For those of us who tend to lose our focus more often than we lose our keys…
Recently, a friend of mine texted me, sounding distraught. They said, “I don’t know what it is…I can’t concentrate at work no matter what I do!”
Full of compassion, I said I was sorry to hear that, asked what was wrong and if there was anything I could do to help. OK, maybe I didn’t react as I should have… it’s possible I replied, “That sucks!”
Then they texted back, “I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for over an hour now and I’m distracted by everything. I’m not getting a single thing done!”
Thoughts flashed through my mind… Are they bored with their work? Do they have ADHD? Are they a serial procrastinator? Is there a cute squirrel with puffy cheeks eating nuts outside their window?
“Stop texting me…go grab some coffee, then try working again.”
You may think I was brushing them off, but when you deconstruct it, that wasn’t bad advice!
- Removing their phone as a distraction
- Interrupting their unproductive pattern with a break
- Getting their blood pumping with a walk
- Putting some caffeine in their system with coffee
Let’s dig deeper and take a look at the science behind that helpful nugget…
There are actually many factors that affect attention span and concentration. Plus, everyone is different. There’s no “one size fits all” rule or any kind of attention span calculator.
But to heighten your attention to the max, there may be certain tips that can help.
This is the simplest solution that may be the most effective. Plus, it’s common sense! Are you ready for the ground-breaking suggestion?
Here it is…
Switch your phone to “Airplane Mode” while trying to focus on a task.
Yep, that’s it. Do it.
No texts or news stories flashing on your screen, calling for you to feed it with your attention…relentless, like a baby crying for a bottle! Airplane Mode also prevents the phone from ringing to distract.
Better yet…leave your phone in an entirely different room before beginning.
To lessen further distractions, turn off any email notifications on your computer. You know how you are…if you hear an email come in, you’ll check it. Best to address that distraction beforehand too.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
Francesco Cirillo was an expert on time management who developed the Pomodoro Technique of time management.
This technique can help with the pattern interrupting issue. Knowing that you only need to concentrate for a short, defined amount of time can free your mind to be more productive.
Here are the directions:
Set a timer for 25 minutes and work on a decided task, committing to NO distractions during that time.
Once that time is up, take a short break to clear your head. Stand up and stretch, grab a drink, check email – but only for about 5 minutes!
Set another 25 minutes and focus on another task (or continue previous task).
After 4 successful Pomodoro periods, take a longer break – 20 or 30 minutes. According to the informational website, “Your brain will use this time to assimilate new information and rest before the next round of Pomodoros.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (www.cdc.gov) had some interesting information that addresses why getting up and walking may help concentration.
Studies “…found that coordination exercises (i.e., exercises that require the body to balance, react, adjust, and/or differentiate) were more beneficial than normal sports lessons in boosting cognitive functioning (specifically, concentration and attention).
The 20 – 30 minutes after 4 Pomodoro periods would be perfect for fitting some exercise in. Take a brisk walk, do a set of jumping jacks…just find something to lift your heart rate. [Of course…before ever doing any new exercise consult your physician first.]
Stimulate Your Mind with Caffeine
In the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) named “mindshift” by Barbara Oakley, I learned about caffeine and the mind. She taught that drinking coffee or tea with caffeine helps one focus. The strongest benefits happen about an hour later, but the energizing effects can last up to 8 hours.
This was the only thing I didn’t suggest. That’s because it takes time and practice, so it wasn’t a practical solution at the time.
However, the practice of meditation can have many positive effects on a person. For one thing, it can greatly improve one’s concentration.
Try it for yourself. You can find actual instructions on how to meditate here.
Later, my friend texted me saying, “Somehow I got past my block. I’ve been productive the rest of the day!”
I’m thinking it was science.
Either that, or the cute nibbling squirrel with puffy cheeks finally scurried away. ;)
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