Stay Focused On Your Work Against All Odds!

If anyone knows the struggle of staying focused on work, it’s me. I usually have at least four projects on the go and prolonged concentration has never been my strong suit. I’ve checked Facebook twice already while writing this intro, so believe me, I get it.

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

It’s actually possible to improve your concentration through small lifestyle changes and with technology. During the weeks that I actually follow my own advice, I actually find it easier to stay on task for longer.

So how can you improve your brain’s ability to focus?

Stop Multitasking

I know that you love multitasking. You may even feel that you NEED to multitask in order to make it through your giant To-Do pile. And society definitely makes it seem as though multitaskers are better than everyone else. But here’s the thing: multitasking isn’t the superpower it’s cracked up to be. IT ACTUALLY MAKES YOU WORK LESS EFFICIENTLY.

I know that it’s tough news to hear, and maybe you don’t want to believe it. But you don’t have to listen to me. Stanford scientists are already talking about this! And they are super smart! A 2009 study looked at a groups of light and heavy media multitaskers:

“Results showed that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.”

The scientists have spoken!

Cultivate Calm

Speaking of science, let’s talk about biology for a minute. One of the culprits that interferes with your ability to focus is cortisol, AKA the stress hormone. Cortisol also causes junk food cravings and can interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep, so I’m not a fan of it.

So how do you lower your cortisol levels?

  • Meditate: It only takes 5-10 minutes a day, so you have no excuse! Just find yourself a quiet place to sit, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. If you have trouble turning off your mind, you can use guided meditation to help you stay focused. The Pacifica app is a really good resource with a ton of different meditation tracks available and YouTube is full of guided meditation videos. Find one that works for you and make it a regular habit!
  • Exercise: As explained by Harvard Health Publishing, “Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.” If I can get natural mood elevators from jogging a few times a week, I’m all about that life. Gimme those sneakers.

There’s An App For That

If you lack the inner strength to combat distractions on your own, don’t worry: developers have been hard at work coming up with nifty little apps to keep you on task.

  • Freedom: Freedom can help you block specific websites on all of your devices for a set amount of time, or even schedule block-out periods in advance.
  • RescueTime: RescueTime runs in the background and tracks the amount of time that you spend on different apps, sends you daily reports, and can send you notifications when you’ve spent too much time on a specific app or website.
  • Forest: This fun little app incentivizes staying focused. For every task that you work on, you select a different species of tree or shrub and set a timer for how long you want to stay focused. As you work, your plant grows from a seedling. If you close the app before the timer runs out, your cute baby tree or shrub DIES. The stakes have never been higher.
  • Tide: This app helps you to structure your time in 30 minute chunks, with 25 minutes of soothing and unobtrusive nature sounds followed by a 5-minute break. When the waves stop crashing on the shore, you can stand up, stretch your legs, and pour your fifth cup of coffee.

Maybe you just need to use one of these tips, or maybe your magic formula will be a combination of two or more. Let me know in the comments if you have a tip of your own!