Can't Concentrate? Tips For Focusing

Medically reviewed by Kayce Bragg, LPCS, LAC, LCPC, LPC, NCC
Updated May 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you have a big exam, assignment, or task to complete, distracting thoughts may come up throughout your day, making you wonder "why can't I focus?". Perhaps you forgot to clean the kitchen, or you’re worried about how your friend is doing. Eventually, you may abandon one task to focus on other activities. 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. The ability to stay focused 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, you may have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time. 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. This practice will help you in the decision making process of knowing exactly what needs to happen next.

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, choose a task to be your primary focus 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 a 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.

Practicing mindfulness or meditation 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. You may need to consider changing where you work to help you eliminate distractions, boost concentration, and improve focus. 

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. Going to a coffee shop sounds ideal, but the constant bustle may actually pull your focus away from your work. If you work from home, find a decluttered space away from noises, distractions, and other constant stimulation so that you don’t become easily distracted.


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 have your strongest ability to concentrate. Perform cognitive tasks that demand the most mental energy then. 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. As your mental resources dwindle at other parts of the day you can perform less demanding tasks. 

Get rid of distractions

Some people struggle with eliminating distractions from a personal device. If you don't need to use your device while you focus, consider turning off your phone's cellular 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 online distractions like interesting websites.

Consider turning off your phone's alerts and vibration settings to aid in maintaining focus. You may also want to turn off any TV or background music. If you live with others, consider asking them if they can give you some space 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, insufficient sleep, a lack of healthy meals, and increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol may harm your body. If you don't take care of your body, you may end up sick.

By getting enough sleep 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. Maintain your usual levels of physical activity as well; your brain health and mental health are closely intertwined. 

Learn professional coping strategies

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 a certain task 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 in between every single task or throughout intervals of time. 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 to drain your mental energy).

Try not to get discouraged 

It can be normal to struggle with how to focus while trying these coping mechanisms. 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 and strengthens the mental muscle you need to stay focused.

William "Keith" Jones, LPCC
It’s been great working with Keith. He helped me learn how to focus in the midst of chaos.”

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, experiencing negative counterfactual thinking, or have been feeling anxious or depressed, talking to a healthcare professional may help you get back on track. 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.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Online therapy for better concentration

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.


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.

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