You probably know many of the techniques that will be introduced here. They’re methods most people know, but we fail to implement them. Sometimes, this is simply because we don’t understand just how important they can be in boosting focus and concentration.
You’ll see some techniques you’re already using and find a few that you can easily implement in your daily life. Use this as a toolbox of techniques and choose those that are most feasible and effective for you.
1.Tips to Boost Your Brain Power
Studies have consistently shown that regular exercise significantly improves focus and concentration. The guideline usually given for exercise is to get enough exercise three times a week that you break into a sweat.
Actually, more moderate exercise more frequently can have an even more pronounced effect. There are many things you can do daily without much effort (no need to break into a sweat here) such as:
- Going on a few short walks throughout the day (the motion of the walk itself can help you improve your focus as well).
- Standing at your desk or taking a short walk around the office frequently.
- Stretching before and after work, or in the morning after waking up and at night right before bed.
If you decide to start exercising, make sure that you do it moderately. Don’t take a 2-hour walk the first day.
The source of lack of focus is often the barrage of technological communications we face all day every day. A good way to regain focus is to unplug for a set period of time each day. Turn everything off and engage yourself in some activity that’s not tech-related, such as reading a book, cleaning, going for a walk, etc. Give yourself some “quiet time” free of high-tech noise.
Get in Touch with Nature
Go to a natural area near your house or office and spend some quality time in solitude surrounded by nature. Like the last technique we mentioned, you’ll get the benefit of a break from technology. But you’ll also feel your senses heightened by the natural environment and all of its color, movement and sounds.
You can never take too many breaks. You should take a break from work at least once per hour. These should be short breaks where you just get away from the task at hand for a few minutes. Stand up and move to another room or make some other change of environment if possible.
If you take a break after you already feel burnt out, it’s much harder to recover. The key is to take short breaks before you feel tired. Take a break before you feel that you need it and you’ll keep your momentum.
The key to making caffeine work for you is to use it in moderation. Studies show that a little bit of caffeine helps the brain to function more efficiently (most coffee drinkers understand this on an experiential level). But too much caffeine leads to fatigue and loss of concentration.
Limit your caffeine consumption to one or two caffeinated beverages per day. Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon or evening because it can interfere with sleep.
A great alternative to coffee for a perk-up is water. Fluids, and especially water, help you maintain your energy level. Dehydration leads to reduced focus, as well as possibly more severe problems like headaches or nausea.
Sleep is a major factor in your brain’s overall functioning. If you don’t get enough sleep or if you don’t sleep well, you’ll be unable to focus the next day, and you’ll probably be irritable as well.
Many of us who are trying to be as productive as possible get into a vicious cycle of too much coffee, too little exercise, and not enough sleep. All of this is related. If you exercise regularly, you’ll reduce your stress level and sleep better.
How much sleep is enough? This depends on several factors. First, everyone has different needs when it comes to sleep. Doctors tend to recommend eight hours, but some people find that they can get by and function perfectly well on five or six. Other people need nine or ten to feel fully “with it” during the day. Find what works for you and stick to it.
What’s often more important than a set number of sleep hours is a set sleep schedule. Whether you’re getting four or eight hours a night, an irregular sleep schedule will tend to interfere with your brain power. Try waking up at the same time each day.
Waking up is hard to do and that’s why it’s good to establish a morning routine. We already discussed waking up at the same time each day. This is a good habit even if you don’t have a regular work schedule to stick to.
Many people find that establishing and following a set morning routine is a good way to greet each day and prepare yourself for the work ahead of you. You should create your own work routine and do what works best for you, but here are some ideas to experiment with:
- Do absolutely nothing for the first hour you’re awake. Sit somewhere with a cup of coffee or tea and just think.
- Start the day with exercise or meditation.
- Start each day with something purely fun and enjoyable to get you into a positive mindset.
- Don’t check email or other electronic communications first thing in the morning, no matter how tempting it is.
- Give yourself a “weekend.” On non-work days, ditch the morning routine and be lazy.
- Add a few organising tasks to your morning routine, such as making or checking a daily task list
Of course, many of us wake up with only enough time to run a toothbrush across our teeth and a comb through our hair before we dash off to work. If this is the case for you, you have a few options. One is to try to wake up earlier. If you can wake up just an hour earlier than “go-time” so that you can establish a morning routine, it will really help your entire day.
If waking up early isn’t possible, try to do at least something that will set the tone for the day, like reading on the train or listening to uplifting music on your commute to work. Try doing a couple of stretches or meditating for even just 3 minutes. Fit in whatever you can.
Your brain needs calories in order to function. When you starve your brain, it doesn’t work properly. It’s not possible to focus on an empty stomach.
Always eat a good breakfast. Make it a filling and balanced breakfast, and keep it low-sugar or sugar-free. If your mornings are too hectic, prepare meals the night before so you only have to heat them up in the morning, or choose meals that are cold and don’t take any preparation. Try to balance convenience with healthy eating choices.
In addition to a good breakfast, you should snack throughout the day. Studies show that small amounts of snacking spaced throughout the day are great for focus. Small snacks are better than big meals, which can make you sleepy and tinker with your blood sugar level.
When you’re tired or unable to focus, try reaching for a light, healthy snack instead of a cup of coffee. Your brain can use the boost of energy.
2. Getting Organised for Better Focus and Control
Clean Your Workspace
It’s a generally held view that a chaotic desk or workspace will lead to a chaotic mental state. If you tidy up your workspace, it has a beneficial effect on your mind, giving you a feeling of clarity that’s conducive to focus.
