Concentration is the act of giving your attention to a single activity. When you give a large amount of your attention to the task you are working on at that moment, you are concentrated on the task.
With the right tools, practice, and discipline, you can improve your ability to concentrate. The problem is that at any given moment dozens of distractions vie for your attention: a wandering mind, app notifications, roommates, etc. Staying concentrated on a single task is hard, but worth it. Concentration can help you get more accomplished and feel more confident in the work you do.
Let's look at some of the factors that commonly affect concentration before diving into some tips for boosting one's attention span.
Factors affecting concentration
There are so many different factors that can affect one's concentration and attention span, such as health conditions or aspects of your work environment. Learning the common factors that might result in your mind wandering helps know you what to look out for — and little ways you can adjust your lifestyle to improve your brain health.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, too quiet spaces can have as negative of an impact on one’s ability to concentrate as too noisy places! This is why a lot of people opt to work in a coffee shop, or have classical music or nature sounds playing in the background of their home office. Additional factors like temperature, light, and ambiance of a space can have a big impact on a person’s quality of work, especially given your personal productivity preferences.
Distractions can come in a host of shapes and forms. Whether it’s a well-meaning co-worker who stops by your desk a few times a day or social media apps that you can’t help but check every few minutes, there are plenty of distractions looming around the corner. A 2018 study showed that on average, people check their smartphones every 12 minutes.
The quantity of information we have access to can be exhausting to the brain and hamper one’s ability to focus. In fact, a study conducted at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that the IQ of study participants decreased by 10 points when they were faced with persistent distractions. Do your best to minimize distractions — don’t worry, we’ll give tactical advice on how to do that below!
Various mental and physical health conditions
Mental and physical health conditions alike affect brain function. Mental health challenges such as ADHD, anxiety, or depression impact ability to focus, because they can create racing thoughts, foggy brain, or short attention spans. While each of these conditions are unique, they all can bring additional thoughts and worries to mind that will likely distract you throughout the day.
If you feel that you may be living with an undiagnosed mental health condition, such as ADHD, anxiety, or depression, the best way forward is to talk with a medical professional who can help you find a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Physical health conditions can also contribute to a lack of focus. If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, or you’re worried about a diagnosis, it can be challenging to focus for long periods of time.
Your overall wellness has a huge impact on your ability to concentrate on the present moment. Do what you can to improve your well-being, and work with a healthcare professional to get their insight if you have any concerns about your health.
Diet and lifestyle
Diet also contributes to both physical health and mental well-being. Lack of proper nutrition can have an effect on long-term and short-term memory, energy levels throughout the day, and your ability to concentrate.
Not getting enough sleep can also impact your ability to concentrate. When you skimp on sleep, your neurons don’t get the time they need to rest, making it harder for you to focus and access previously learned information. Prioritize sleeping well in order to be best prepared to concentrate during the day.
Physical activity does a lot more for the body than aid in weight loss. Research shows that as little as 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five times a week can help you think more clearly and boost your memory. Think of how much clearer your mind feels after a short walk or even a five-minute break to stretch. Engage in physical activity regularly and see if you notice an uptick in your attention span.
11 tips and tricks to boost attention span
Just as there are many factors that affect concentration, there can be lots of things a person can do to help boost their attention span. Some things, like keeping your phone in a different room, are pretty quick and easy. Others, like making sure you have a good work environment, may take a bit more work to figure out. Ultimately, if it helps you concentrate better, it’s worth trying a few different options. Here are 11 tips to try.
1. Leave your phone in a different room
We all know that text messages, phone calls, and social media notifications can derail your workflow. But research shows that even the mere presence of your phone can stifle your ability to focus.
In a study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, 800 test participants were randomly asked to do one of four things: leave their phone upside down on the desk, put their phone in their pocket, put their phone in their purse, or leave their phone in a different room. In each instance, their devices were set to “silent.” Researchers then asked them to complete a series of tests that required full concentration in order to score well. The study participants whose phones were in a different room far outperformed every other group in the study.
Even with the phone on silent and out of sight, the presence of devices negatively impacted the brain function of study participants. Researchers compared it to the type of distraction one would experience if someone repeatedly heard their name in a conversation that was happening across the room.
2. Use apps to block your time and silence notifications
It’s not always reasonable to leave your phone in another room (maybe you’re working in a coffee shop for instance); In that case, there are apps you can use to help you concentrate better. Clockwise does this by scheduling Focus Time in your day to stay distraction-free and minimize the number of times you need to switch between tasks.
3. Drink a cup of coffee
Research shows that caffeine improves concentration. Caffeine stimulates the brain’s central nervous system and boosts the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, in turn, affects the ability to focus and maintain concentration.
