Concentrating can sometimes be a challenge, but steps can be taken to enhance your ability to concentrate.
On an average day, Americans are bombarded with an estimated 34 gigabytes of information and 100,500 words. Meanwhile, office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes, while it takes 25 minutes, on average, to get back to the task they were working on before the interruption. It is therefore no surprise that our ability to focus is withering due to these endless distractions.
Maintaining attention allows us to construct our internal world in such a way that the thoughts, motivations, and emotions that are the most relevant to our goals will have priority in our brains.
The ability to sustain attention begins at an early age and contributes to success throughout people's lives. Several factors during childhood and adolescence can enhance or impair the development of skills that enable you to focus for extended periods.
Research has indicated that preschoolers and kindergartners who are farsighted often have a hard time paying attention, which could increase their risk of slipping behind in school.
In adolescents, binge drinking is thought to interrupt normal brain growth in the frontal brain areas that are linked to high-level thoughts, including organization and planning. Heavy alcohol use may therefore affect a teenager's ability to perform in school and sports, and these effects could be long-lasting.
Regardless of upbringing or social and work-based distractions, there are some steps that you can take to harness your brain at its best and channel your focus to complete tasks. Here are Medical News Today's tactics to help you improve your concentration quickly and effectively.
1. Get regular 'green time'
A dose of nature could be just what the doctor ordered when trying to improve your attention span and ability to concentrate.
Add some greenery to your office to increase concentration levels in the workplace.
Research suggests that exposure to natural surroundings, including green spaces, may prove beneficial for children's brain development.
In a study, children aged 4–5 to 7 years of age with more green space around their homes scored better in attention tests. These results underline the importance of expanding green areas in cities to support children's health and brain development.
Increased concentration from green exposure does not stop during childhood. Research has demonstrated that glancing at greenery can also markedly boost concentration levels and productivity in college and the workplace.
Students were asked to conduct a mundane task and given a 40-second break midway through to view either a bare concrete roof or a flowering meadow green roof. Individuals who glanced at the meadow scene made considerably fewer errors and exhibited superior concentration levels on the remaining half of the task than those who observed the concrete scene.
Another study showed that enriching a bare office with plants increased the productivity of workers by 15 percent. The presence of greenery increased workplace satisfaction, perceived air quality, and reported levels of concentration.
The researcher's analysis details that plants may be beneficial because a green office promotes employees' work engagement by making them more cognitively, emotionally, and physically involved in their work.
You may not have the luxury of a rooftop garden or an office laden with plants, but spending time outside someplace green, or eating your lunch in the park each day, could make a significant difference to your concentration.
2. Take a break
If you are lucky enough to have high working memory capacity, then you should have no problem ignoring distractions and staying focused on tasks. But for the rest of us, tuning out background distractions can be challenging.
Evidence suggests that taking a break from the following distractions could enhance your ability to concentrate.
Take a vacation from email, cell phone notifications, and social media to boost concentration.
Controlling the times you log in to email — work or personal — and batching messages, among other strategies, could help to boost on-the-job productivity.
A study found that people who read emails throughout the day switched screen twice as often and were in an ongoing state of high alert with a constant heart rate. When email was removed from these people for 5 days, their heart rate returned to a natural, variable one.
The authors concluded that taking an email vacation significantly decreases stress and improves concentration and focus.
Cell phone notifications
Whether you are alerted to text or an incoming call by an alarm, vibration, or trendy ringtone, a cell phone notification can distract you enough to impair your ability to concentrate on a task.
In fact, the distraction caused by a notification is just as off-putting as using your cell phone to make calls or send a text message, according to research. A team discovered that while notifications are short in duration, they tend to trigger task-irrelevant thoughts or mind wandering that damages task performance.
The team explained that task performance takes a hit because humans have a limited capacity for attention that needs to be split between tasks. The researchers also emphasized that just being aware of a missed text or call can have the same effect.
If you need to stay on track and focused, it might be worth either turning off your cell phone, setting it to silent, or putting it away somewhere that you cannot see it.
The curiosity of checking personal social media accounts can often be overwhelming, but research indicates that there are negative consequences when using social media during office hours.
Approximately 2.8 billion people worldwide use social media, and many of those use social media for personal purpose while at work. Using social media during working hours has been revealed to have an adverse effect on self-reported work performance and concentration, and the well-being of the organization.
Fighting the urge to use social media while you need to concentrate may help to improve your productivity and concentration.
