In a world filled with instant access to information, coworkers and friends, finishing a solid eight hours of work seems nearly impossible. Avoiding distractions, however, is not a Herculean task. Just like getting to the gym each day, staying focused while at work is a matter of building good habits.
1. Set clear goals
Instead of saying, “I’m going to work a solid eight hours every day,” make a list of your top priorities for the week. This helps you avoid reacting to every distraction that comes up. Review your list each morning and decide—realistically—what tasks you can accomplish that day. Be concrete: “I’m going to finish steps 1-3 of the project by noon.”
2. Work in 60-90-minute blocks
As we work, our alertness drops off, increasing the lure of distractions. Set a timer and take a break at the end of each cycle. Reset your focus by listening to music for a few minutes, taking a short walk, playing a game of solitaire, or going for lunch.
3. Turn off the world
Let’s face it, the world is a distracting place. Avoid temptation by severing all ties. This includes email, office phones, cell phones and your coworkers. This might require finding a quiet place away from your office to work—such as booking a conference room or hiding out in your office. If you need to, set up a system for urgent messages to reach you. This doesn’t include where to go for happy hour.
4. Schedule distractions
Distractions are not all bad, but you need to make them work for you. Use them as reward for a solid chunk of work. Start out with distractions that are good for you, such as working out or calling your friends. If Facebook and Twitter are your thing, block off time in your schedule to post or browse other people’s updates, but stick to your schedule. Remember, you control the distractions.
5. Practice not being distracted
Meditation is a great way to do this because it’s just you and your thoughts. If that’s not your thing, practice single-tasking throughout your day. At lunch, just eat. Don’t read the newspaper or check your email at the same time. In meetings, don’t doodle in your notebook or play with your phone.
6. Pay attention to yourself
Start to notice when and how you get distracted. What thoughts happen just before that? Are you tired, hungry, or bored? As you learn what triggers your distractions, you can head them off before you slip into an hour-long IM chat.
7. Use technology to your advantage
From blocking out distracting websites to tracking how much time you spend surfing the web, many apps can actually help you stay focused. Once you identify what your habits are, pick one that will help you meet your goals, but don’t let these become distractions in themselves.
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Your ability to focus on a task until it is complete is one of the greatest indicators of your future success.
All millionaires and billionaires have mastered the art of single focusing on one thing until completion before they move onto the next task.
However, we live in a world that is full of distractions and notifications that are constantly vying for your attention.
Your brain is simply not equipped to deal with the massive number of ‘shiny objects’ that are perpetually trying to disrupt your focus.
Learning to become the master of your brain instead of its slave is no easy task.
But, with a few simple hacks, you can quickly take charge of your mind and develop laser-like focus.
1. Start Each Morning With Exercise
One of the most important things that you can do for your brain and your overall well-being is to start every morning with exercise .
You don’t have to go to the gym and spend 3 hours pumping iron like Arnold in his prime either.
Simply getting the blood flowing for 20 minutes will sufficiently spark your mind and help you develop stronger focus throughout the day.
Some great activities to try are; swimming, racquetball, yoga, or cycling.
These exercises are relatively low impact on your body and are a heckuva lot more fun than mindlessly running on the “dreadmill” each morning.
2. Don’t Break Your Fast too Early
If you have been following the health and fitness or biohacking industries in recent years then you have inevitably heard about the phenomenon called intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting , or IF, is a fairly simple concept.
For 16 hours out of the day, you fast completely and then consume all of your calories in an 8-hour window.
It is actually a lot easier than it sounds and has numerous benefits.
Outside of the benefits to your metabolism and fat loss goals, IF actually helps you to have more focus in the morning because your body is not wasting precious energy digesting foods.
Instead, it can allocate all of those resources to helping you concentrate on the task at hand .
The best way that I have found to do IF is to skip breakfast , instead drinking 1-2 cups of black coffee, and then break your fast around 1 p.m., eating your last meal around 9 p.m.
If you do this, your focus will shoot through the roof.
3. Get More (Good) Fats in Your Diet
The human brain is made up of roughly 60% fat.
That’s pretty considerable when you think about it!
This poses a problem for the people who have been proponents of low fat diets throughout the years.
