There is no question that our ability to focus has increasingly diminished in this age of uber technology.
When there are so many digital diversions competing for our attention is it any wonder that we’ve all but lost the art of focus?
Research conducted by Dr. Glenn Wilson at King’s College, London University found that constant interruptions such as emails, surfing the Internet, texting, etc. resulted in a significant, albeit temporary, drop in the IQ of 1,100 participants in his study. Moreover, the constant interruptions had similar adverse effects to losing a night’s sleep.
In the five year research program, it was also discovered that due to changes in technology there has been a change in the way we read and think.
Researchers found that rather than fully reading Internet articles and journals, subjects “skimmed” and “bounced” from source to source rather than fully reading any one article.
According to Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist formerly of Tufts University, when we read online in a scattered, hurried fashion we are weakening our ability to interpret text and make the important mental connections that we make when we read deeply.
Therefore, in order to counteract this lessening of our abilities to focus and concentrate, it is more important than ever to become proactive and ensure we remain sharp and engaged in our work, our studies and ultimately life itself.
Here are a list of ways to improve your focus:
1. Be mindful of and monitor your awareness.
In other words, during the course of the day, pay attention to what you’re thinking and doing. For example:
- When you are eating pay attention to the taste, smell and texture of the food.
- When exercising, be aware of the motion, your body and your breathing.
- When you are engaged in conversation, be aware of the person to whom you’re speaking and think about what they are saying.
- When you are working at something, stay aware of the subject at hand.
- If you find yourself drifting, bring your awareness back to what you’re doing.
2. Avoid Multitasking.
In the recent past multitasking was considered to be productive, however, the latest research has shown it can actually reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent.
According to an article from the American Psychological Association, doing more than one task at a time, especially a complex one, takes a toll on productivity.
Psychologists studying mental processes (cognition) have found that the mind/brain was not designed for doing multiple tasks.
Not only is time actually lost in attempts to multitask, but the mental overload it causes can be catastrophic.
Given the new research, it stands to reasons that our focus will be much improved if we concentrate on one task at a time.
3. Build your focus muscles.
In the same way you gradually build body muscles, you can build your focus muscles.
To begin, set aside a fixed amount of time (ten, twenty or thirty minutes) to work on nothing but a particular task. After doing so, add another five minutes, or more if you can, and repeat the process over time and with different activities.
Each time you perform this exercise your focus will improve and you’ll be amazed at your progress.
4. Read more.
Not only is reading fun and beneficial for our brain health (it slows down cognitive decline), it also helps improve focus and concentration.
When you read, unlike skimming articles on the internet, you are required to pay attention in order to understand, connect and process the information.
Reading challenges your mind and stimulates the imagination. The more you read, the more you develop your ability to focus.
4. Take Breaks.
Productivity experts recommend that we should take breaks from what we’re doing somewhere between the 50-90 minute mark. According to Nathaniel Kleitman, a cutting edge sleep researcher, we have a “best rest-activity cycle” whereby we move from higher to lower alertness in 90 minute cycles, also known as the ultradian rhythm. In other words, your focus and concentration are most effective and potent within the 50-90 minute timeframe. Thus, taking a break serves both to refresh you and to renew your focus.
5. Anticipate and remove distractions.
Before you set out to work or study, determine which distractions such as phone calls, texts, the temptation to check e-mails, and other people are likely to interrupt or distract you – then remove them. There is nothing worse than being prepared to work on a project and then being constantly interrupted. It not only breaks your focus, it frustrates you and prevents the flow of ideas and the ability to solve problems.
6. Get proper exercise.
There is a reason that along with proper sleep, the recommendation to get proper exercise appears on every “how to be better at” list.
According to Dr. John Ratey, author of “Spark – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” exercise improves your brain function by raising your focus and concentration for two to three hours afterwards. It also increases blood flow and levels of brain-derived proteins which also sharpens your overall thinking.
Another great exercise perk is that it helps build the brain’s ability to ignore distractions which, we know is central for our ability to focus.
7. Get proper sleep.
It’s a no-brainer that poor sleep affects concentration. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation disrupts the capacity of brain cells to communicate with each other. This disruption leads to temporary cognitive lapses that affect memory and the ability to focus. Lack of sleep also prevents neurons from functioning properly.
Similarly, just as various technological devices can cause distractions, they can also cause you to have poor sleep habits. Research has shown that blue light emanating from television screens, smart phones, computers and tablets can prevent proper sleep by suppressing the body’s release of melatonin, increasing alertness and disturbing the body’s circadian rhythm.