Difficulty focusing is a common concern that can limit our ability to get things done, affect our relationships, and impact our mental and emotional health. With so many sources of information and entertainment available to us, it’s not surprising that we find ourselves increasingly distractible. Our attention is regularly being vied for by a wide range of entities, making it easier for us to lose focus and struggle staying on task. Additionally, stress, mental and physical health conditions, and other life challenges can contribute to difficulty concentrating. Despite the varied sources underlying distractibility, there are ways of limiting its effects and enhancing focus. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best ways to eliminate distractions and improve concentration.
The Main Causes Of Distractibility
Distractions can arise out of many different sources. Often, identifying factors that contribute to trouble focusing can be the first step toward improved concentration. The following are some of the most common reasons you might have trouble focusing.
High Stress Levels
Research shows that heightened stress levels can make it harder to focus for extended periods. You may divert your attention from the task at hand to the situation that is causing you stress. Stress can also cause physical and mental health challenges that may further exacerbate distractibility.
Mental Health/Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Lack of focus is a common symptom of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Distractibility is also a primary characteristic of ADHD. There are several other mental health challenges that may make concentrating more difficult.
Is there clutter in your workspace or home? Do you have trouble finding what you need when you need it? This may be the reason you start thinking about other things when you want to concentrate on the task at hand.
There is a proven link between diet and cognitive function. Your brain needs a certain amount of essential nutrients to be able to operate effectively. A diet that is high in fat, processed foods, and refined sugar may lead to trouble focusing.
Source Of Distractions
Do you often find yourself looking at your phone, logging on to social media platforms, or checking personal emails while you’re trying to focus? The abundance of information and entertainment that we have available to us can be a significant source of distraction.
Lack Of Sleep
There is evidence of a link between a lack of sleep and distractibility. Sleep disruptions can affect many of the mental and physical functions we rely on to focus and get things done.
These are just a few of the most common reasons why people may feel unfocused occasionally. There are other reasons as well. If you believe you may be experiencing unusually high levels of distraction, consider contacting a healthcare professional or therapist for advice.
How To Limit Distractions And Focus
There are many ways to reduce the chances that you’ll become sidetracked when you need to concentrate. Awareness of the fact that you’re losing focus, and why (as discussed above), may be the first step toward addressing distractibility. The second step can be to implement techniques centered around reducing the effects of distractibility. The following are some helpful strategies for lengthening your attention span, eliminating distractions, and providing yourself the opportunity to get things done.
Make A To-Do List
If you find that you are frequently distracted when you want to be productive, one of the best ways to regain focus is by making a list of what you must do throughout your day, week, or even month. List-making can be especially helpful if you frequently think about upcoming assignments or chores when you’re trying to complete another task. It allows you to create a list, order it in terms of priority, and then focus on each task successively, knowing that you are working on the right thing at the right time. Plus, many people find it satisfying to actively cross off a list item after they complete it.
Try categorizing your to-do list. You can arrange tasks by importance and urgency to help you prioritize the projects that have to be completed quicker. If you’d like assistance, there are several apps that can help you keep an organized to-do list.
There is a proven link between physical activity and cognitive function. Exercise fosters cell growth in the hippocampus, which can lead to improvements in concentration. Physical activity can also reduce the impacts of certain challenges that may affect focus, such as stress, physical health conditions, and sleep disruptions. To take advantage of the concentration-improving effects of exercise, consider joining a gym, taking frequent walks, or developing an at-home exercise routine.
Take Short Breaks (But Avoid Your Phone)
Working for several hours without a break can cause you to feel burnt out and may make productivity more elusive. Often, when you are distracted, your brain may simply need a few minutes of rest. A 2011 study published in the journal Cognition showed that taking a 10-minute break once an hour boosted test subjects’ focus and productivity. The study demonstrated how prolonged mental stimulation can reduce productivity.
Instead of opening a social media app or engaging in another distraction that may not allow you mind to rest, try taking a 5–10-minute break to walk around your home or workplace, get a glass of water, look out a window, or go outside.
Address Underlying Mental Health Challenges
Distractibility is a characteristic of various mental health and neurodevelopmental conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Many experts believe that addressing these concerns can help reduce the impacts that their symptoms have on concentration. For example, researchers in one study found that cognitive behavioral therapy could improve both the symptoms of depression and cognitive function. Talking to a therapist or other healthcare provider could be a productive step toward managing mental health concerns that may lead to trouble focusing.
Try Time Blocking
Do you struggle to maintain a consistent schedule? Do you often wonder which task to start on next? Time blocking is a strategy that involves breaking your day up into chunks and allocating each block of time to a specific task. This can facilitate productivity and limit distractions. In conjunction with keeping a to-do list, you can use time blocking as a way to avoid multi-tasking, thinking about next steps, or wondering what else you have to do when you’re trying to concentrate. You’ll already have a system for working on specific tasks at dedicated times.
Meditation can help you quiet your mind and reduce stress that may contribute to distractibility. Being focused on a particular task is similar to meditation in that it involves blocking out distractions. If you get into a habit of noticing when your mind wanders and bringing your attention back while meditating, it may be easier to do so when you’re working or having meaningful conversations. You can find guided meditations online, along with apps that can help you practice breathing exercises or specific forms of meditation.
Research shows that mindfulness—a form of meditation based around increased awareness of the present—can help increase concentration. In one study, researchers found that even brief a mindfulness exercise improved participants’ ability to stay on task.
You can practice mindfulness by finding a quiet place to sit or lie down. While taking deep breaths, try to bring your attention to the present. Focus on the sensations you’re experiencing. Are you feeling energetic? Sad? Content? Take note of the way the space around you looks, smells, and feels. If your thoughts start to drift, try to bring them back to the present without judgment. Regularly fostering awareness and presence can help you practice focusing your attention for extended periods.
Address Distractibility With Online Therapy
Studies show that online therapy can help individuals manage mental health challenges that may lead to trouble focusing. In a study on the efficacy of online therapy for those experiencing depression, for example, researchers found that treatment led to reductions in not only depressive symptoms but also improved concentration. The study also mentions the increased convenience and cost-effectiveness of online therapy.
If you are looking to improve your focus, connecting with an online therapist can help. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can work with a mental health professional from home, allowing you to limit distractions in your environment and feel more comfortable. Online therapy is also an affordable option—BetterHelp subscriptions start at $65 per week (billed every 4 weeks), and you can cancel anytime.
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