One of the best ways to quickly improve cognitive function and thereby your focus is to get more fats in your diet.
If you are following intermittent fasting then I recommend that you eat a lunch that has at least 30 grams of fat in it.
Nuts, avocados, eggs, and coconut oil are all great ways to get healthy fats into your diet and help your brain run more smoothly.
4. Use nootropic herbs.
Recently I’ve been testing with the herb licorice root through a friend’s recommendation and has gotten great results. It contains g lycyrrhizin, a compound that stops brain fog, cloudy-headedness, afternoon fatigue, and sleep disruption by preventing the breakdown of adrenal hormones such as cortisol.
The way I take it is in tea form. I basically just boil it in hot water and drink it daily.
There are other herbs with brain function enhancing properties you can test your self such as schizandra and ginkgo biloba.
4. Write Out Your Critical Tasks Each Hour
One of the best ways to keep your brain focused is to write out the tasks that you want to accomplish within the next hour and then time how long it takes until completion.
By writing out your key tasks each hour, you will refocus your brain on most important projects, and by timing yourself, you will add a sense of urgency that will help you stay focused.
5. Eliminate Pointless Distractions
I really shouldn’t even have to say this.
If your phone is constantly buzzing with new Snapchat notifications and your computer continually dings with new updates on your Facebook feed, then how in the world do you expect to stay focused?
This means that, while you are working, your phone is on airplane mode , your computer has all notifications disabled, and you clearly inform coworkers that you are not to be disturbed.
6. Set Small Daily Goals
Having huge, game changing goals is great.
Everyone should have a bigger vision for who they can be and what they can achieve.
But staying focused on a 10-year vision is no easy task, especially when trying to get through the tiring minutia of the day.
Whether you are bogged down with content marketing , emailing annoying clients, or writing new content , it can be easy to lose focus on the bigger picture.
Instead of focusing on your big, long term goals, start setting small daily goals.
By focusing only on what needs to be accomplished in any one given day, you will set yourself up for success.
Achieving small daily goals will wire your brain for success and trigger the reward mechanism, releasing dopamine when you accomplish your goal.
This will help you stay more focused and increase the odds of you achieving tomorrow’s goal.
7. Get Enough Sleep
Nothing will ruin your focus more than consistent sleep deprivation .
Some of the most successful individuals in our modern business world have attributed much of their success to sleeping 8 hours a night.
You need to sleep more if you want to achieve maximum focus. This is true for everyone ranging from jet lagged digital workers to corporate executives.
Try and get 7 hours of high quality sleep per night minimum.
Mastering your focus is not an easy task.
We did not evolve to cope with the massive number of distractions that we face in our daily lives.
However, by making sure that you are properly fueling and stimulating your brain and eliminating distractions wherever possible, you will be able to master your brain and increase your focus.
What hacks do you have for improving your focus while at work?
The summer season can make it hard to focus on work. And if you work from home, it is that much more challenging. For example, the pool, barbeque and home projects are probably calling your name. It can be even more difficult to concentrate when co-workers are on vacation enjoying fun in the sun while you are left minding the fort.
But there are ways to overcome those inevitable distractions. If you are struggling to focus on work, these five techniques will help you get back on track.
Take frequent breaks
Especially if you are a remote employee, it can be easy to work too long without stopping. That’s why taking frequent breaks is so important. Not only does working non-stop drain you, but it also takes a physical toll. Get in the habit of taking a short break every hour. Then focus on a task that allows you to disconnect from your computer. Take a short walk, stretch, or go to the kitchen and make a healthy snack.
If you are having trouble staying motivated, use a reward to help you focus on work. For example, you can promise yourself that you can have a cup of your favorite coffee as soon as you finish a presentation. To stay inspired, you can also give yourself something to look forward to at the end of the day. Some examples could include rewarding yourself with your favorite podcast, watching a video or taking a long, hot bath.
If you can, take one of your breaks outdoors. Getting outside does wonders for your motivation levels. Even a quick walk around the block can be enough to declutter your mind. Exposure to sunlight and fresh air is one of the most positive things you can do for your body. If the weather permits, you might even consider a workspace outside—whether it’s on a balcony, on a porch or in your yard. Getting outdoors can also help you make the transition from work to family time. Going for a run or taking your dog for a walk at the end of the day can go a long way in helping you decompress.
