Having trouble concentrating lately? That’s what happens when you live in a society prone to exposing themselves to information overload. We never stop. If we’re not checking up on our friends via social media or answering work emails, we’re thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner and trying to remember that one thing we promised ourselves we wouldn’t forget.
When it comes to being successful, getting things done and feeling good while doing them, focusing is essential. Here’s how to improve your concentration in just 10 minutes or less, so you can do more quality work and feel accomplished.
Make sure you are always single-tasking
If you are having trouble concentrating, it might be because you are trying to do too many things at once. It might seem like checking your email with a video going in the background while trying to have an instant message conversation with a co-worker will save you time, but in reality, you end up paying very little attention to each of those simultaneous tasks instead of putting your full attention into each one separately.
Do one thing at a time, what the experts call single-tasking. Pick your most important to-do and work on only that for a set period of time. If you’re checking your email and that’s your priority, don’t let yourself do anything else until it’s time for a break or you’ve finished the task. Take things one step further if you find yourself multi-tasking on accident.
Often the reason we unintentionally multi-task is because we have a to-do list in front of us that shows us all our tasks at once, when it would be helpful to only see one task at a time. Use a desktop app such as OneTask to help you focus on only one thing at a time. It only shows you one item on your task list, and it stays visible on your screen until you’re ready to move on to the next thing.
Switch tasks after an hour of deep work
After an hour or so of working on a task, you might notice that it gets increasingly difficult to focus on what you’re trying to get done. Single-tasking is great once you’ve figured out how to make it work for you, but it is very easy to overwork your brain once you’re not constantly trying to switch from task to task.
You do still need to switch from one thing to another, just not nearly as rapidly as you would while trying to multi-task. The key to successful single-tasking is to, about every hour, take a short break and then switch tasks so you’re not constantly working on the same thing for too long. By doing this, you will be able to concentrate and get more done in less time throughout the day.
Let’s say you have to finish your taxes today, and it’s going to take about three total hours. You could try to knock it all out at once, but after an hour, you’ll probably become much more easily distracted and less capable of fighting off the temptation to stop in the middle of what you’re doing in order to do something less important. If you spend one hour in the morning, one hour right after lunch and the last hour of your work day on your taxes, you will still get it done, but distraction-free (hopefully).
Conquer your distractions and get back to work
We have all experienced the agony that is trying to focus on something when there’s a single thought continuously nagging us. You just remembered you forgot to reply to someone’s email, or you have a random new idea for something you want to pitch to your boss tomorrow.
You can’t win, no matter how you respond. If you stop what you are doing to go complete a quick task, you will break your concentration and might have trouble regaining it. If you don’t do something with that thought, though, it’s going to keep distracting you, especially when you are paranoid you’ll forget it completely.
There are several solutions you can apply here to solve this problem. Both involve removing “clutter” from your mind to help you concentrate on the single task you’re working on. You can either keep a notepad or sticky notes or download an app and keep your phone nearby for either of these to work.
The first option is to record thoughts and tasks as they come to you in small bursts. So if you are working on answering an email but remember you need to text your mom back, pick up your pen and paper or open the note-taking app on your phone and quickly write it down before getting back to finishing what you started.
The second option is to go on a 10-minute “brain dump.” An app like Any.do might really help you when using this method. Finish a task, then set your timer to go off in 10 minutes. Once the timer starts, start writing down whatever comes to mind. This means everything from random thoughts to tasks you forgot to write down earlier to things you want to add to your grocery list. Anything that comes to mind, write it down. Do this until the timer runs out, or you start having to come up with things to record.
Sometimes, all we need is just to let our brains think freely for a few minutes in order to regain our focus and concentrate on our priorities. Everything you wrote down, even if you didn’t have time to organize it in your app yet, will be there ready for you once you’ve finished your more important tasks first.
You may not feel like you’re in control of your thoughts and what you get done when, but you are. You can use these methods like single-tasking, strategic task-switching and clearing your head of distractions to help you regain your concentration and get your work done. Try a combination of the above suggestions to figure out which ones work best for you.