your to-do list.
“We live in a tsunami of texts, emails, phone calls, social media postings, invitations to connect and constant temptations to go online to shop or otherwise surf the ‘net,” Dr. Edward Hallowell, a medical doctor and ADHD expert, tells SheKnows. “We are never without access to elsewhere. We are always, everywhere available; hence we are never anywhere fully present. We live in the Age of Distraction.”
The good news, though, is that there are ways to improve your ability to concentrate. Here are some tips to help you focus amid all the chatter and commotion around you.
Hallowell recommends engaging in vigorous exercise for five minutes before concentrating on the task at hand. “This changes your brain blood chemistry altogether. It is like pushing the reset button on your brain,” he says, adding that adhering to a regular routine of physical activity will also help your ability to focus.
While multitasking has somehow managed to become a badge of honor in our society, according to Dr. Tamsin Astor, a psychologist and neuroscientists and author of Force of Habit: Unleash Your Power by Developing Great Habits, we should actually be doing the opposite.
“Multitasking is something that we all think we can do, but actually, only a tiny percentage of the population is capable of real multitasking,” she tells SheKnows. “What the majority of us are doing is switching back and forth between many things and taking longer and being less efficient. Concentrating on one task at a time makes us more efficient.”
Both Hallowell and Astor recommend meditating to help with concentration. “It improves your ability to concentrate because it is a constant practice of letting go of your thoughts and coming back to the breath,” says Astor.
Hallowell, who says meditation operates on the same neurotransmitters he uses to treat ADHD, suggests meditating for five minutes before you sit down to tackle a task that requires concentration.
Plan out your day
“If you have a clearly prescribed order of events, it’s easier to concentrate on the task at hand because you know you have time scheduled for the other things on your to-do list — like eat, working out, calling clients, collecting kids — and you don’t waste time distracting yourself with decisions,” says Astor. In an attempt to restrict your screen time even more, you might want to consider opting for a desk planner to schedule your day.
Try the Pomodoro Technique
Astor suggests using the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The method uses a timer set for 25 minutes in length to break down work into intervals, which is separated by short breaks.
To maximize your productivity, Astor advises choosing a specific piece of work to tackle using the technique and telling your coworkers about it for accountability. After the timer goes off, “Report on how it went and give yourself five minutes to get a cup of tea or stretch your legs. Repeat.”
Connect with people offline
While being in constant contact with people online might distract us, on the flip side, Hallowell recommends regular doses of positive human contact offline could actually improve concentration.
“It’s what I call ‘the other vitamin C,’” he says. “Vitamin connect. This could mean a smile, a hug, a warm conversation, a walk with a friend.” In-person contact is known to reduce stress, and stress interferes with our ability to concentrate, he explains.
Manage your stress
In fact, stress management is extremely important when it comes to focusing. “Stress hormones — adrenaline and cortisol — are designed to allow our bodies to fight or flee, and they do this by drawing the blood away from the brain and the gut to the limbs,” Astor explains. “This means that your brain does not work as well when you are under stress.”
This is why she recommends sleeping seven to eight hours a night, exercising regularly, meditating and eating good food. “Serotonin, that feel good hormone, is in your gut, so what you eat affects how you feel,” she says.
While we might not ever be free from distractions, by taking the time to exercise, meditate, connect with loved ones and schedule our to-do lists, we might finally get a grasp on concentrating.
A version of this story was published November 2018.
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