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Declutter your office
Not only will decluttering your office help you focus on work, but it is also good for your mental and physical health. A survey conducted by researchers at UCLA identified a direct link between the stress hormone cortisol and clutter. And another study found that people with extremely cluttered homes are 77% more likely to be overweight. Also, clutter doesn’t just refer to physical items. Nonessential software on your computer or old emails can be considered digital clutter. Try organizing documents into folders and remove any unneeded files. Review your email inbox and archive important emails so you can focus on the most critical messages.
Manage your energy
The ability to manage your energy is crucial for maximum productivity. We all have different internal rhythms. Some of us are night owls, while others are early birds. When are you most focused and effective? If it’s early in the morning, schedule your major projects to align with that timeframe. One of the benefits of working from home is added flexibility. Focus on what you can control and arrange your activities to take advantage of natural high and low energy times.
Remember that your ability to focus on work is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the better it gets. So, while it may be a little tricky initially, with practice, you can train your brain to overcome almost any distraction.
You know those days, right? The ones when you can’t seem to get anything done?
You spend a few minutes tapping away in a Google Doc, followed by an embarrassing amount of time falling down the YouTube black hole. You answer a single email before grabbing your phone for a not-so-brief scroll through Instagram.
Despite a lengthy to-do list, you just can’t focus on anything—and it’s infuriating. You know you need to get stuff done, yet those looming deadlines aren’t enough to convince you to actually buckle down and focus.
What gives? Why can’t you zoom in on the task at hand? And, more importantly, how can you give your attention span a much-needed kick in the pants?
Reason #1: You’re, Like, Really Tired (And Killing Off Brain Cells)
Are you yawning at your desk? Do you feel bleary-eyed, foggy, or like you’re trudging through cement? Are you debating a third (ok, fourth) cup of coffee?
I have news for you: You’re overtired, and it’s really hindering your ability to concentrate.
One study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine shows a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and impaired cognitive function—including your working memory and cognitive speed. Another facet that really takes a nosedive? Vigilant and executive attention.
That means not catching enough zzz’s can really sabotage your focus.
Here’s what’s even scarier — continued lack of sleep might actually destroy your brain cells. As part of a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, when mice were deprived of sleep, the researchers discovered that locus ceruleus neurons (LCns) in the mice’s brains—which are essential for the brain’s alertness—began to die off.
Since these neurons were continuously firing without enough rest, they became damaged and were eventually destroyed. The mice lost a whopping 25% of their LCns after just three days of 4-5 hours of sleep.
Scientists hypothesize that the same thing could happen in human brains. So, basically, a lack of sleep could quite literally kill your brain cells. No wonder it’s so hard to focus when you didn’t get a good night’s rest.
So, What Can You Do About It?
Your first instinct might be to scramble for another caffeine boost, but that’s really just a bandaid.
In lieu of putting your head down and napping at your desk, there are a couple of things you can do to wake yourself up without slapping yourself across the face.
One of the best things you can do is head outside for a quick walk. Not only does that get your blood pumping, but it also exposes you to natural light. Research published in the International Journal of Advances in Chemical Engineering and Biological Sciences states that some exposure to daylight enhances your attention, as well as your work performance.
And, instead of reaching for the coffee pot, grab a big glass of water instead. 75% of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration, and sleepiness is one of the most common symptoms. So, chugging some water might be just what you need to perk up again.
Of course, these quick fixes can help when you feel bogged down in the middle of your workday, but they’re no replacement for actually getting a full night’s rest.
Evaluate and rearrange your schedule to ensure that you’re giving yourself enough rest each night (according to the National Sleep Foundation, you should be getting anywhere from seven to nine hours) and can show up to work feeling alert and recharged.
Reason #2: All News Is Bad News (For Your Focus)
There’s no shortage of distractions in your average workday—and I’m not just talking about the colleague who keeps dropping by or the seemingly endless meetings that break up your day.
You have a life outside of work, and it’s hard to check personal to-do’s at the office door. When big things are happening outside of the office—whether they’re good or bad—it becomes increasingly tough to set those aside and tackle your work. That’s because your emotional state is directly tied to your level of focus.
