In this modern age, finding a way to stay seems to have gotten a lot harder. Mobile devices and social media seem to have taken hostage our attention spans and it seems harder and harder to stay focused on a task or assignment. Add the recent COVID pandemic and the blurring of the lines between work time and home time and it’s no wonder why our ability to focus has diminished in recent times.
That doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom and we are forever at the mercy of limited attention levels. There are many ways to boost your focus levels even if you have been really struggling to focus. Below we go through some tips to help improve your focus.
1. Eliminate distractions
In an ideal world when you want (or need) to focus you’d like to call upon this power like turning on a switch.
Unfortunately the real world gets in the way of this and can make focus rather difficult, particularly for long stretches.
While our attention spans are becoming some of the shortest in history, the demands on our time are ever increasing.
Whilst the easy (and most obvious) answer for improving focus is to eliminate distractions, this is easier said than done. Whilst we highlighted some of the reasons above, for many life seems to be cramming in more tasks than we previously handled. More things are fighting for our attention than ever before and it’s harder to eliminate important distractions than the non important ones. Some distraction eliminations could include:
- Turn off notifications
This could be via your computer, mobile phone or any device you are trying to work from. If you are at work or trying to complete an important task all social media and phone notifications (with the exception of close friends and family) should be turned off. Your life won’t change if you miss the latest social media post by one of your favorite influencers, it’s time to take control of your focus rather than the other way around.
- Limit your time on mobile devices and social media
To help boost your attention levels (as well as other health benefits) you should be looking to reduce time on mobile devices and laptops and definitely pull yourself away from these when you are within 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Life is too short to be mindlessly wasting hours of your life scrolling through your favorite social media app. Set a time limit to catch up and use the rest of your time on meaningful tasks.
- Set boundaries
Whether it’s at home, work or school, know what you want to achieve, roughly how long you will need to do this and block out this focus time and make sure people in your world know that you are to be uninterrupted during this time.
It’s so easy for people to take up your time, however in a lot of these cases, you let these people take up your time and it’s up to you to set boundaries so your time isn’t taken up by needless interruptions. With the recent COVID pandemic leading to a massive increase of people working from home, this also led to less focus on work related tasks.
While working from home obviously had its benefits, interruptions from family members, pets, neighbors ate into work productivity and to get the most of your time set boundaries and implement some of the tips mentioned above.
2. Use a calendar and guard it diligently
Everyone has 24 hours in a day, not everyone uses it efficiently. If you don’t control your calendar, opportunistic people will leach on your time like a vampire chasing blood. Effective time management is one of the most important skills you can learn.
Review a typical day or week of yours then go through a calendar and set up a template day or week that you can follow to be most efficient.
When setting up your ideal day/week, break your calendar up into non-negotiables (such as work and family time), semi important (such as fitness workouts or catching up with friends) and non important activities (such as watching tv or using the internet). After doing this, other calendar suggestions include:
- Plan out your day
Know how productive your day will be, the hours that you are more productive and the times of the day that you are less likely to be interrupted to get quality work completed. For a lot of people tackling jobs or tasks that require deep focus are typically started earlier in the day. This could be due to less distractions, higher energy levels or a preference for early morning work.
Alternatively you may work better in the afternoon so plan your day accordingly. Know what works best for you and structure your day accordingly. Make sure you put free/down time in your calendar.
- Use a family calendar
Involve your family with your calendar and as a family plan out joint time and activities.
You will be more focused on your stuff and you will be more present with your family time. This can be either via app or you can print out a copy and put it up on the fridge or on the wall in a prominent spot.
- Block out time in your work calendar for high focus activities
Once you’ve planned out all of the above and you have time to lock in for focused activity, block out time in your personal or work calendar and let others know that you can’t be interrupted unless it is an absolute emergency.
Only use this for important tasks when you really need to block out time to focus. Using this method for a lot of your work day can annoy family members, alienate staff and your superiors if you misuse this privilege.
3. Try to work on something you like or enjoy doing
Short and simple, if you work on something you like or enjoy doing, your focus will increase. On the flipside, if you are working in a job you hate or doing an activity that is the worst then it’s likely your focus won’t automatically be where it should be.
I know that life doesn’t always allow this, particularly when you are younger however as you get older try to gravitate to meaningful work or pursuits. The more something means to you the more likely your efforts and focus will be higher. Whether this is a career or finding something in your spare time such as a hobby or even volunteering.
Not only will your focus improve when doing meaningful and enjoyable tasks or jobs, this will also feel more meaningful and important to you on a deeper level and likely lead to improved happiness and contentment with life.
4. Get help with modern technology
Whilst some parts of modern technology have contributed to a decline in focus, there are some parts of this technology that can help with your focus. Some technology help include:
- Productivity apps such as Brain.fm
Brain.fm is a fantastic product that can bring a level of focus that you may not have thought you could achieve. We’ve written extensively about brain.fm here, here and here, however in short brain.fm creates music that elevates or lowers your brain waves to the activity that you are looking to achieve. For example if you are looking for focus to complete an urgent work report, select the brain.fm app on your phone, choose the deep focus option on the brain.fm app, plug in your headphones and you will be amazed with the focus you can achieve listening to this tailored music.
Brain fm offers deep focus, relaxation, meditation and sleep music, comes with a 72 hour free trial ($49.99 USD per annum) and is a highly recommended and serious app you should at least trial to help with your focus.
There are other productivity apps on the market and while we recommend brain.fm (use the discount code yourgoalsyourlife for a 20% discount off the annual price) find the best app that works for you.
- Noise reduction/canceling headphones
Whether it’s the latest inner ear Apple AirPods Pro noise canceling headphones or the over ear Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, investing in a quality set of noise canceling headphones is bound to help with your focus if using a product such as brain.fm or music/ audio that you go to to help with focus.
