We’re constantly fighting against distractions—think about how many messages, social media notifications, and emails you have to field every day. Each new ping claims minutes of your time, making it harder to slip back into focus mode. This is exacerbated if you’re a busy entrepreneur with multiple tasks on your to-do list.
Juggling this relentless flow of communication with tasks that move the needle is a fine art, and learning how to focus better can improve your mindset and ensure you’re giving your all to your business.
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How to focus better: a goal for everyone
The ultra-connected world we live in has been great for many things, but it’s also been detrimental to our concentration levels. Research shows that 50% of people struggle to focus—which is no surprise when there are so many distractions to divert our attention.
Why is it so hard to focus?
There’s always so much to do and so little time to do it—or, more specifically, so little attention. It’s not that we’re all out of ideas or even the will to start; it’s the inability to dedicate our attention to one task at a time in such a noisy world. We feel inclined to be switched on 24/7, answer messages immediately, and be at the beck and call of our smartphones.
The biggest problem is that attention is a finite resource. Information isn’t.
Improving your concentration comes down to two things:
- How you allocate your attention
- How you block out excess information or “noise”
Productivity apps can help bring clarity to how you spend your time, while one of the most impactful perspectives in this space is a concept called “flow.”
Harnessing flow to improve focus
Focus and concentration go hand-in-hand. First, you have to focus on a task. Only when you’re able to do that can you concentrate on what you need to do.
Learn how to harness flow
Researchers describe flow as “a unique state of concentration in which action seems to be effortless. You feel alert, unselfconscious, and totally absorbed in the present moment.” Whether you’re running a marathon, painting a masterpiece, or designing new products for your store, getting into a flow state will help you perform at your peak.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who has studied the relationship between attention and work, has written extensively about the topic of why some people look for happiness in building, creating, composing, and making things.
From pianists to figure skaters, he found that people across a wide range of disciplines all identify a state in which they’re able to forget themselves and focus singularly on the task at hand.
This model suggests that we’re most easily able to enter a state of flow when we’re faced with a task that requires both a high level of perceived skill and offers us a challenge (the latter might explain why some of us procrastinate to seek out deadline-based thrills).
The next question then in: how can you create conditions that make it easier to enter a state of flow?
How to focus better: 10 effective strategies
Chunk your workload and reduce multitasking
We can only focus on a limited number of things at any given time.
Part of mastering our ability to focus is to change the way we see and tackle the mountain of other tasks that always seem to be in front of us. This strategy is called “chunking.”
Instead of being overwhelmed by a million little things, you can group them into more manageable chunks of smaller tasks that contribute to a common goal. So, instead of being intimidated by one big thing—like starting a business—you can break it down into smaller, more approachable components that are easier to tackle.
Do breathing exercises
Deep breathing exercises can help you quiet your mind and boost your focus.
Dr. Andrew Weil, a world-renowned leader in the field of improving health through mind and body, recommends the following exercise for improving your focus:
- Taking a deep breath (eight seconds)
- Hold it (seven seconds)
- Let it out (eight seconds)
Repeating this several times helps you intake much more oxygen through deeper breaths, giving you a boost in energy and focus. It’s also a proven technique to help you de-stress.
Take short breaks
Research shows that taking purposeful breaks that are between five and 60 minutes can boost your productivity levels and help you focus.
Checking your Twitter notifications or scrolling through Instagram don’t count as purposeful breaks. Instead, get your body moving or do something creative.
Here are some ideas:
- Take a short walk
- Have a power nap
- Stretch your body
- Listen to some music
- Have a healthy snack
- Do some doodling
Write a journal to keep you on track
Journaling activates the left hemisphere of your brain, leading to benefits that include:
- Improved memory
- Better comprehension of concepts
- Improved physical health
By writing about your progress, you actively block out all the other “noise” while you focus on what you’ve done and what you plan to do to reach your goals.
It also helps you commit to and follow through on your goals on a long-term basis.
Practice mindfulness or meditate
Practicing mindfulness increases gray matter in the brain, which leads to increased connectivity between brain cells and the growth of new neural networks—essentially, you’re rewiring your brain and finding new ways to handle tasks.
As well as improving your focus, mindfulness puts you in control of your thoughts, allowing for more space to learn new things and improving your ability to concentrate on the things that require your attention span.