Let’s look at both positive and negative events here. We’ll follow the cliché and start with the bad news first. To put it simply, negative news has a severe impact on our mood.
“In particular. negative news can affect your own personal worries,” says British psychologist Dr. Graham Davey, in a HuffPost article about the negative news cycle. “Viewing negative news means that you’re likely to see your own personal worries as more threatening and severe, and when you do start worrying about them, you’re more likely to find your worry difficult to control and more distressing than it would normally be.”
While that quote is related to news programming in particular, it can be applied to any sort of negative news you receive—such as an upsetting update about a family member’s health. It sends you into a funk that tanks your mood and makes it that much tougher to dedicate your attention to your task list.
What about good or exciting news, then? Shouldn’t that have the opposite effect? It does, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
When you’re pumped about something, it increases your adrenaline. Adrenaline can be great, but levels that are way too high can actually lead to anxiety, which results in decreased work performance.
It’s called the Yerkes-Dodson Law, and it basically states that there’s an optimal arousal level for getting your stuff done. And, a thrilling event puts you way too far past that optimal level—which makes it hard to concentrate.
Just think, if someone asked you to generate an important report immediately after you were told you’re getting promoted, it’s probably going to be tough to focus. You’re way too hyped up, and that amped emotional state makes it almost impossible to handle even the most routine tasks.
When you’re having trouble buckling down and focusing, taking a step back to ground yourself can help you get back on track.
Some days, it’s easy to lock into a productive mindset and get everything done efficiently. Other days, it’s a little (or a lot) harder to maintain that focus.
This can be especially challenging when you’re on a tight deadline or have many competing priorities. Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or simply “out of it,” you know you need to recalibrate, but might not be sure where to begin.
To help you recenter and get your work done, 15 members of Newsweek Expert Forum share their tried-and-true tips.
1. Turn Off All Notifications and Distractions
It’s important to recognize that taking breaks is important to your ability to focus. During your day, give yourself short times of focused work—turning off all notifications and distractions—and then take small breaks. The Pomodoro Technique does this! If you are stressed or agitated, take some time for a change of scene, take a quick walk or recenter with some deep breaths. – Robbin McManne, Parenting for Connection
2. Honor Your Natural Rhythms
Honor your ultradian rhythms to be at your best. We’ve all heard of our circadian rhythms but few of us have heard of our ultradian rhythms. Over a course of a day, our energy levels and mental focus peak and trough through roughly 110-minute cycles. We are at our mental best for 90 minutes and then need downtime for 20 minutes. Honor this cycle and watch your focus and productivity grow. – Kevin Vallely, The AIP Group
3. Get Out of Your Own Way
In writing for health tech every day for 15 years, writer’s block is as much a part of my day as checking emails and jonesing for that third cup of coffee. After years of berating myself each time I felt my focus wane, I finally realized that the only way to get work done is to get out of your own way. Understand that the pressure to perform comes from you alone, so do what you can, when you can. – Kayleen Brown, TMG360 Media, LLC
4. Write Down Your Next Focus
Success takes execution, not just planning, and execution takes focus. We live in a world filled with noise and distractions. I stay focused by writing down the next milestone or task I need to get done and posting it on the wall where I work. That way, every time I sit down to work, I am reminded of the most critical thing I need to do next and I can focus on just that task. – Jeff Hoffman, Global Entrepreneurship Network
5. Examine Your Thoughts
Examine what thoughts are keeping you from staying focused on the work at hand. Is it work you’re not excited about doing? Are you putting undue pressure on yourself to complete a project? Have you convinced yourself you’re facing an impossible task? We forget about the power of our thoughts and how they control our actions, so if we think we can’t focus, we won’t. – Carol Parker Walsh, Carol Parker Walsh Consulting, LLC
6. Write Down All Your Tasks and Objectives
When I need to refocus or get back on track, I create a list of all my tasks and objectives. I prioritize these from the easiest to knock out to the more complex. For me, it’s best to clear out the quicker tasks first, this way I build up the confidence to get through the larger and more complex tasks. By taking care of the less intensive work, I’m able to fully focus on the bigger picture. – Sam Jordan, EnviTours
