If you feel like you used to be better at concentrating than you are now, you’re probably right. With an email inbox a mile long, text messages popping up constantly and putting out one fire after another at work and at home, how can you expect to be able to focus on anything?
Advice on this subject is plentiful and good: meditate, exercise regularly, eat right and sleep more. But there are specific things can you start doing today to help sharpen your concentration level. Here are 5 of them — and they are easy!
Got a book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for a month? Or a call you’ve been putting off at work for weeks? Set a date by which you’re going to have the book finished. Or decide that tomorrow is the day you’re going to make that call, put it on your calendar for 10 a.m., and then do it. Having too many to-dos on your list clouds your thinking and makes it harder to get any of them done. Knock them off, one by one, and you’ll start feeling more focused on other things that matter.
Or Twitter. Or Facebook. Or whatever your distractions are. You don’t need to have them off all the time, but you should consider setting aside time to accomplish whatever needs doing — whether it’s work-related or home-related. Take control for a few minutes a day, shut off the distractions keeping you from whatever you need to accomplish and give that single task your entire focus.
In school, you learn a lot about a certain subject in a short period of time. Once you enter the real world, you can grow out of that learning mode. Sure, you have to learn how to generate that new report for work or work out how to cope with frustrating situations in the office, but it's not really the same type of learning you do when you're in school. Come up with something you’d like to learn. It can be anything as simple as learning all the state capitals or as complex as learning the history of the Seven Years' War. Write up some flash cards and get learning. Learning some good trivia will not only improve your performance on "Jeopardy!" but also sharpen those brains.
We live in a clickbait world. It’s one of the reasons we feel so distracted. Want to read “How to Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days”? Or see the photos from “You Won’t Believe What This Celebrity Looks Like Without Makeup”? Of course you do. But did you hear about the scientific study that showed that 59% of links are shared on social media without the sharer even clicking on the link first? The study examined links posted on Twitter and found that most people retweet news without ever reading it.
“This is typical of modern information consumption,” wrote study co-author Arnaud Legout. “People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”
So buck the trend and go deeper. Pick one article each day or so and read it, start to finish, on whatever topic you like and on whichever website you frequent. (This one counts, so you can check today's off your list!)
Or Sudoku. Or word searches. Or cryptograms. Any activity that requires concentration re-trains your brain to focus on the task at hand. A mental challenge is good for you. If you can focus on the New York Times crossword for half an hour, then you can regain some confidence in your mental capacity and feel sharper next time you need to dig deep. Several apps can help, too, such as Elevate, Fit Brains and Lumosity. There is some debate about whether games can actually improve your cognitive function, but anything you do that makes you think rather than just consume is good for your focus.