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Nine Tips to Increase Focus

As a kid in school, I was by far the math and science whiz. Reading, however, was an extremely trying task. My mind would wonder to such a point that I’d often have to reread a paragraph several times before I would actually grasp the material. Today, I find that I’m always thinking about things other than my present situation and I multitask to such an extent that I’ll be on task number five before completing tasks one through four.

Whether I have ADD or I’m just a product of this crazy-paced, technology-ridden world, my ability to focus is not what I’d like it to be. And, I get the impression I’m not alone. Many of us suffer from constant distractions that make it difficult to concentrate. The good news, however, is that there are simple things you can do to help:

In-the-Moment Tips:

  1. Computer Alerts. Working on a computer can be very distracting. Especially with the sounds and pop-ups that alert us to fresh emails, tweets, IMs, etc. Every time a “ding” goes off, I tend to stop what I’m doing and re-focus on the newest “ding.” Turn off sound and pop-up features, and log out of email, chat, and twitter applications to enable you to fully focus on your current task.
  2. Phones. If you get a lot of phone calls and have trouble ignoring them, forward them to voice mail, turn off your phone or silence the ringer. Set aside a specific time during the day to get back to people via phone.
  3. Make Lists and Make Plans. Listing out what you want to accomplish and how you want to do so helps to keep you on track. Without a plan, however, it is easy to put things on hold to check email, clean or surf the Web. Set time lines and “deadlines” to each of your tasks. This will hold you responsible to completing things on time.
  4. Declutter and Organize. Clutter often equals distraction. If you have lots of papers and random items lying around your desk, they will constantly be a reminder of other things on which you could focus. Organize your work area so that you can focus during work time and deal with the “in-box” in a timely way.
  5. Create Intermittent Active Time. When our bodies and environments are stagnant, our brains can start to drift or go on auto pilot. Take breaks throughout the day that get you moving and into different areas of your home or office. It will help you to refocus more effectively when you come back to work.
  6. Get Away. If you are in an office environment and have trouble focusing at your desk, try booking a small conference room or work space that allows you to get away from the distractions. If you are doing a lot of computer work, see if you can “book” a laptop for the day and go somewhere that is quiet. If you are at home and your family is making it difficult to concentrate, go to a neighborhood coffee shop and spend a couple of hours there getting focused.

Long-term Tips:

  1. Diet. Our diets can have a tremendous impact on our ability to focus. Eating very large, heavy meals can cause our digestive tract to “hoard” the blood that could be used by our brains. Eating lighter, more frequent meals sustains our energy levels and keeps blood flow stable to the brain. Further, avoid processed foods that often contain preservatives, dyes, and other artificial and synthetic ingredients. Research has shown that these ingredients promote hyperactivity in individuals who have ADD and ADHD, as well as those individuals who don’t.
  2. Exercise. Exercise allows us to release stress, clear our minds, and think clearly. The best way to set the stage for the day is to exercise early in the morning. This will help you to think through your day and how you want to tackle your “to-dos.”
  3. Sleep. One of the biggest contributors to lack of concentration is lack of rest or, believe it or not, too much rest. Your mind depends on proper sleep to function optimally and concentrate. Aim to get seven to eight solid hours each night.

Do you have trouble focusing or concentrating? What do you do?

Originally published on