7. Look at the Bigger Picture
Focus on the big picture by asking questions. Why is this task important? What’s the upside for getting it done well? What’s the downside of inaction? After considering this big picture, incrementally break down the task into small chunks or milestones and take a baby step that you can accomplish immediately to enable you to reach that milestone. With a few baby steps, you have momentum. – Todd Miller, ENRICH: Create Wealth in Time, Money, and Meaning
It seems so simple but we forget to connect. Just taking a short pause to close your eyes and taking a deep breath can get you back on track. As you breathe in and feel the air in your lungs, tap into that feeling; it’s your body’s reminder that you’re still here on this earth because you have good work to do. Things will be more clear in time but for now—just breathe. – Joyel Crawford, Crawford Leadership Strategies, LLC
9. Step Away from Your Computer
Take a walk, drink some water, do a breathing exercise or stretch. Five to 10-minute breaks are like hitting the reset button on your brain. You will likely come back with more clarity, energy and focus to finish the job. – Jenna Hinrichsen, Advanced RPO
10. Create Physical Space
Remove yourself from your office or location and go for a walk around the block. Do anything you can to get yourself away from your environment. Just standing up will send oxygen to your brain; you’ll disconnect so you can reconnect. – Diane Helbig, Helbig Enterprises
11. Stick to a Routine
One way to help recenter yourself and improve focus is to make sure you’re sticking to a routine. By creating work patterns, you will naturally train yourself to focus when it’s time to focus and allow yourself to disconnect when you take time away from work. It’s also very important to create separation between work and home life, which can be achieved with a good routine. – Chloe Alpert, Medinas
12. Make a To-Do List Before You Go to Bed
Every evening before you go to bed make a list answering, “What can I get done by the end of tomorrow to generate more revenue, leads, increase productivity in my team, etc.?” Then calendar in time to do them. We usually follow through on whatever is calendared. – Mark Goulston, Mark Goulston, M.D., Inc.
13. Take a Mini Mind Break
A mini mind break can separate you from your task and let you reset. This break can be a walk around the block or a quick tea or coffee. Some people hit YouTube and watch animal or baby videos (but don’t get sucked in too deep). Yoga breathing for a few minutes calms you down. If you know Tai Chi, you can do three minutes and get your mojo back. – Leslie Glass, Reach Out Recovery
14. Listen to Movie Score Soundtracks
I’ve often found that listening to movie score soundtracks from composers like Hans Zimmer or James Horner has been able to help me focus at work for long periods of time. These tracks have no distracting words and are created to symbolize action, intensity and progress. I’m able to be very productive for longer periods of time and afterwards, I can take a well-earned break. – Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint
15. Bring Your Attention to a Present Sensation
When you find yourself spinning around in your head, reset by bringing your attention back to a present sensation—the breath in your body, your feet on the ground, the sounds around you, your body resting against the chair. This uses a different area of your brain than the area that ruminates and worries. – Dave Mochel, Applied Attention
There’s no doubt that lack of focus keeps us from getting work done. Try these techniques to stay focused and on track at work.
In a world of constant pings and competing priorities, it can be tough to stay on track during the workday.
There’s no doubt that lack of focus keeps us from getting work done efficiently, but its negative impacts are extending even further than that: it’s bringing down our mood and outlook in general.
In our recent study, 84 percent of people said that constant interruptions at work are making them less happy.
Next time you feel stress creeping up, try these techniques for staying focused at work. You might find that adding a little structure to the madness is all you need to reach your maximum productivity — and be a little happier.
1. Eisenhower Decision Matrix – Prioritize work by value.
We’ve all experienced that disappointing moment: You complete a task only to realize that it was, well, useless. The Eisenhower Decision Matrix helps you eliminate those tasks from your workday, so you can focus on initiatives that make a big splash. It’s simple, and you can draw it anywhere when you need to prioritize your work.
As Intercom’s Geoffrey Keating explained, “It places anything you could spend your time doing on two spectrums: one going from the most urgent possible task to the least urgent, the other going from critically important to totally inconsequential—and using these as axes, divides your work into four quadrants.”
