With so much going on these days, it’s no surprise that many of us frequently feel distracted. We get constant notifications on our phones and computers, have an endless array of TV shows waiting for us to binge watch, and always need to complete those dull but essential everyday tasks and routines. That means it can sometimes be challenging to concentrate on what’s most important in the moment. Here, our experts share some easy ways to reclaim your focus.
Meet our expert panel
- Gloria Mark, PhD, author of Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity, has spent over two decades studying multitasking, interruptions, productivity, and mood with the rise in digital technology.
- Daniel Amen, MD, author of the forthcoming book Change Your Brain Every Day, is one of America’s leading psychiatrists and brain health experts.
- Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus: How to Manage Your Attention in a World of Distraction, is a productivity expert. More at Alifeofproductivity.com.
Discover ‘focus sappers.’
“To help you understand what’s distracting you, try stepping back to observe yourself,” urges expert Gloria Mark, PhD. “For example, I’m a news junkie and I’ll ask myself, Why am I looking at my phone right now? Am I bored, or is the task I’m trying to complete too hard?” If you’re going on social media to avoid a dull activity, challenge yourself to do it for just five minutes to easily build momentum, she advises. Or if something is too daunting, focus on one small step. “These micro goals quickly snowball, boosting your concentration.”
Learn your rhythm.
Our attention span has a natural ebb and flow — for most of us, our peak hours are late morning, around 11 a.m., and in the afternoon, around 3 p.m., explains Mark, adding that it’s important to get to know your individual rhythms through observation and a little experimentation. “Once you pinpoint your peak attention time, try to arrange your schedule so you’re doing your hardest work when you’re most focused — just knowing yourself will help you concentrate better.”
Allow ‘mindless’ rewards.
To boost your batteries, give yourself permission to sprinkle your day with “no-brainer” rewards. “Studies show we’re happiest when doing ‘mindless’ activities like playing a game or watching a video,” says Mark. “These rewards can help us replenish ourselves if we use them strategically.” The key is having a time limit. “Just ask yourself, Am I still getting value from this?” In other words, giving yourself permission to play Wordle or Bejeweled once in a while can help restore your mental resources.
Ditch ‘me time’ guilt.
When we’re stressed, our working memory shrinks by 20 percent, so that eight hours of work can take 10 hours to get through because we can’t concentrate, reveals expert Chris Bailey, adding that the solution is not to do more but less. “We should be on a break for 20 percent to 25 percent of our day,” he says. That translates to a one-hour lunch break and two 15-minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. “We tend to feel guilty about taking time out, but this is essential to keeping focused.”
Lift brain fog with this.
Mindfulness meditation boosts blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the seat of attention and focus, explains psychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD. One of his favorite techniques — loving-kindness meditation — is as easy as it is comforting. To do: Offer yourself well wishes, such as, May I be peaceful; may I be calm. Then send out those well wishes to others in the world to create a cascade of positivity that makes you feel happier, more alert and in control.
Picture the finish line.
Getting in touch with your future self helps you focus in the moment, says Bailey. “Visualize how you will feel at the end of the day, week or year after accomplishing X or Y task. Will you feel relieved, less stressed, more in control?” Simply seeing how your actions will impact your happiness tomorrow helps you stay focused today.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.