For some people, a cup of coffee may result in feeling jittery or experiencing heightened anxiety — if that’s you, opt for a cup of green tea, a mushroom latte, or some dark chocolate as these contain a smaller amount of caffeine.
Just remember to not go overboard on caffeine as it can contribute to dehydration and lead to an overreliance on caffeine.
4. Find your ideal workspace
Your work environment can have a huge impact on the ability to focus on a single task for a long period of time. Many people find the quiet hum of a coffee shop to be an environment conducive to deep concentration. Although there are conversations happening around you, they aren’t related to your work or living space and so it becomes a soft background noise. Working from a coffee shop also allows you to easily pick up that cup of coffee that could boost concentration!
If you’re working from home, make sure you have a pleasant space you enjoy working in. Keep your desk clutter-free so that it isn’t a source of stress. Try turning on some classical music or play nature sounds that will be calming and help boost concentration. Many people enjoy using a standing desk or ergonomic chair to keep their body feeling good while they work. If possible, brighten up your workspace with inspiring artwork or photos of people and places you love.
5. Play brain training games
Brain training games have been shown to improve cognitive abilities in adults and children alike. These would include things like chess, sudoku, or jigsaw puzzles. Unlike some of the other options on this list, this is not a “quick fix” solution, but the benefits will become evident over long periods of time. Researchers found that study participants who spent 15 minutes per day for five days a week benefited from it.
In addition to playing a game of chess, you can also find brain training games online. Lumosity offers users a large selection of scientifically backed games, or you might want to try out the popular word game, Wordle.
6. Eat Omega-3 rich food
As we already talked about, lifestyle and diet can have a huge impact on one's memory over time as well as cognitive function in the moment. Researchers have found that Omega-3 fatty acids can have positive effects on people’s brain health both in the short-term and long-term.
Foods with high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Fish such as salmon or trout
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
7. Don’t skip breakfast
Do you ever find yourself getting distracted because you’re a bit hungry throughout the day? Start your day by eating a breakfast filled with proteins and fibers that will help keep you full for a long time. And be sure to drink plenty of water as dehydration can be another distraction throughout the day. Fueling your body well will allow you to approach challenges with a clear view and good problem-solving abilities.
8. Practice meditation
Meditation is a great way to concentrate better over time. It boosts concentration skills by helping you become centered and calm. As you are meditating, notice if your mind is wandering and direct it back to the present moment. While working, break up long periods of time with short breaks. Use these breaks to practice deep breathing and mindfulness. You can do this on your own, or by using a mindfulness app like Headspace to guide your meditation.
9. Get good sleep
As we discussed, getting enough sleep is another effective way to boost concentration. Many things can have a negative impact on one’s sleep — alcohol consumption before bed, blue light from electronic devices, and exercising late in the day.
One of the best ways to improve your sleep quality is by creating a nighttime routine. This signals to your body that you’re starting to unwind for the night. A good nighttime routine might include a warm mug of chamomile tea or some reflective journaling along with brushing your teeth and putting on some cozy pj’s.
10. Take a five-minute break
Sometimes difficulty concentrating is the brain’s way of telling you to take a break — honor that. Take a five-minute break. Step away from the computer, stretch your legs, get a snack, or practice meditation. This can boost concentration and allow you to concentrate better for the rest of the day.
Be sure to set a timer for a specific time so that a five-minute break doesn’t turn into 20 minutes. Don’t be scared to take a break — it can have a positive impact on the rest of your day. And you deserve it!
11. Set your top priorities
Author Nora Roberts was part of a panel Q&A where she was asked how she balances all the different aspects of life — family, self-care, professional, and everything in-between. She said that while you’re juggling all the different aspects of life, the key is to realize that some balls are made of glass while others are made of plastic. Some balls can drop and the world will keep spinning, while others will have more serious consequences.
So many things in the world are vying for your attention, and most of the time they aren’t “good” or “bad” things, because life is much more complicated than that. Having a lot to do can feel overwhelming, which can lead to procrastination or multitasking, which research shows is less efficient than working on one task at a time. Next time you’re juggling a lot at once, think about which balls are made of glass, and prioritize those.
Write a list of everything you want to get done throughout the day. Then, make a second list that only has your top priorities for the day. Focus on a single task at a time until you accomplish those things before moving on to other tasks. This way you’ll end the day having taken care of the most time-sensitive or top priority items.
Boosting concentration isn’t easy, but it’s worth it
Boosting concentration can have a positive effect on so many other areas of life. By concentrating better, you will be able to get more done in a shorter amount of time, and feel more confident in the work you do.
Sometimes one of the biggest obstacles to deep focus is the lack of uninterrupted time in one’s day. Try Clockwise for free, and give yourself the gift of more time!