The goal of this exercise? To keep your focus on high-impact work, and cut the distracting fluff. Spend the vast majority of your time on tasks that land in Quadrants 1 and 2. For work in 3 or 4, see what you can eliminate. Ask yourself: Why is this task necessary?
“By ‘batching’ urgent and important work, we minimize the switching costs involved in moving from different types of work,” Keating said. “It allows us to work on the most valuable initiatives and, more importantly, finish them.”
2. Deep Work – Be honest about which tasks require your full attention.
Some tasks can be done while chatting with your coworkers or sitting in a buzzing open office space. Other tasks require you to draw the figurative blinds and block out the external world for a while. And that’s perfectly okay. Labeling your “deep work” helps you be more self-aware about the environment you need to accomplish certain tasks.
“It's important to make the differentiation between shallow and deep work when we're talking about distractions,” HelpDocs Customer Education Lead Matt Bradford-Aunger noted.
“With shallow work, a few distractions aren't that big a deal,” he said. “It's the deep work like development or content creation — where being ‘in the zone’ is critical to getting the job done — we find most hindered by distraction and context switching.”
To try out the deep work technique, spend 10 minutes in the morning going through your to-do list. Label activities as “deep” or “shallow”. Then schedule your calendar accordingly. You can put “deep” initiatives in the morning when you’re most focused, or schedule “shallow” tasks intermittently to give yourself a brain break between tough tasks — just pick a schedule that agrees with your working style.
Last, don’t be afraid to tell your team about your deep work time. Whether it’s putting on headphones, working from home, or setting your Slack status, make it known to your team when you’re cracking down, so they can respect your focus time.
3. Batching – Knock out short tasks together.
Being “on a roll” feels great: you’re checking tasks off your to-do list, left and right. That’s where batching helps: you can get in the groove and figure out the most efficient way to do something.
“Batching is my secret weapon for productivity,” explained Teamweek’s Emily McGee. “With batching, I do the same task or type of task for an extended period of time. For example, instead of doing keyword research and coming up with new blog post ideas every day, I spend two full days at the beginning of the month doing keyword research and filling in the content calendar.”
”Batching requires you to be organized and plan ahead, but it saves you tons of time and ensures you aren't context switching,” she said. “I batch everything from writing emails to attending meetings, and it makes me much more productive.”
4. Pomodoro – Avoid “Now what?” syndrome.
Ever find that you’re able to focus better when you’re on a tight schedule? The Pomodoro Technique gives you strict timing to help you blast through tasks and avoid distraction.
Pomodoro, named after a tomato-shaped timer, helps you train your brain to stay on track for short periods of time. It capitalizes on a sense of urgency to help you keep plowing through your work.
“It enables you to move through your tasks without having to think about what to do next,” said Sophie Worso from Focus Booster, an app that uses the Pomodoro Technique. It’s pretty simple:
Set your timer for 25 mins, and start working.
When the time’s up, take a short 5-minute break.
Repeat this for 4 intervals of 25 minutes.
After the fourth working session, take a longer break, (25 to 30 minutes)
What’s nice about Pomodoro is the feeling of growth and accomplishment: you get better at focusing for the entire 25 minutes over time, and you feel rewarded with a break at the end of each work session.
5. SMART Framework – Set attainable goals.
It’s a lot easier to stay focused when you have a goal that you actually feel like you can achieve. Assess what you're working on. If your goal is:
can’t be measured, or
not really existent.
then you’re more likely to fall into the context switching trap.
As Max Benz from Filestage points out, the SMART goals template is an old favorite technique that can help you plan reasonable daily and long term goals.
“Plan out where you need to be a month from now, a year from now or even longer. Put notes or a calendar on your wall so even when you do occasionally get bogged down in the details, you always remember where you’re trying to get to,” Benz said.
Take back your focus
“The best way to become more productive is not to increase your focus, but to decrease your distractions.”
– Dylan Fernandez
On days when you’re feeling extra distracted, just remember, sometimes physically removing yourself and taking a walk outside is the easiest way to clear your head.
There are a number of reasons why you might be struggling to focus on work despite having only recently returned from a Christmas break.