Work on your sleep schedule and sleep hygiene
Concentrating when you’re half asleep is almost impossible—and coffee or energy drinks won’t fix it. Our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns are critical to our ability to focus during the day because the brain needs sufficient sleep to function. Sleep deprivation impacts the part of the brain that enables problem-solving, reasoning, planning, and performing higher cognitive tasks—and this affects our ability to focus.
Connect with nature and spend time outdoors
Most of us spend a large chunk of our day staring at a screen surrounded by artificial light. The simple act of getting outside takes us away from our monotonous, “noisy” surroundings and engages our attention in a quieter way. Just breathing in fresh air can encourage our brains to create new thought patterns.
Evaluate your diet and exercise habits
Food is our body’s fuel. Filling up on junk food every day is going to impact our output—imagine putting old dirty gas in your car. It’s going to splutter and falter.
You shouldn’t give up all your comfort foods, but it helps to be mindful of what you’re putting in your body if you want to improve your focus. Research has found that foods with a low glycemic index number gradually release glucose into the bloodstream, which optimizes mental focus. Add berries, nuts, leafy greens, and fatty fish to your diet.
Get yourself moving, too. Exercise causes blood to flow to the brain, which promotes cell growth and concentration.
Eliminate (or limit) distractions
Social media is constantly fighting for our attention and focus. We get a small thrill every time a new notification pops up and that adrenalin rush is addictive. Limiting the amount of time you spend on social media and reducing other external distractions can do wonders for your focus. Try putting your phone on airplane mode during a high-focus task, use an app blocker, or turn off notifications while you’re working.
Entrepreneur and business owner Chris Dyson suggests finding your focus time. “Write down everything you do every 15 minutes for one week. When you lose focus, write it down. When you procrastinate, write it down,” he says. Then highlight trying out focus time for yourself by setting aside one hour per day to focus on revenue-generating work.
Listen to music to improve focus
Music improves our focus in two ways:
- It blocks out other distracting noises
- It stimulates brain health and provides a rhythm that keeps us alert
Listening to repetitive music without lyrics, white noise, or even nature sounds can help you enter a flow state.
What to avoid if you want to stay focused
- Distractions: Reduce the number of distractions around you at any given time—turn off notifications, use noise-canceling headphones, and find a quiet space.
- Insufficient physical activity: Exercise increases endorphins and blood flow to the brain, both of which improve our cognitive abilities and help us maintain focus.
- Bad eating habits: Our blood sugar levels have a huge impact on our ability to focus. Feed your body good things to improve your concentration.
- Lack of sleep: It’s impossible to focus when you’re tired. A good night’s sleep will improve concentration.
- Noisy environment: Avoid busy spaces with lots going on. Instead, seek out a quiet space or tune in to some relaxing music to reduce the number of external and internal distractions.
Improve focus to increase productivity and success
No life hack will ever replace old-fashioned discipline.
Both your body and your mind need to show up ready to work or your attention will wander, no matter what you do. This is something especially important to keep in mind when working on side projects that require intrinsic motivation. Here are some strategies to cultivate a better work ethic:
- Cut down on multitasking: Splintering your focus gives you less attention to work with for each task. We’re not made for multitasking—just try listening to two conversations at the same time.
- “Eat the frog first”: Do the hardest task when you have the most mental energy, which, for many people, is earlier in the day.
- Get better sleep: Invest in your sleeping hours for a sharper mind during your waking hours.
- Fight procrastination: Even if you can never fully squash your tendency to procrastinate, never give up the fight. Every battle you win means a less stressful to-do list.
Additional research by Braveen Kumar.
How to focus better FAQ
Can focus be improved?
Yes, focus can be improved by training your brain to avoid constant distractions, eating well, and regularly exercising. Boosting blood flow to your brain and maintaining focus will help you concentrate for longer periods of time.
What causes lack of focus and concentration?
The inability to focus can be caused by multiple external factors, including low blood sugar levels, distractions, bad eating habits, insufficient sleep, and noisy environments.
What are the most effective ways to increase focus?
- Chunk your workload
- Do breathing exercises
- Take a short break
- Write a journal
- Practice mindfulness
- Work on your sleep schedule
- Connect with nature
- Evaluate your diet
- Eliminate distractions
- Listen to background music
How can I train my brain to focus?
Train your brain to focus by taking short breaks, chunking your workload, practicing mindfulness, eating the right foods, and getting enough sleep.