7 Useful Tips for Improving Your Mental Focus
Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.
Staying on task can be difficult, but it can be particularly challenging when you are surrounded by constant distraction. In today’s always-connected world, diversions are nothing more than a click away.
The ability to concentrate on something in your environment and direct mental effort toward it is critical for learning new things, achieving goals, and performing well across a wide variety of situations.
It will take some real effort on your part and you may have to make some changes to some of your daily habits. Here are some tips and tricks from psychology that can help you develop laser-like mental focus and concentration.
Press Play for Advice On Staying Motivated
While it may sound obvious, people often underestimate just how many distractions prevent them from concentrating on the task at hand. Such intrusions might come in the form of a radio blaring in the background or perhaps an obnoxious co-worker who constantly drops by your cubicle to chat.
Minimizing these sources of distraction isn’t always as easy as it sounds. While it might be as simple as turning off the television or radio, you might find it much more challenging to deal with an interrupting co-worker, spouse, child, or roommate.
One way to deal with this is to set aside a specific time and place and request to be left alone for that period of time. Another alternative is to seek out a calm location where you know you will be able to work undisturbed. The library, a private room in your house, or even a quiet coffee shop might all be good spots to try.
A few strategies you might want to try to minimize or eliminate such internal distractions are to make sure you are well-rested prior to the task and to use positive thoughts and imagery to fight off anxiety and worry. If you find your mind wandering toward distracting thoughts, consciously bring your focus back to the task at hand.
3. Set deadlines and stick to them.
Deadlines can be a great way to control procrastination, but research has found that self-imposed deadlines don’t work for true dawdlers. Instead, hard deadlines that are evenly spaced out are most effective. So, if you’re struggling to find your mojo for a project, set firm deadlines with your boss or client, and make sure they are reasonable and sufficiently spaced out to accomplish the task.
Sometimes less is more. In order to up your productivity, you need to break big projects into manageable chunks. Think of it this way: you don’t eat a three-course meal in one bite, do you? Just as we eat a meal in multiple bites, try breaking tasks down into smaller and smaller chunks, so you can focus on one area or one subject at a time. You’ll stay motivated and avoid distractions.
By now, most of us know that multitasking isn’t really a thing, and yet we still struggle to stop doing it. It seems like we have too much going on to focus on one thing. Do yourself a favor and give monotasking a try. Try looking at your calendar at the beginning of each week and assign yourself a specific focus each day. One day might be focused on administrative work, while another is concentrated on an upcoming project.
Practicing mindfulness meditation has been shown to increase the ability to focus and enhance learning and memory. Research shows it can even prevent age-related mental decline. According to one 7-year study, practicing mindfulness meditation is associated with improvement in sustaining focus and attention. Even more important, participants had increased feelings of emotional well-being and performed better on tasks.
Improve Your Diet
I like to say, “You can only be as productive as you feel.” Our condition is linked to our mental and physical health. Much of the items on this list relate to improving our mental state, but our physical state is just as important hence why exercise was number two on this list. However, exercise is just one half of our physical condition. The other is our diet.
Too many of us fail to invest the time to create a healthy diet conducive to our focus and productivity. I was one of them, and I suffered from it. Thankfully, my wife was able to right the sinking ship and today, at age 46, I feel healthier than when I was in my 20s.
Entire books are dedicated to creating the perfect diet. I believe we don’t need nearly that much. The key to living well is simply a more well-balanced diet. The breakdown of my seven lunches and seven dinners each week is usually 40% chicken, 30% fish, and 30% meat. Except for the odd burger, every meal comes with a variety of vegetables. Lastly, and most importantly, I rarely eat till I’m full.
You can also try green tea, otherwise known as matcha. Not only does green tea contain caffeine, but it also has phytochemicals that not only improve cognitive function but also promote relaxation.
De-cluttering is another way to eliminate distractions, if your desk, office and head are clear, you are minimising the possibilities for distractions. I always start my week by cleaning my office, anything that was left lying around from the past week needs to be dealt with, you need to know that there is nothing you have forgotten about or left undone. If you get into the habit of doing a weekly de-clutter or in GTD terms a weekly review, you can start the week relaxed, focused and ready for action.
The more we simplify our lives and our jobs, the more work we get done. But we don’t just want to get work done, we want to get the important tasks done, the tasks that make a difference to the big picture.
Many of us busy ourselves doing tasks that are unnecessary, wasting time on things that aren’t adding value to our lives or our jobs. If you can simplify and eliminate the unnecessary from your life you will have more time to focus on what is important, and it will also become a lot easier to maintain this focus.