The New Year promises the chance for a fresh start, so it can be frustrating to feel like you haven't hit the ground running. However, experts say several factors could be hindering your ability to concentrate.
First of all, it's important to think about concentration like a muscle, according to Stefan van der Stigchel, a professor of cognitive psychology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
He explained that while rest was key in order to avoid overtraining this muscle, it can also take time after a break to return to your optimum level of focus.
Van der Stigchel said another possible explanation as to why you might be struggling to concentrate is that your home environment was likely not designed to encourage you to work, unlike an office. For instance, he said that seeing other people work, as you would do in an office, acts as a motivator.
A lack of "transition" between tasks while working from home is another factor, van der Stigchel suggested. This is because of "working memory," he explained, which is the system in the brain that is responsible for "executing complicated actions."
Van der Stigchel compared this system in the brain to a workbench, with different tools laid out for each task. Between tasks the brain needs to effectively clear and "load the workbench," and this mental transition time is called a "switching cost," he explained.
The commute to work is one example of transition time that many have lost while mainly working from home over the past two years. So van der Stigchel suggested building that back into the day by taking a short walk before and after work. He also recommended ensuring you take 10 minutes between meetings to mentally recharge.
"Be aware that those should be in your working day, they're part of your working habit, because at the end of the day … you will be mentally extremely tired if you didn't plan your day in advance well, without any breaks or without any movement," van der Stigchel said.
Anxiety and concentration
Persistent anxiety about rising cases of the omicron Covid-19 variant might also be affecting your ability to concentrate.
A study published in 2018, conducted by psychologists at the U.K.'s University of Roehampton, used functional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanning to track how worry affected the parts of the brain that are important for concentration.
Participants in the study were given tasks that required different levels of concentration. The functional MRI scans showed that more anxious participants saw "reduced connectivity in the regions of the brain important for attentional control," also known as concentration.
Professor Paul Allen, who led the study, explained during a video call with CNBC that the brain's "prefrontal cortex" is key to our ability to focus and in highly anxious people, this area was found to act differently.
Allen said the effect of working from home on mental health for a prolonged period, the feeling of isolation that can come from socializing less amid the pandemic, as well as how people tend to feel in the winter months, could all contribute to anxiety.
Similarly, neuroscientist Sabina Brennan, author of "Beating Brain Fog," said that if people are chronically stressed or anxious then that can suppress neuroplasticity in different areas of the brain, like the frontal lobes. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to form new connections, which are important for skills such as learning and memory.
She said that people can also experience "contrast effect" after a vacation.
"It's kind of a form of cognitive bias, where the perception of difference is enhanced or diminished," she explained. For instance, someone who had a stressful Christmas break may have been looking forward to the return to work, but the reality of it may have disappointed. Brennan said this could make someone more anxious or depressed, thereby affecting their ability to focus.
"Now, eventually, you kind of do come back down to your baseline level of wellbeing [but] if any of those feelings are prolonged, then it's a good idea to see a doctor because it may be something else rather than this sort of switch over from the holidays," she said.
In addition, Brennan pointed out that this New Year is "just more of the same," as many people continue to work from home due to the spread of the omicron variant.
"And that's monotonous, and that's going to make it kind of difficult to concentrate because our brain likes novelty, our brain likes new experiences," she said.
Exercising at lunchtime was one way to boost concentration, given our alertness tends to dip naturally in the mid-afternoon, Brennan said. Going on a walk at lunchtime with a friend who is working from home close by, was another suggestion she made, as this may also help to make up for the loss of opportunities to socialize with colleagues in the office.
Create flexible focus sessions to stay productive, and avoid burnout when you’re busy.
Focused Work is built for people who struggle with focusing and structuring their time effectively.
Flexible Focus Sessions
Create repeatable sessions for different tasks, structured with Focused Work, Break and Planning stages.
Each session encourages you to focus on a specific task or goal, which remains on-screen during a session.
Avoid distractions during a focus session, with fun periodic reminders to maintain your focus.
Rate your level of productivity during the session. Journal about what worked well for you and what didn’t.
Daily Goals & Streaks
Create healthy productivity habits by completing focus session, focused work, and break goals each day.
Time Tracking with Toggl
Assign Projects, Tags, and Tasks to each session for a complete breakdown on time spent.