These headphones are amazing at blocking out all outside noise such as loud coworkers or noisy public transport passengers. They are also great to use while flying if you want to drown out the airplane noise or your annoying seat neighbor.
- Online tools such as a Countdown Timers
If you have a specific period of time you need to lock in for having a countdown time (along with the brain.fm and noise canceling headphone suggestions above) are also a great tip to help focus and work to a deadline. We use this digital egg timer however there are similar options online.
- Calendar app
We touched on planning your day and blocking out sections of your day to complete focused tasks and we recommend downloading a quality calendar app that can synchronize with your work calendar or at least is used by your family. Lock in all family tasks/events that you are required for, lock in your private time or time that you aren’t to be interpreted as this will help with making your day/week run more efficiently. A simple and free app is Google Calendar however there are plenty of free (and paid) options available.
5. Focus on being healthy
This means getting sufficient sleep, eating healthy and avoiding a diet of processed food or high in sugar.
Avoiding too many stimulants such as coffee (which can help for short bursts of focus) however lead to significant let downs or crashes (i.e coming off a sugar high). Other health tips to look at to improve your focus could include the following:
Sleep is one of the most important activities anyone can do and we’ve written about this previously. Ask any new parent or anyone who has partied on a week night and has to back up the next morning at work knows the importance of sleep. The closer you are to being fully rested, the more productive your day will be, the more focused you will likely be and you’ll probably be happier all things considered.
Basic sleep tips should include some of the below:
- Regular nightly sleep time and wake up time
The sooner you lock in a regular sleep time, the better your sleep will likely become. Where possible try and keep the same sleep and wake up time you use during the work week for the weekend.
- Sleep routine
Combining the above point, setting up a good sleep routine will help you get a better sleep. Look to wind down at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep (including not using mobile devices in this period) so your brain starts to associate this routine with sleep.
- Setting your alarm to wake you after a 90 minute sleep cycle
For most people they tend to sleep in 90 minute cycles. From wake down to deep sleep back up to waking state, this process takes about 90 minutes for most people. A tip to avoid waking up groggy and sleepy is to set your waking alarm to coincide with the end of one of these 90 minute cycles.
For most people it is total sleep of either 6 hours (4 90 minute cycles), 7 and a half hours (5 90 minute cycles) or for the lucky people 9 hours (6 90 minute cycles).
So if you are looking to wake up at 6am to coincide with a sleep cycle upon waking you’d go to bed at either 9pm (for 9 hours sleep), 10.30pm (for 7 and a half hours sleep) or 12am (for 6 hours sleep).
- Sleeping in a quiet cool dark room
This should form part of your sleep routine however for most people a good night sleep happens in a cool darkened room with no noise distractions. Ideally you will also have a comfortable mattress, pillows and sheets/blankets.
- Limit mobile device use at night
Most experts suggest eliminating device use at least 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime to allow for a productive sleep. As mentioned above this should be part of your nightly sleep routine.
- Limit late night food and alcohol
Alcohol affects your ability to sleep as does having your body digest food as you are trying to sleep. Similar to coffee, learn what time works for you for the latest you can have food or alcohol for it not to affect your sleep.
- Limit late coffees
Coffee is a stimulant and for most people having a coffee or two at night is likely to affect sleep. Again get to know what works for you and test out what is the latest in the day you can have a coffee and it does not affect your sleep.
- Know your body
Whilst there is some great technology to help your sleep, only you know what works best for you. This could be a certain amount of sleep, a certain time to wake up or a certain time to go to bed.
Once you’ve gotten a good understanding of what works for you sleep wise, start tracking your sleep using technology apps such as Sleep Cycle.
These sleep apps connect to your phone or mobile device’s microphone and can record your breathing and sounds during your sleep. That way you can track your sleep cycle through the night to really drill down on whether you had a quality night’s sleep.
These apps can also record sounds such as coughing and snoring and can pick up if there is anything underlying (healthwise) that is affecting your sleep.
We also suggest using a sleep journal using the old fashion paper and pen, tracking the time you went to bed, the time you woke up and how refreshed you felt when waking up along with any pointers that improved or affected your sleep from your previous days activities.
Eating a healthy diet will have positive effects on your sleep. Not only will the healthy diet directly help with your sleep, the other benefits will also help maintain a healthy weight, given that weight (or being overweight) can detract from quality sleep and is a main factor in health issues such as sleep apnoea.
Drink plenty of water and make sure you aren’t dehydrated throughout the day. On the flip side, limit significant water intake before bed so as not to affect your sleep.
Same with the diet section above, regular exercise not only contributes to you maintaining a health weight it also helps improve your overall well-being. The better you feel, the more focus you will be able to use.
Exercising outdoors and establishing that connection with nature is a great repairer to your body, to your focus and for your overall well being.
- Unplug regularly
Whether this is from social media, technology or even spending time in nature, stepping back to refresh and recharge will allow you to get more focused when you return to tasks or activities that require your focus. For some it can be a swim in the ocean or a hike in nature.
For others it could be a meditation session or even catching up with friends. Whatever your unplug or go to relaxation activity is, make sure you are doing a lot of it to recharge your batteries.
We also touched on unplugging from social media for stretches of time and this in itself will help restore your focus more than most of the suggestions above. Like most things, moderation is fine, excess isn’t good. If your social media or digital device use is extreme then give yourself a digital or social media detox and set boundaries around your future use.
Whilst it’s not easy to stay focused for long stretches following some of the tips above will get you into the productive zone and hopefully produce output you’ve not produced in years. Whilst staying focused for longer will help you achieve at a higher level, make sure you do take time out to replenish and relax which will allow you to reach peak productivity when you next need it.