In these days when multi-tasking is king, the art of concentrating and the ability to focus on one task to the exclusion of all others appears to have fallen out of favour.
However, if you really want to work out how to put together that piece of equipment, analyse those latest sales figures or pass that exam on statistics you have to be able to seriously concentrate.
Concentration is a skill and one that can be improved. Here are 10 tips that will help improve your concentrating prowess…
- One thing at a time
This may seem obvious but so often we sit down and plan to complete a number of tasks at one sitting. The temptation then is to keep flitting between projects without completing anything. You will always battle to maintain concentration in this situation. When you sit down to work or study set your mind on completing a single task, even if you have a million things to do.
- Make lists
As an extension to the first tip, the ability to focus on a single task is often hampered by the stress of having multiple deadlines, multiple responsibilities, multiple demands on your attention. You’re trying to write up your presentation but you can’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning and book the car in for a service. The solution? Become a list-maker. Write down all the tasks that you need to complete, prioritise then take them on one at a time. You can be reassured you won’t forget anything – it has been written down. You are free to give your mind entirely to the task at hand.
- Worst thing first
When tackling a project that requires your concentration, there is often a part of the task that is more challenging than all the rest. Most people will skirt around this, completing the easier aspects of the task first. The trouble with this of course is that your motivation, enthusiasm and indeed concentration are best at the beginning of the project. Leaving the more difficult tasks till later means you will be more readily distractible.
The environment can help or hinder your concentration. Working at a desk, with a comfortable chair, good light and adequate heating is much more conducive to helping you maintain concentration than lying on your bed with your laptop in an overheated room, or trying to work at the kitchen table in a house full of people.
Distractions are the mortal enemy to concentration. If you are serious about trying to improve your concentration you need to recognise your susceptibility to these distractions and take steps to minimise them from the outset. Think about wearing earplugs, switch off the television, put your phone on silent, get rid of the email alert signal on your computer, shut the door to your office – you get the idea.
For many people, trying to concentrate seems to trigger tiredness. How often have you tried to study only to find you need to take a little ‘power nap’ before you can continue? You can help resist this urge if you make sure you are getting adequate rest at night. Even coffee won’t help if you’ve been up partying till the wee small hours the night before.
- Adequate nutrition
As with sleep, making sure your body is well-fuelled will go a long way to helping you maintain concentration over extended periods. A common myth is that a ‘sugar hit’ is useful for study. While this will usually increase your energy levels, the effect is very temporary. You’re much better having a low GI breakfast that will give you a sustained energy boost throughout the day. Even if you’re not a breakfast person – try it and see the difference.
- Schedule breaks
No one can maintain concentration for hours on end. Scheduling regular breaks will actually improve your ability to focus at will. Often people schedule breaks on a time-basis – work for an hour then get a cup of tea, but you could also schedule breaks on a task basis, for example for every 10 reports I complete I will take a five minute break.
- The five more rule
This is a well-recognised technique for improving your concentration. When you feel your attention flagging just tell yourself ‘five more’, be it five more pages you read, five more applications checked, five more minutes of attention….It’s a technique used for endurance athletes and it works very well for endurance concentrators too.
- Practice makes perfect
The ability to concentrate is a skill that can be improved with practice. You can practice this skill with many tasks you complete each day not just the ones that you need done at work or when studying. For instance, when you’ve written your daily to-do list you will see a number of items that could be done more efficiently if you just give them your entire focus for a set period. Make a conscious effort to do so and you’ll be honing that very valuable skill – the ability to concentrate.