Ways to improve focus and concentration
Whether working on a deadline, a project or studying for an important exam, staying focused and concentrated is something we all strive to achieve. But it’s not always easy. From small distractions like phone calls or texts, to bigger distractions like a beautiful sunny day, how can we train ourselves to stop procrastinating, manage our time wisely and actually stay focused on a task?
Here are RESCUE’s top tips to help you improve your focus, concentration, and mental energy so that you can calmly work through anything!
1. Natural cognitive enhancers
While improving our concentration isn’t as easy as flipping a switch in our brains, the good news is that there are ways we can train our brain and improve cognitive function naturally.
Eat right and don’t skip any meals, especially breakfast. Good nutrition fuels your brain as well as your body. Foods that include omega-3 fatty acid, such as oily fish, antioxidants in blueberries, vitamin K in broccoli, flavonoids in dark chocolate, vitamin E in nuts, and zinc, iron and magnesium in pumpkin seeds are examples of nutrients and foods that could help improve our memory, focus and cognitive function over time.
Also make sure you keep hydrated as your brain can only function at its best when hydrated. When in a state of stress, our bodies are expecting a physical response – fight or flight. Engaging in physical activity such as short walks in the park, going to the gym or simply some stretching is the best way to burn off your stress, stay calm and happy and re-gain focus.
Certain games can also help us improve our concentration, such as sudoku, chess, puzzles, crossword puzzles, word searches and memory games. Maybe challenge yourself to playing 5 minutes of a cognitive game every day and see how you feel, you might even find it relaxing and fun!
If you’ve never tried meditation before, now’s the perfect time to start! It can offer many benefits, including improved concentration, focus, mood and can help manage stress levels. Starting out with meditation can sometimes be a bit intimidating, but there are plenty of quick guided meditation videos on YouTube to get you going.
Finally, if your brain is starting to go a bit fuzzy or you’re finding yourself reaching for your phone or staring at a wall for ages, try to leave your desk, even if just for a few minutes. Taking a quick walk through nature can also be a great way to relieve some stress and refocus your energy before getting back to work.
2. Maintain your focus
Though we might sometimes feel like we can put a lot of energy into our work for short periods of time, things get a little trickier when we need to be working or studying for longer. Maintaining our focus throughout the day is a bit like the story of the turtle and the hare. We want to ensure that we are working sustainably, so that we can maximise our energy and our focus all day long.
Firstly, make sure you’re avoiding technology, television or social media when you are studying or working. Keep your study room clean and clear to avoid distractions.
It is important to schedule your work. Draw up a balanced and realistic schedule and stick to it. Working or studying for long periods of time will not benefit you in the long term as human brains can only maintain concentration for 90 minutes at one time. Have regular breaks and schedule time to do the things you enjoy. Also, be aware of when you work best; some people prefer working early in the morning and others prefer to stay up late. When are you most productive?
If you’re up for trying something a bit different, you could try out Pomodoro technique videos on YouTube. They consist of 2 hour sessions split up into 25 minute work periods and 5 minute break periods and can be great for maintaining your focus and mental energy for longer!
3. Sleep and stress
Concentration is the amount of mental effort and energy that you put towards something you’re working on and can easily be affected by, and contribute to, our sleep and stress cycle. If you find that you are feeling stressed, allow yourself a break to spend some time with your relatives or your friends. Some social interaction will take your mind off of work or revision for a while and give you a mental break. You can then go back to work feeling reenergised and focused. Also, don’t be afraid to get some help. Teaching is often the best way of learning; why not try to teach/present different topics to different friends or colleagues to bounce off ideas and move along with your project?
Sleep is so important to maintain good mental and physical health, reduce stress and improve our ability to focus the next day. It is natures healer; the opportunity for your brain and body to repair themselves from the stresses of the day and build and develop for the future. Make sure that you’re adopting good sleep hygiene before bed.
Though you might be tempted to work or study well into the night, this will only serve to decrease your quality of sleep and increase your stress levels, resulting in decreased energy and productivity the next day.
Here are some tips to set up a healthy bedtime routine:
- Shut down all electronic devices at least an hour before bed
- Spend 5-10 minutes every evening practising meditation or breathing exercises
- Write a to-do list for the next day an hour or more before bedtime, then put it away and don’t look at it until the next day. Tell yourself that whatever you need to do can get done in the morning and try to let it go for the time being.
- Eat a healthy, balanced dinner.
- Though you might be tempted by that 2pm coffee, try to avoid it and have a decaf coffee or an herbal tea instead.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Create a relaxing sleep environment by dimming the lights, lighting some candles, shutting the curtains, and maybe even playing some calming music.