Can't Concentrate? Tips For Focusing

Updated November 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you have a big exam, assignment, or task to complete, distracting thoughts may come up throughout your day. Perhaps you forgot to clean the kitchen, or you’re worried about how your friend is doing. Eventually, you may abandon your assignment to focus on other tasks. These thoughts and experiences may be common in someone who struggles with concentration and focus. 

It may seem that the moment you sit down to focus, other thoughts and urges start to pop up and distract you from the task you're working on. Focusing may feel impossible at times. However, there are skills you can learn that may help you sharpen your focus and meet your deadlines, regardless of the task.

Learn Professional Coping Strategies

Tips For Focusing

Try the following tips to learn more about what works for you. If you continue to struggle with concentration, you may benefit from reaching out for help.

Keep A Daily To-Do List 

When you have a lot of work on your plate, sitting down and focusing on one thing may be challenging. Your mind might start swimming with everything you need to accomplish and thinking about what's ahead can feel overwhelming.

Instead of trying to focus on everything at once, sit down and write a to-do list of everything you need to accomplish that day. Try to avoid considering future deadlines; Think of what needs to be executed immediately. The list might look like this:

  • Take out the trash
  • Walk my dog
  • Eat a balanced meal
  • Complete two essays for school
  • Study for math class
  • Take my sister to her ballet recital

Write everything down in order from most important to least important. Using the previous list as an example, it may look like this:

  • Eat a balanced meal
  • Study for math class
  • Complete two essays for school
  • Take my sister to her ballet recital
  • Walk my dog
  • Take out the trash

If there are tasks that you can complete quickly, finish those first. Adding an estimated time limit on each task may help if you also struggle with time management.

Checking items off your list can feel satisfying, and you'll be able to see your progress as you go throughout the day. After all the easy tasks are complete, focus on an essential task of the day and get to work on that. You may feel more organized and in control of your day by breaking everything down into an easy-to-read list. Leave future tasks for the future.

Keep A Calendar

While breaking tasks down daily makes them easier to deal with, it may be helpful to remember your future deadlines. By keeping a calendar on your wall or a digital calendar on your device, you can view your responsibilities for the entire month.

Setting reminders on your device may also be helpful if you tend to forget. Set the alarm for 24 hours before the deadline to remind you that it's coming up.

Work On Challenging Procrastination

If you give yourself more time than you think you need to complete a project, you may allow yourself room to deal with any problems. It can be tough to determine precisely how long a particular project will take, so allowing yourself a bit of extra time can help relax your mind and take away all that last-minute stress.

If you procrastinate due to overwhelming feelings, anxiety, or difficulty starting tasks, you may benefit from pressuring yourself less. Instead of thinking, "I need to finish this right NOW," consider taking a break to partake in a calming activity.

Try repeating or writing down these affirmations:

  • I don't have to work on this until I am ready.
  • I am giving myself time to relax.
  • I deserve relaxation.
  • My environment does not reflect my mind.
  • I will complete this task when it is time.
  • I am not pressuring myself.
  • I am still worthy of relaxation when there are things to do.
  • I am capable.
  • I am strong.
  • I want to bring a clear and relaxed mind when I work on this task.

Trying a meditation or mindfulness exercise may also help. Some people like to take baths, go for a walk, or spend time in nature to unwind before completing a task. Studies show that a work-life balance is essential to mental health, so pushing yourself too hard may have the opposite effect.

Take A Minute To Breathe

Even if you have a lot to accomplish in a short period, take a second to breathe. Breathwork has been proven to calm the nervous system and slow down the mind. Breathing deeply is a form of meditation that can help calm you down, clear your mind, and prepare you for the next task. Try the following steps:

  1. Breathe in for five seconds through your nose.
  2. Hold your breath for one second.
  3. Release your breath for five seconds through your mouth.
  4. Hold your breath for one second.
  5.  Repeat.

If you have trouble remembering these steps, consider downloading an app that can help you breathe and listen to a meditation or calming sound simultaneously.

Figure Out When And Where You Feel Most Productive  

Do you have a home office that you're able to work from? Or do you find you work better at a cafe or a library? Working from home can be distracting for some people, and changing location can do wonders for productivity.

If you decide to study or work outside your home, consider finding a quiet and comfortable location, such as an enclosed study room at a university or a quiet pod at your local library. If you work from home, find a decluttered space away from noises, distractions, and other stimuli.

