Can’t Concentrate? Tips On How To Focus

By Nicole Beasley |Updated July 8, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Debra Halseth, LCSW

Ah, distractions. You have a big exam in the morning, you’ve just sat down to study your notes and … the kitchen! You forgot to clean the kitchen! Or your bedroom! There’s so much to organize in your bedroom! Or the internet, or the television, or the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. When you have an important deadline to meet, almost everything else around you can seem more interesting than the task at hand. Fortunately, there are certain steps you can take that will help you sharpen your focus and meet all of your deadlines, regardless of the task.

Having Trouble Staying Focused In Your Daily Routine?

Keep a daily to-do list – When you have a lot of work on your plate, it can be very difficult to sit down and focus on one thing. Your mind is swimming with everything you need to get accomplished, and thinking about what’s ahead is very overwhelming. Instead of trying to focus on everything at once, sit down and write out a to-do list of everything you need to accomplish that day. Don’t think about future deadlines, only think of what needs to be accomplished immediately.

Write everything down in order from most important to least important. If there are easy tasks that can be completed quickly, finish those first. Checking boxes is surprisingly satisfying, and you’ll be able to see your progress as you go throughout the day. After all of the easy tasks are complete, focus on the most important task of the day and get to work on that. By breaking everything down into an easy to read list, you’ll feel more organized and in control.

Keep a calendar – While breaking tasks down day by day makes them easier to deal with, it’s important also to remember when all of your deadlines are. By keeping a larger wall calendar, you can view your responsibilities for the entire month, allowing you to plan your days accordingly.

Don’t procrastinate – If you give yourself more time than you think you need, you allow yourself room to deal with any problems that may arise. It can be very difficult to determine exactly how long a particular project will take, so allowing yourself a bit of extra time can help relax your mind and take away all of that last-minute stress. If you finish earlier than you need to, you have some extra time to relax!

Take a minute to breathe – Frantically running around will wear you out. Even if you have a lot to accomplish in a short period, it’s important to take a second to breathe and refocus. After you’ve completed a task, sit down and drink a mug of tea or read a chapter of a good book. If you can’t spare that much time, simply sit down and focus on your breath for a couple of minutes. This is a very simple form of meditation that can help calm you down, clear your mind and get you ready for the next task at hand.

Figure out when and where you feel the 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? Sometimes working from home can be extremely distracting, and simply changing your location can do wonders for your productivity. Removing yourself from all external stimuli – such as in a study room in a library – can help you focus completely on the task at hand.

Many people are either morning birds or night owls, and it’s important to figure out what 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 you’ve completed the rest of your day, make sure you clear your schedule so that you have full concentration.

Get rid of distractions – Choosing to work somewhere other than your home (such as a library) eliminates a lot of unnecessary distractions, such as television and housemates. Even so, the internet is a huge distraction, especially if you have to use it for research. If you don’t need to use it for your project, make sure you’re disconnected from data or Wi-Fi, and you don’t touch it until you’re finished what you need to do. If you do need to use it for work, there are certain browser extensions you can use that will block you from the websites that distract you for a certain amount of time.

You simply choose which sites you’re blocked from and for how long. And if you don’t have the self-control to stay off the internet even if you’re not using it, there are also apps that will block you from the internet completely for a certain amount of time! Likewise, turn the ringer on your phone off (or don’t have it with you at all), put up a ‘do not disturb sign’ on the room you’re working in, and have a clean working area without any clutter.

Listen to your body – If you have tight deadlines, it can be tempting to skip meals, stay up late and survive solely off of caffeine. However, doing this will only make you burn out in the long run. If you don’t take care of your body, you may end up sick. Time spent sick in bed would completely counteract all the extra time you gained by skipping meals and sleep. By going to bed early, waking up early, and eating proper meals, you keep your body healthy, alert, and ready to complete any task. If you know you’re going to have an especially busy week, try to stock up on healthy quick snacks or pre-cook all of your meals for the week so you won’t spend so much extra time in the kitchen.

Get motivated by your 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. If you’re alone, it’s very easy to decide to quit early or get distracted. However, if you’re working with someone else (even if you’re just sitting at the same table in a cafe together, working on different projects), you can help motivate each other to keep working until you’re finished. It’s much more difficult to duck out early when your friend is pushing you to stay and work.

Reward yourself – Having something to look forward to can 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. If you’re in school, an upcoming holiday break could be something to look forward to, and if you’re no longer in school, you could plan a weekend away or even allow yourself a whole weekend of watching your favorite television shows and pampering yourself at home (no work allowed).

Having Trouble Staying Focused In Your Daily Routine?

Don’t get discouraged – If you find it difficult to focus at the beginning, it’s okay. So much external stimulation constantly surrounds you that it can be difficult to learn how to block everything else out. As with everything, practice makes perfect. If you find it especially difficult to concentrate, try to focus on your task for ten minutes at a time, then allow yourself 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. take a break, and soon enough you’ll find that an hour of focusing on work is just as easy as ten minutes.

Don’t ignore deeper problems – Sometimes difficulty concentrating isn’t just the mind wandering from one thing to the next. If you’ve recently had a traumatic experience or have been feeling anxious or depressed, it’s important to talk to a professional so that you can get back on track. The trained counselors at BetterHelp are always available to talk about any concerns you may have. They can offer 24/7 advice all from the comfort of your computer. The sooner you confront deeper problems, the sooner you can regain your focus.

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