Televisions, tablets, smartphones, kids, dogs, doorbells, to-do lists, coworkers, email, Twitter, Facebook, alerts, notifications, sunshine, rain, hunger, wandering minds…it’s enough to make us all lose our minds, or at least break our concentration. Our fast-paced lives have given us more reasons to lose focus. Productivity dictates the need for concentration because time is money, and time on Pinterest is spent. Trouble focusing? Learn to think brightly at Udemy.com.
So you think you might have ADHD? Not so fast, only a doctor can tell you. Maybe you just need to learn to focus. Routine and schedule can help get you there. I’ve compiled several tips to help you along your journey to productivity.
Basic Techniques Rooted in Science
Don’t Caffeinate, cardio-nate instead
A morning cup of Joe or two doesn’t hurt, but if you’re finding that you need to recharge intermittently, maybe some heart pumping, all-out-sweating cardio is what you need. On the days I go to spin class, I don’t have coffee again in the afternoon, I just don’t need it. But the days I skip spinning I certainly crave Starbucks. The truth is that our bodies get conditioned to what they are used to. If you go for that workout, your body will crave it, same for the java. Caffeine spikes then your energy levels plummet; a good cardio workout gives you sustainable energy. Energy helps concentration, but there’s more evidence. According to a study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that aerobic exercise may provide improved function of the attention-related portion of the brain in both immediate and long term circumstances.
H20, the way to go
Getting your eight glasses a day has more power than you may realize. A study from 2012 in The Journal of Nutrition showed that inattention can result in mild dehydration, so mild in fact that it is not even felt as thirst yet. Just a 2% reduction in hydration resulted in a loss of ability to concentrate on cognitive tests. Harris Lieberman, PhD, an author of the study, said, “Thirst is not the best measure of hydration, so a decrease in your ability to focus ins an early warning signal that it’s time to drink up.”
The brain needs time to reboot. Cognitive functions are strengthened and consolidated during the delta phase of sleep. If you’re getting less than seven hours a night, you’re not getting enough delta sleep. That slow wave pattern which precedes REM is what you need to concentrate. Vatsal G. Thakkar, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, says to get a solid seven to nine hours of shut-eye, every night for two weeks, to see if your concentration improves. If not, you may have sleep apnea and should see a sleep specialist.
Stimulate through movement
Move to keep your brain alert. This is not the same as an aerobic workout, but has to do with keeping from boredom. Children who sit on exercise balls instead of chairs in school have a stronger attention span. I concentrate better when I’m writing from my FitDesk (a laptop desk, that’s also a bike). You don’t need fancy equipment to keep alert though; you can stretch, wiggle your toes, put on some music and move a bit to the beat. Hunkering down over your computer, your metabolism shuts down after one hour, according to a recent study by Dr. Michael Jensen of the Mayo Clinic. Although this issue has much greater health implications than the scope of this article, it’s no wonder that the ability to concentrate is driven through movement.
Habitual techniques to assist your mind
A bit more, please
Be decisive. We all feel like doing something else. I do right now, but I’m going to finish this article and reward myself when I’m done. Just read five more pages, just run five more minutes, just work five more minutes, just do 5 more sit-ups. We are capable of more than our attention wants us to be. Commit to a bit more and that delayed gratification will feel wonderfully accomplished. You will build mental endurance by practicing this habit.
This technique is all about a decision as well. Make a deal with yourself, your brain will cooperate. Promise to yourself to deal with that nagging thought at a later time, so you can focus on what is important right now. And keep the promise.
If that is difficult for you, try this technique: write it down. I am a list person: I have lists upon lists, with sub-lists, and sometimes sub-sub-lists, all synced into my calendar and phone app. Yes, I’m like that—hate me if you must. The truth is, I don’t get everything done every day, but I can drag-and-drop it to a day I can get it done, so I don’t have to worry about it. I can focus on the here and now.
Don’t procrastinate, just don’t. Seriously, I mean it. I do my worst when I procrastinate. I’m awful, despicable, and terribly wrong, using lazy habits when I put it off. You might feel you shine in those last moments, but when you don’t feel like concentrating and put off an important task, you are procrastinating. Ask yourself if it is important, needed, and if you want it off your list. If you answer yes to all three, get it done, cross it off, and pat yourself on the back. You finished and it didn’t take you as long to do it as if you had procrastinated.
Hands can provide a blindview
Are there too many distractions around you that you can see? Horses wear blinders to keep them focused. You’d look pretty funny wearing square patches of leather at the office or coffee shop, but your hands can become a temporary focusing agent for you. Put your hands on either side of your face to focus your vision at your book, papers, screen, whatever you should be paying attention to. If you’re worried about how you look doing it, just rub your temples, you’ll just look like you’re concentrating or that have a headache.
Train your mind to concentrate
Mantra, mantra, mantra
An article from Kansas State University’s counseling center suggests improving your concentration by repeating the mantra, “Be here now”. It sounds deceptively simplistic, but it actually trains your mind to focus, kind of like Pavlov’s dog. Focus every time you say it mentally or aloud. You could even use a code-word, like a spell from Harry Potter if you wish. It really doesn’t matter as long as you know what it means.
Make an appointment to worry
If you have a lot to think about set a time you will do it. If every day, you set aside 8:00-8:30pm to think things through, you have that expectation and can focus on the things that need to be done before it. Do this so you won’t waste all day with those thoughts entering your mind. When they do, remind yourself that you have set time aside for that. It doesn’t matter how long you set aside, or what time of day just as long as you do it.
When you meditate, you can clear your mind of distractions. Meditation doesn’t require you to change religions or subscribe to something you don’t believe. It is simply learning to focus on calmness, slow your breathing. It can help you concentrate, and deal with stress.
If you’ve made it this far in the article you have concentrated for over 1,200 words. Pat yourself on the back. Now focus on the task at hand.