Other research demonstrates how to take the best type of break to boost energy, motivation, and concentration. Researchers recommend taking:
- a mid-morning break to replenish concentration
- better breaks by doing something you enjoy, which should make your break more restful, provide better recovery, and help you to come back to worked focused
- frequent short breaks to facilitate recovery
Taking breaks earlier in the day and doing preferred activities lead to better health, job satisfaction, and revival of energy, motivation, and concentration. Workers also experienced fewer headaches, eyestrain, and lower back pain after their break.
3. Rethink your environment
Our environment plays a significant role in how well we are able to concentrate. It is known that by decluttering your home or tidying your desk, your mind also feels more orderly, free, and able to think more clearly.
You can make changes to your environment so that it is favorable for sustaining concentration.
Design your own work area to improve your productivity.
Design your own work space. Whether you have full control over the design of your work space or can embellish your desk with just a few personal items, having control over our work environment can help to improve productivity.
A study compared people who completed a series of tasks in a bare and functional office space, an office decorated with plants and pictures, and an office in which the individual designed the space.
People who were in a space with plants and pictures were 17 percent more productive than those in bare office, while those who designed their own spaces were 32 percent more productive than the workers at a functional desk.
Listen to Baroque classical music. In a study of radiologist's work lives, it was found that listening to Baroque classical music improved mood and job satisfaction and potentially improved diagnostic efficiency, accuracy, and productivity.
Play natural sounds. If Baroque music is not your thing, playing natural sounds could also benefit concentration. Researchers revealed that playing sounds from nature in the office, such as flowing water, could enhance cognitive abilities and optimize the ability to concentrate.
Inhale rosemary aroma. Research has suggested that exposure to rosemary aroma may improve speed and accuracy of cognitive performance.
4. Try brain training
Problem-solving exercises, brain training methods, and even video games could all have a positive, negative effect, or no effect at all on concentration, depending on which study you read.
Frequently doing crosswords could help to improve attention and concentration.
Recent research has indicated that people who often do word puzzles, such as crosswords, have better brain function later in life.
Researchers found direct relationships between how often pople used word puzzles and the speed and accuracy of performance on tasks assessing reasoning, memory, and attention.
A study has emphasized that it matters what type of brain training you are doing to improve memory and attention. Researchers compared two brain-training methods called "dual n-back" and "complex span."
Participants who practiced dual n-back demonstrated a 30 percent improvement in their working memory — almost double the gains made by the complex span group.
Dual n-back is a memory sequence test wherein individuals have to remember a sequence of auditory and visual stimuli that are updated continuously.
Playing video games has been shown to cause changes in many regions of the brain. Researchers discovered that video game use altered the brain regions that are responsible for visuospatial skills and attention and made them work more efficiently.
5. Enhance your well-being
Physical activity, dietary choices, and weight are all factors that can contribute to how well you function and your concentration levels. For example, if you skip breakfast, it is unlikely that by lunchtime you will be able to perform tasks to the best of your ability due to hunger pangs.
Looking after your well-being, staying active, and eating concentration-boosting foods can all help toward improving concentration.
To increase your ability to concentrate, you might want to add some walnuts, avocados, and chocolate to your dietary repertoire.
Avocados may help to enhance cognitive measures, including memory and attention.
Walnuts may improve performance on tests for cognitive function, including those assessing information processing speed, memory, and concentration.
Avocados. Consuming one avocado every day may help improve cognitive function due to an upsurge in lutein levels in the eye and brain. Researchers uncovered that eating an avocado daily enhanced measures of cognitive skills, including processing speed, memory, and attention.
Chocolate — or specifically the cocoa bean — is rich in flavanols, which are compounds that have neuroprotective effects. Cocoa flavanols may help to improve cognitive processing speed, working memory, and attention when ingested for between 5 days and 3 months.
Exercise for concentration
Research has revealed that individuals who practice sport can perform better on cognitive tasks than those with bad physical health. When compared with a group who led a more sedentary lifestyle, the group who were in good physical condition performed better on tasks testing sustained attention.
A study of older adults also specified that exercise improved brain function. All participants who exercised for between 75 minutes and 225 minutes per week showed elevated attention levels and an increased ability to focus.
Yoga may significantly improve energy levels and brain function. Investigators found that practicing Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation for 25 minutes per day boosted the regions of the brain associated with goal-directed behavior and allowed participants to focus more easily.
Check your weight
Research unearthed a connection between weight loss and improved memory and concentration.
Researchers say that factors such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes, which often result from obesity, might impair the brain. They suggest that as people get back to a healthy weight and the associated problems disappear, their cognitive issues will vanish, too.
If you have tried all the above and you are still wrestling with your inability to concentrate, grab yourself a large coffee. Caffeine has been shown to affect the alerting and executive control networks of the brain and has clear beneficial effects on concentration and attention.