It takes some brain training and identifying what’s most important so that you can concentrate better on what you need to do.
If you need practical ideas on how to increase concentration in your everyday life, start with these 5 tips:
- Train your brain to concentrate on what’s important
- Make the most of your day so your brain can shine
- Use a timer to work more effectively in less time
- Remove all distractions that threaten your work
- Teach the most important concepts you’ve learned
Tip #1. Train your brain to concentrate on what’s important.
Sometimes all it takes is to get your brain on board for what you need to focus on. Start with this:
- Turn everything you you’re working on into a choice instead of a chore.Instead of saying, “I have to do it!” tell yourself, “I really want to do this and learn how to do it better!” The benefit is that it gives you a greater sense of control over your work, instead of feeling like you’re merely reacting to it.
- Always know the reason behind doing something. A simple reminder can be asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Make the connection with the initial reasons you started working on your task, goal, or schedule. Maybe you’re working towards graduation from college, finishing a project at work, helping someone solve a problem, etc.
- Visualize your work and making progress. It’s a technique called building a mental model, where you imagine in detail what you expect to learn, read, or do. You should focus on all the steps you will be doing. If you’re studying, visualize covering certain chapters, taking notes on the important concepts, writing down questions you need to research some more. By telling yourself a story on what’s ahead, you map out the entire learning process in a way that’s easier for your brain to understand.
Tip #2. Make the most of your day so your brain can shine.
You can optimize your brain performance by working smarter in less time instead of harder. Try this: for one week, keep a log of all mental activities you perform in the morning, midday, afternoon and evening. You will noticeat a certain time of day. Then, adjust your schedule depending on what’s right for your brain and when. Here’s how this works in real time:
- Mornings can be great for doing deep work, i.e. work that requires a lot of your concentration. Some scientists call this the brain’s peak performance time, and it’s roughly 2-4 hours after we wake up. So, for example, if you wake up at 6, your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m. Block this time off for your analytical brain to perform the most complex tasks, such as learning new material, writing, reviewing, recalling, problem-solving.
- Early afternoons are great for collaborating. This covers the 12-4 p.m. time range, when you take a lunch break and the few hours after, when you are more likely to socialize. It’s a good time of day to brainstorm ideas with others and work together on projects where you can provide feedback and get recommendations on your work.
- Evenings can be scheduled for strategic thinking. This time (anywhere after 6 p.m.) is when the brain eases into a different tempo when it can be more creative. Use this time to set goals of what you want to do with all the knowledge you’re acquiring. For example, if you’re studying for an exam, think about what you will do after graduation, which career you see for yourself, which jobs you’d like to apply for, etc. It’s a great time for creating and contemplating the big picture.
Tip #3. Use a timer to work more effectively in less time.
Why would you spend hours working without taking any breaks? If you do, you’re more likely to lose concentration and give in to distractions. Manage your time better and make it easier to do your work. Here’s what can work:
- Use a timer to divide up your work into manageable increments (try 1 hour) that will allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way.
- Try the which consists of 25 minute blocks of time, followed by 5 minute breaks.
- When you’ve completed one segment, step away from your desk and do something unrelated to work to give your brain a chance to rest: get some fresh air or grab a cup of coffee or tea.
Tip #4. Remove all distractions that threaten your work.
Distractions can affect your concentration without you even noticing. This goes for reading email and constantly checking your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feed. In order to boost your concentration, take deliberate action to avoid distractions:
- Find a place where you won’t be disturbed. If you’re working from home, it can be your desk, a comfortable couch, or a big armchair. If you’re at the library, it might be a table tucked away in the back, next to a wall.
- Block away environmental noise with noise-cancelling headphones, and listen to music (classical music can boost concentration; try Mozart or Chopin). If you’d rather work quietly, get a pair of soft silicone ear plugs.
- Have a small cup of coffee or green tea. Getting a caffeine boost can help increase focus. Keep in mind that it usually takes about 30 minutes to kick in, so time it well by drinking a cup ahead of time before you need to start your most focused work.
- Set your phone to Airplane mode when you need to focus without any disturbances.
- Check your email and social media apps only 2–3 times a day (around lunchtime, later in the afternoon, and evening).
- Avoid browsing the Internet or reading the daily news; leave these activities for later after you’ve completed what you need to do.
- Take a walk to boost memory and increase focus. Physical exercise, even if it is targeted and short, improves your brain’s cognitive performance, problem solving ability, and even boosts long-term memory. Try to be outside for 30 minutes without checking your phone or talking to anyone. It’s an excellent way to help your brain consolidate what you’ve absorbed during your work session.
Tip #5. Teach the most important concepts to focus and solidify knowledge of new material.
When you teach what you’ve learned, you strengthen your knowledge of the study material and you recall what you’ve learned more effectively. Start with this:
- Get an audience: It can be a close friend, study partner or family member. Too shy to speak to anyone? Pretend you have a couple of invisible students who need to learn what you just covered, or talk to your dog. The bonus: it will probably be the most attentive audience you’ll ever have!
- Prepare your teaching material: Take a large sheet of white paper, then tape it to your bedroom wall at eye level. Be sure you have some leg room to stand in front of it. Have a pen handy, and a thick black marker or different colored highlighters to underline important concepts.
- Start talking: Write an outline of the most important points you’ve learned, then go over them one by one. To make it more interactive, draw diagrams on the side and give a few examples. At the end, summarize the key parts of your lecture and highlight these sections with your thick marker or highlighter which helps you recall details better and solidify the new material.