What was I doing again?
We’ve all had days where we can’t seem to focus, asking that question too many times to count. For some of us, those days are more common than we’d like.
If you are able to stay focused at work, or at school, and on your goals, you’ll be productive, you’ll get things done and you’ll reach your goals in record time. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If you are constantly distracted, or multitasking all the time, you are preventing yourself from reaching the next level.
There are various practical steps you can take to help yourself focus better and to stop checking your Facebook or phone every fifteen minutes. To stay focused on the task ahead of you, resist the impulse to give in to distractions, make a to-do list (which has built-in breaks) and resist the temptation to multi-task.
Check out these eight steps to help you prioritize and clear your mind.
1. Do creative work first
Typically, we do mindless work first and build up to the toughest tasks. That drains your energy and lowers your focus. “An hour into doing your work, you’ve got a lot less capacity than (at the beginning),” Rock says. “Every decision we make tires the brain.”
In order to focus effectively, reverse the order. Check off the tasks that require creativity or concentration first thing in the morning, and then move on to easier work, like deleting emails or scheduling meetings, later in the day.
If the saying “practice makes perfect” is true, then meditation is a sure way to enhance focus because it takes a great deal of concentration.
Scientific experiments agree. One study at the University of North Carolina, for example, revealed that students who meditated for just 20 minutes a day for four days performed better on certain cognitive tests.
3. Exercise regularly
Exercise isn’t just good for the body. It promotes brain health, too, which is important for memory capacity and concentration, according to John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
In particular, scientists think regular exercise may help stimulate the release of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which some research suggests helps rewire memory circuits to improve their functioning.
4. Take breaks (real breaks)
While most of our lives revolved around receiving as much input as possible—15 tabs open at once, non-stop emails, phone calls and messages from coworkers—working as fast as possible doesn’t make us better at work. In fact, it does quite the opposite.
To strengthen your focus, find a place that is free from distraction. Whether that’s a different part of the house or a cafe without wifi, the point here is to give your focus a chance to recharge.
If you have no place to consistently go, there’s even apps you can download to help you from being distracted by the internet.
5. Forget multitasking
Multi-tasking is actually a misnomer—it doesn’t mean what we think it does.
Our mind is unable to focus on more than one thing at a time, and in fact, ‘multi-tasking’ just means switching from one thing to another very, very quickly. And the more we switch, the more energy we use (And the more energy we use, the less we have to stay focused on what matters).
Make a list of tasks that need to be done in order of importance and stick to it as much as possible. The less you try to do at once, the better you’ll work overall.
6. Find an environment with the right kind of noise.
To be the most effective, you need to strike a delicate balance between too much noise and total silence. According to David Burkus, an associate professor of leadership and innovation at Oral Roberts University, “some level of office banter in the background might actually benefit our ability to do creative tasks, provided we don’t get drawn into the conversation,” Burkus wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “Instead of total silence, the ideal work environment for creative work has a little bit of background noise. That’s why you might focus really well in a noisy coffee shop, but barely be able to concentrate in a noisy office.”
7. Keep Reminding Yourself About Your Goals
The most crucial thing to keep yourself focused is always to keep reminding yourself about what your goals are to accomplish them and reach where you want to be. It is also important to remember why you are working towards this goal so that you can stay focused and motivated throughout the process.