Not an easy task, right? There’s constantly something that’s standing in our way as we’re trying to pay attention to the task in front of us: there are digital distractions like out mobile phones and incoming emails, and real-life situations like people or environmental noise that disrupt our work. To get around these obstacles, it will help if we practice techniques that can improve our concentration.
Here are 3 techniques that can help you concentrate better on work or study throughout your day.
Technique #1. Get laser-focused on your priorities super early in the day.
To boost concentration in whatever you do, ask yourself this question first thing in the morning: What is the one thing I am committed to completing today? This technique trains your brain to focus on which goals are important to you right now, and it forces you to prioritize the goal you believe to be the most relevant in this moment.
Here’s how to do it.
- First, write it down. Take a large sheet of paper and write the question in big bold letters with a thick marker.
- Next, find a place where you’re most likely to look at it. It can be on your bedroom wall next to your bed or right in front of you when you wake up, or the bathroom wall next to the mirror.
- Look at the question and ask it out loud. You can do that as you’re brushing your teeth or getting dressed.
- Take a minute to consider what’s on your agenda for the day. Then, pick one thing that has top priority for you and give an answer out loud to yourself.
- Start working on your one thing early. If your schedule allows, devote the first hour of the day to it. If that isn’t possible, prepare so you’re ready when the time comes to work on it—think of the steps you’ll need to do, how long you expect it to take, and what you will do if you run into a problem. By thinking through the scenario, you set your strategy in place, making your task easier to complete once it’s underway.
Technique #2. Adjust your attitude so that you can remove your personal obstacles.
Before you start doing anything, whether it’s a completely new or a continued task, it helps to remove any obstacles in your attitude towards your work. The biggest benefits are that you get your brain on board with what you’re going to accomplish, you sharpen your focus, and you tune into the true value of the work you are about to do.
Here’s how to do it.
- Instead of approaching your work as an obligation, turn it into a choice. Nobody can get excited about work if you describe it to yourself as too boring, too hard, or maybe even impossible. Instead, tell yourself, “This is something I really want to learn more about.” The benefit? It gives you a greater sense of control about what you’re doing.
- Remind yourself of the value of your work with this question: Why am I doing this? Make the connection with the initial reasons for working on something to begin with. It can be to learn a new skill, find out more on a particular topic you’re interested in, study to pass an exam so you can graduate and build a career you’re excited about, solve a particular problem you’re currently dealing with, etc.
- Increase focus by visualizing what you’re about to do. This is a technique called building a mental model; you imagine in detail what you expect to see, learn, or read. Be sure to cover all the steps you will be doing. For example, if you are learning something new, visualize covering a certain amount of chapters, taking notes on the important concepts you discover, writing down questions to research later, etc. By telling yourself a story, you train your brain to anticipate next steps and map out the entire learning process so it’s much easier to manage.
Technique #3. Do your “deep work” early in the morning.
Deep work—any kind of analytical thinking that requires the most concentration, such as reading, writing, analyzing or problem solving—is one of those mental tasks that requires a different type of concentration from the other more tactical things we do on a regular basis. The benefits of tackling deep work early are that it saves you a lot of time, it taps into your willpower first thing in the morning, and it takes advantage of your energy as soon as you wake up.
Here’s how to do it.
- Set aside 2-4 hours after you wake up for deep work. Many scientists say that this is the brain’s peak performance time. If, for example, you wake up at 7, your peak times are between 9 and 11 a.m. You can extend this time to whenever you have lunch, around midday, if you want to maximize your peak performance hours.
- For one week, keep a log of what you do during your peak times. Are you focusing on your important mental tasks? Are you learning new material, solving complex problems, reading, or writing? For most people, this time is usually spent commuting, checking email, making phone calls, listening to the news, chatting with co-workers or attending meetings.
- Re-evaluate your peak brain performance time. Think of ways to postpone tasks that are less important to your personal and professional development. If you like to stay on top of the latest news, save this activity for your lunch break. If emails are waiting in your inbox, don’t give in immediately to the urge to read them all—choose 2 blocks of time to read them, one mid-afternoon and one closer to the end of your workday. You’ll feel less overwhelmed and more in control of your time, allowing you to concentrate on your top priorities.