Simple Ways to Improve Your Concentration at Work
It’s not always easy to maintain a laser-sharp focus, particularly in high-pressured working environments. If you find yourself regularly losing focus before lunchtime, getting sidetracked by the smallest things or simply struggling to stay on top of your daily to-do list, you need a concentration boost.
And it’s not your fault. Research shows that getting distracted is a physiological response. According to a study published in “Nature Communications” in 2016, the brain’s subthalamic nucleus (the “stopping system”) that interrupts movement in our bodies also interrupts cognition, which explains why a distraction can disrupt your train of thought.
But there are lots of ways to improve your concentration. These expert-endorsed, research-backed tips can help you take control and make your working day as productive as possible – whatever distractions you face.
By planning ahead and having everything you need for the day, you can concentrate on what you need to do and reduce the risk of being distracted, says Lauren Berger, author of “Get It Together: Ditch the Chaos, Do the Work, and Design Your Success.”
For Berger, this means going to work with lunch, her gym gear and her phone charger.
“I don’t want to have to stop my workflow because I’m hungry or because I need to go home and change,” she said. “I want to get as much productive work time in as possible.”
Ditch Facebook’s News Feed
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to distract you, it’s social media. But you don’t have to eliminate Facebook, Twitter, etc., from your life altogether. The key is to take advantage of clever tech to stop social media from wasting precious time when you should be doing something productive.
For example, install News Feed Eradicator for Facebook on your desktop to remove your news feed and live ticker and replace it with an inspirational quote.
Try an Anti-Fatigue Mat
If you spend a lot of your daytime hours on your feet, you might find fatigue sets in after a while, which affects concentration. An anti-fatigue mat is designed for people who spend long periods of time standing, such as machinists and warehouse operatives.
“The problem with standing for too long is that our muscles tighten, our joints ache and blood circulation becomes more difficult, which makes us feel tired and unable to concentrate,” said Richard O’Connor, marketing director for floor mat specialists First Mats.
The softer surface of an anti-fatigue mat helps to engage the muscles to keep the legs stable and help reduce fatigue.
If you’re aware that you’re becoming increasingly distracted at work, the most important thing to do is find out what’s causing those distractions, says natural health care practitioner Annemarie Lafferty.
It sounds obvious, but you might not actually know what is distracting you in the first place. Your distraction may be physical, such as a co-worker, or it might be a mental block or stem from an internal battle within yourself, says Lafferty. When you’ve identified the distraction, you can start to figure out how to eliminate it.
Don’t underestimate the power of subtle changes to your work space, such as a new chair, a photo collage of people you care about on the wall or essential oils in a diffuser.
While it may be easy to turn off notifications and silence phones, the biggest distractions may come in person from co-workers.
Some offices have a “headphones culture,” where having your headphones on tells others you’re not to be disturbed unless it’s absolutely necessary. If this isn’t in place in your workplace, ask your boss if they object to you wearing headphones for this purpose.
Whether it’s wearing headphones or something else, Adam Fridman, the author of “The Science of Story” and creator of positive psychology-based technology platform ProHabits suggests establishing rules with your colleagues so they know when you’re in deep focus, and when you’re available to chat.
Drink Matcha Tea
Japanese monks have consumed freshly brewed matcha green tea for centuries to improve their concentration for meditation.
According to a food science study published in the journal “Psychopharmacology” in 2014, participants who drank matcha tea performed significantly better on short-term memory tests, and demonstrated higher brain function in the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain, than those who drank whey protein drink made to taste and look like matcha.
Rely on Lists
Whether you favor old-fashioned lists with pen and paper or rely on an app like Evernote, the mere act of writing down key tasks helps to focus your brain on what needs to be done, and means it doesn’t need to work overtime to try to constantly remember those things.
Berger recommends matching your calendar with your to-do list by blocking out chunks of time on your calendar to make sure you actually achieve the items written on your list.
Exercise is a great way to clear your mind, get your blood flowing and leave yourself in an energized state to focus on your work.
According to a University of British Columbia study published in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” in 2014, regular aerobic exercise (the sweaty, heart-rate boosting sort) appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
Try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine – preferably before work or during your lunch break. Even 20 minutes a day will help improve your concentration at work.
Spend Time on Self-Care
According to licensed counselor and therapist Heidi McBain, anything you do to help yourself be more present and grounded will help improve concentration.
How you practice self-care is entirely up to you. It might be a daily yoga class, 10 minutes of meditation every morning or keeping a gratitude journal.
Feast on Complex Carbs
Nutrition plays an important part in improving concentration, says registered dietitian nutritionist Jeanette Kimszai.
“We are so busy these days that we opt to get a quick snack or meal without realizing our choices could actually be making us less productive,” she said. Her first tip is to avoid highly refined carbohydrates, which can make you tired and decrease your concentration. Instead, choose foods and snacks with complex carbohydrates like lentils, yogurt, sweet potatoes and squashes.
Foods high in omega fatty acids such as chia seeds, avocado, walnuts and salmon will also keep you sharp throughout the day. And as far as antioxidant-rich colorful veggies go, the more the better.
Don’t Scrimp on Water
“Drinking enough water is also important for concentration,” said Kimszai.
According to research done by the University of East London and the University of Westminster in the U.K., when you don't get enough water your response time slows down when doing tasks. Kimszai recommends drinking 64 ounces of water a day.
Take a large bottle of water with you to work every day, and don’t forget that you can get also water from foods like cucumbers, apples, celery, soups, cauliflower, spinach, oranges, zucchini, broccoli and yogurt.
Do Breathing Exercises
The most accessible mindfulness practice is simple breathing. Fridman is an advocate of intentional breathing exercises, which involves inhaling deeply, holding then exhaling, while focusing on nothing but your breathing.
“Doing this for as little as five minutes can help ground you and prepare you to focus amidst the chaos of your day,” he said. “Make this a daily habit to build your concentration like a muscle.”
Focus on One Thing at a Time
Forget about multitasking – research proves that it doesn’t work.
Instead, concentrate on one thing at a time. Heidi Pozzo, founder of Pozzo Consulting and author of “Leading the High-Performing Company,” agrees that switching tasks reduces the ability to concentrate. She recommends blocking time during the day to complete tasks that require high levels of concentration, and not straying from that time block.
Avoid Email Interruptions
According to a study published in the “Journal of Applied Psychology,” employees and managers spend over 90 minutes a day recovering from email interruptions.
To prevent email distractions and improve concentration at work, archive messages that don’t need your immediate attention and use features like Inbox Pause to ensure only important emails hit your inbox, and only check it at certain times during the day.
Work on Your Pressure Points
New York and Florida state licensed acupuncturist and nationally board-certified herbalist Irina Logman recommends a few hands-on techniques to help improve concentration at work.
“There are a lot of pressure points on the top of the head that are good for concentration,” she said. “By gently massaging or scratching your scalp, it can aid in bettering concentration and alertness. There is also an acupuncture point at the very top of the head called DU20, which energizes the brain while also calming any anxieties. This specific point is found by locating the top point of each ear and tracing a line to the top of the head; basically the top center of the head. By simply massaging this acupuncture point, immediate benefits should occur.”