Consider The Time Of Day

You may have a preference for morning or night, so it may help you to discern which time of the day you are most productive. If you find you work well in the morning, set the alarm to ensure you wake up early enough to start working. If you work better in the evening, after completing the rest of your day, clear your schedule to have total concentration.

If you have multiple tasks to complete throughout the day, consider setting the most challenging task during the time of day that you feel most awake, energized, and productive.

Get Rid Of Distractions

Some people struggle with distraction from a personal device. If you don't need to use your device while you focus, consider turning off your phone's data or placing it in another room until you have a break. If you need to use your device for work, you may consider downloading a browser extension that blocks you from distracting websites for some time.

Consider turning off your phone's alerts and vibration settings. You may also want to turn off any TV or radio in the background. If you live with others, consider asking them if they can give you some privacy for a few hours while you complete your task.

Listen To Your Body

If you have tight deadlines, skipping meals, staying up late, or surviving solely off caffeine may be tempting. However, a lack of sleep or healthy meals may harm your body. If you don't take care of your body, you may end up sick.

By going to bed early, waking up early, and eating proper meals, you can work to keep your body healthy, alert, and ready to complete any task. If you know you're going to have a hectic week, consider stocking up on healthy quick snacks or pre-cook all your meals for the week so you won't spend so much extra time in the kitchen.

Get Motivated By Friends Or Coworkers 

Even if you're not all working on the same task, studying or working with someone else can keep you on track. Known as "body doubling," this practice is said to help those with ADHD or concentration issues by providing accountability and support.

When you're alone, it may feel easy to decide to quit early or get distracted. However, if you're working on something while someone else keeps you accountable or works on their own project, you may be able to motivate each other and finish the task.

Reward Yourself 

Having something to look forward to may help motivate you and keep you focused. A daily reward could be allowing yourself your favorite treat after you've completed all the tasks of the day or taking a long bubble bath to relax before sleep. For some, a reward may be beneficial throughout all stages of the task. Some examples include:

  • A fruit snack or piece of candy after every interval of time spent (every hour, etc.)
  • A delicious meal at the halfway mark of completing your task
  • A quarter added to a money jar for every hour spent

If you're in school, an upcoming break could be something to look forward to. If you're no longer in school, you may plan a weekend away or allow yourself a weekend to watch your favorite television shows and pamper yourself at home (with no work or assignments).

Learn Professional Coping Strategies

Try Not To Get Discouraged 

If you find it challenging to focus while trying these coping mechanisms, it can be normal. In a fast-paced society with a lot of external stimulation, getting into the right environment and mood to work on something can be difficult. Consider trying again until something helps. Often, practice makes perfect.

If you find it especially difficult to concentrate, try focusing on your task for ten minutes at a time, then allow a five-minute break. Next, try to focus for twenty minutes, with another five-minute break afterward. Keep increasing the amount of time you work vs. taking a break. Combine this skill with other tips on the list to see if you can find a routine that works for you.

Consider Underlying Issues

Sometimes, difficulty concentrating can be a symptom of a mental health condition. If you've recently had a traumatic experience or have been feeling anxious or depressed, talking to a professional may help you get back on track. Difficulty with concentration may be a symptom of ADHD, as well. A psychoanalysis test may help you understand your mind better.

Recent studies show that mindfulness therapy may be an effective method of treating concentration and focus concerns. Mindfulness therapy online has also been proven to aid in symptoms associated with depression and anxiety, including attention concerns. Online therapy may be a valuable option for those who struggle to concentrate.

If you're ready to try therapy, online counselors on platforms such as BetterHelp are available. Below are some reviews from users who have seen an online counselor for a similar reason.

User Reviews

"Emily is a wonderful therapist. She listens intentionally and has such great insight. She is helping me with a work-life balance and not feeling stuck anymore. She is always on time and asks such good insightful questions that really make you think. If you have the opportunity to work with Emily, I think that you will be very happy with your choice! Thank you Emily for your help!"

"After working with Sabrina for 8 weeks, I can honestly say I didn't expect such quick and drastic changes in my mindset, which in turn drastically improved my mental health. I came in feeling not in control of my life, depressed and dealing with anxiety that I had no idea how to tackle. Sabrina quickly helped find my values and mission to re-center my sense of self worth and gave me strategies and methods to cope with anxiety, boundaries, and other day to day issues. My only regret is that I didn't start therapy with Sabrina sooner!"

Takeaway

Difficulties with concentration and focus can feel challenging. However, the tips here may help you get back on track. If you're still struggling or want to reach out for professional advice, consider taking the first step with a trained mental health counselor.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.