Created sessions, productivity history, and daily goals are synced between each device.
Take advantage of Focused Work’s deep integration with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey.
Start a Focus Session with Siri. Pause, Skip, Restart the current stage, and adjust the timer volume.
Automatically turn a Focus on or off. Manage distractions and trigger shortcuts mid-session.
Block Apps & Websites
Automatically block iOS/Mac apps & websites until you’ve completed your focus session.
Mid-session alerts on all devices
Start a focus session on Mac and receive updates on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and vice versa.
Work from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Created sessions and productivity stats are synced between each device.
Select a task in your favourite task manager app, and quickly start a focus session via the Share Sheet.
Add Current Session, Daily Goals, and Session Select widgets, with Pure Black & Completely Black themes.
Pick an app icon that matches your homescreen. Coloured, Light, and Dark variants.
Export completed sessions & breadcrumbs in CSV format, and analyse them in Numbers.
No account signups. All user data is securely stored and managed via iCloud, with each session run on-device.
More iOS & iPadOS Goodies
VoiceOver, Split View & Slide Over, Dark Mode themes, Drag & Drop, Quick Actions, Low Power Mode.
More macOS Goodies
Keyboard Shortcuts, Menu Bar Timer, Shortcuts for Mac, Alfred automation, URL Schemes.
Focus Keeper helps you keep your productivity high avoiding burnout using the timer. Work with time. Not against it!
* Check out the review article by Brighthand for more detail: http://j.mp/fkeeper
Here is what this app offers:
• Simple, beautiful and intuitive interface.
• Task Management
• Customize focus sessions, goals, and sounds.
• Track your productivity with insightful charts.
• Universal(iPhone/iPad) app with iCloud support.
Basic Focus Steps – It’s all about focusing your work efforts in timed 25-minute chunks, with a 5-minute break in between each burst of activity.
1) Choose a task to be done.
2) Set the timer for 25 minutes.
3) Focus on the task until the timer rings
4) Take a short break (just do something relaxing for 5 minutes)
5) Once you’ve completed 4 focus sessions, take a longer break. (20
• Adjust the timer with your fingers just like you do with real egg-timer.
• Next session starts automatically when the current session ends.
• Track your progress with two different charts (14 days and 30 days)
• Set your daily goal (number of Focus Sessions per day)
• Set how many Focus Sessions you want to finish before taking a long break(number of Focus per round)
• Customize the length of Focus Session, short break, and long break.
• Choose your ticking from 10 different ticking sounds and your own music library.
• Choose your alarm from 14 different ring sounds.
• Set any sounds separately for the short break, long break, and Focus session.
• Receive alarm notifications even when the app is running in the background.
• Today Widget for Focus Sessions
• Icon Badge shows how much time you left to finish the current session in the home screen Focus Keeper icon when the timer is ticking.
• Focus Reminder: If you're struggling to make a habit of using Focus Keeper, this could come in hand. You can set when you want to be notified to use Focus Keeper through weekdays and weekends.
• Option for resetting the Focus Count at midnight automatically. Now you can set your own reset time.
• Set different volume sounds for each ticking and alarm sound.
SUBSCRIPTION PRICING & TERMS
Focus Keeper is free to download. Pro Subscription gives you unlimited access to our premium content and features.
– Focus Keeper's three auto-renewing subscription options are $0.99 monthly or $5.99 annually
– These prices are for United States customers. Pricing in other countries may vary, and actual charges may be converted to your local currency depending on the country of residence.
– Payment will be charged to your iTunes Account at confirmation of your subscription
– Subscription automatically renews unless auto-renew is turned off at least 24-hours before the end of the current period
– The account will be charged for renewal within 24-hours prior to the end of the current period, and at the cost of the chosen package
– Any unused portion of a free trial period, if offered, will be forfeited when the user purchases a subscription to that publication, where applicable.
– Your subscription automatically renews unless you turn if off in Account Settings 24+ hours before the end of the billing period.
– You can turn off auto-renew at any time from your iTunes account settings, but refunds will not be provided for any unused portion of the term.
– Alternatively, there is a "Manage Subscription" menu option in the App Settings menu.