Schedule a regular “big cleaning” every week or so. You should also get into good regular tidying habits. Get into the habit of putting things away right after you use them and devote a bit of time each day to general tidying and cleaning.
Keep Your Home Organised
The same as above goes for your home. In addition to regular cleaning, it’s important to tackle clutter in the home and there are many systems that make it easy to do this. One is the Marie Kondo Method, which the author details in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The idea behind this method is to keep items out which “spark joy” and discard those that don’t. This is just one of the many systematic approaches to getting rid of clutter.
Organise tools, files and anything else you use for work. Everything you need should be easily within reach. It should take a minimum of time to find the things you need when you need them. If you’re disorganised, you’ll waste precious time digging for the things you need.
- Get rid of clutter wherever you find it
- Create an efficient and easy filing system
- Designate “zones” for different activities or types of work
- Put most-used and most-needed things within the easiest reach
- Prioritise regular daily tasks
Establish rules and habits that allow you to more easily deal with distractions. A few ideas include:
- Close multiple windows when working at your PC
- Close and/or log out of your email and designate certain times of the day to check
- Turn off all email, social media and other notifications
- Log out of social media and set aside a specific time during the day for it
- Turn off your phone or put it on silent mode and put it in a drawer
- Close your door and separate yourself as much as possible from everything else that’s going on in your workplace
- Wear noise-blocking headphones if you can’t control the noise in your work environment
- Learn to say no to requests that are tough for you to do at the moment
3. Time Management Tips and Methods
Use One Calendar
Use just one calendar for everything. Include on it work-related plans and tasks as well as personal ones. Juggling separate calendars isn’t time-efficient and you run the risk of forgetting tasks.
Color-Code Your Calendar
Organise your calendar by color-coding it. Assign different types of tasks different colors. This allows you to easily understand your schedule at a glance. You can have just one calendar but still see your schedule divided into categories like personal tasks, professional tasks, and so on.
Create “boxes” of time for different tasks. A time box is a set period of time, such as an hour or half-hour. You can create boxes of any length (although an hour max is recommended for optimal focus). You can vary the length of your boxes, making tasks that require a great deal of focus shorter and tasks that are relatively mindless longer.
Time-boxing also helps you get things done over the course of several days. If you have a large task or project that you need to break up, you can decide how many hours to spend on it, and then divide the time into daily chunks. Set a timer for your time boxes so that you don’t have to watch the clock.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a type of time-boxing that involves breaking up your work into 25-minute boxes and after each one, taking a break of 3-5 minutes. You can continue to work on one task all day if you need to without ever losing focus by breaking it into small boxes.
When estimating how long a task or project will take, add some extra time in case there are distractions or problems. If it’s a project that will take four days, allow it five days. If you’re scheduling daily tasks in time boxes, make those boxes a bit bigger than you think they need to be. If you don’t have distractions or problems, you’ll finish early with time to spare.
Set Deadlines for Everything
Set deadlines for every task, even those that are not time sensitive. This will keep you from putting off non-urgent tasks. It will ensure that you get everything done. It also helps you prioritize and decide which tasks need to be worked on when.
Prioritise and Schedule High Priority Items First
Make a list of things to do based on deadlines and work on high priority items first. Do this not only daily but also weekly, monthly and so on. For example, if you have a time-sensitive task to do this week, get it done Monday or Tuesday.
Work with Your Cycles
We all have different daily cycles. These are times of day when we’re best at certain tasks. For example, your focus might be sharpest in the morning, or you may find it easiest to deal with communication tasks in the afternoon after lunch. Figure out when your optimal focus times are for various tasks and schedule accordingly.
Avoid multi-tasking whenever possible. People often mistakenly think that multi-tasking is good for productivity. If you’re doing two tasks at once, you must be getting more done. However, it’s more often not the case. Instead, you’re dividing your focus, and not giving any of the multiple tasks the attention they deserve. Do one task at a time and save the others until later.
Schedule Distractions, Communications, and Entertainment
Set aside time for your distractions, communications and mindless entertainment. It makes it much easier to ignore distractions when you know you’ll deal with them later. If you schedule some time for relaxation and amusement alongside your serious work time, it also helps to break up the day.
Work and Non-Work Time
Create a definite time when work is finished for the day. Once you finish work, don’t keep checking email or doing work-related things. This is important for maintaining a proper work-life balance. You can adjust your work time in any way you like, but make sure there is a definite stopping time.
Conduct a Time Audit
If you really want to improve your time management, you can do a time audit. A time audit is when you monitor and log how you spend your time each day. At the end of a week or a couple of weeks, you can see exactly where your time is going. With this data in-hand, you can decide which things you’re spending enough time on, which things you’re spending too much time on, and which things could use more of your time.
Don’t forget that you can log personal as well as professional time. Doing a time audit with your workday helps you to tighten up and increase productivity. If you do a time audit with your free time, you can easily see areas where you’re wasting time or where you could get more enjoyment out of your free time.
1. List some techniques that you are currently using that you feel are effective from the various categories we covered in this module.
2. List some areas where you would like to improve your focus and concentration from among the various categories we covered in this module. Pick the tactics you will use.
About the Author. Karen Perkins is a Life Coach and Personal Hands-on Organiser. She enjoys helping busy people achieve results through effective lifestyle choices that improve their personal and professional lives.
If you need practical assistance, guidance in changing habits or motivation Clear & Clutterfree can help you save both time and money getting organised and staying organised.