Concentration is something we all seem to be struggling with more since technology came into our lives. Social media takes all our attention, we get bombarded with texts, and can’t focus enough on a movie to watch it to the end. However, you can learn to improve your concentration in order to become more efficient at work and in life.
- Poor concentration is caused by both things we can control and things can’t control. This includes anything from mental health issues to constantly scrolling through social media.
- Working from home brought to light ADHD diagnosis for symptoms that most people already had, but never paid attention to. This new work model didn’t give people ADHD it just made it more obvious.
- You can improve your concentration skills the same way you’d improve any other ability. By practicing and setting yourself up for success.
What is concentration?
Concentration as a concept is your ability to focus all your mental energy on one specific task, person, or objective at a time. It’s being able to choose when you put your attention, and not allowing other factors to choose for us.
A good practical example of this is something we’ve all probably been through before. You have been working on a big project at work, getting closer and closer to the deadline, only to realize you’ve got nothing done so far. So you sit down, try to focus all your energy on getting the words out of your brain and onto the paper. One hour goes by, then two, until you realize it’s the end of the day and the only thing you’ve done is think about what you’re going to make for dinner.
What causes poor concentration?
If we were to survey every single person who consistently uses technology in their daily life, we’d guess that every one of them would say they’ve had a hard time concentrating before. Suffering from poor concentration nowadays is a universal experience we all seem to go through.
The biggest issue however is that there are countless things that can affect our ability to focus. From things we can control like not enough sleep, to ones we can’t control like aging or mental health issues.
Things we can control
- General distractions – The radio, TV show, or podcast playing in the background might not be the best way to help improve your concentration.
- Not enough sleep – Getting a sold 8hs of sleep a night will set you up for improved concentration and focus.
- Poor eating habits – A balanced diet will ensure you have the energy to direct your attention to the task at hand.
- Information overload – Too many tabs open at once, your Slack going off all the time, and emails piling in your inbox shouldn’t be things you focus on at the same time.
Things we can’t control
- Developmental issues – Whether due to childhood developmental delays or mental delays from birth, both are things that can affect concentration but that we have no control over.
- Depression – If you’ve experienced depression before you know that it can zap all your energy and leave you feeling depleted. It’s hard to get away from those feelings and focus on the tasks on your to-do list.
- Anxiety – On a similar note as with depression, or any other mental health disorder for that matter, anxiety can make it hard to pay attention. When your mind is constantly traveling to think about worst-case scenarios then it can’t concentrate on what you’re doing.
- Medication side effects – Some medication side effects can make your ability to think clearly decrease intensely when you take them. It can also affect your processing speed as well.
- Aging – As with any organ in the body, our mind can’t lose its power as we age. And with that also comes the issue of being able to concentrate for less and less time consistently.
Why is concentration more important now than ever before?
Over the past 10 years or so, as technology has slowly started taking over our lives, our ability to focus has been seriously impacted. With both our work and relaxation time revolving around some type of digital device, humans have been having a harder and harder time focusing on what’s happening in front of them.
This is because technology brought with it a slew of social media apps and other entertainment options that shortened our attention spans. For example, have you ever been watching a movie on TV while also scrolling through Instagram? Switching your focus from one screen to the other without actually paying attention to either?
Thanks to the dopamine hit constantly hitting our brains we’ve trained ourselves to need more of it and need it faster. It’s stunted our ability to focus in all aspects, not just when watching our favorite series, and creating some pretty serious consequences.
The relationship between concentration and ADHD
ADHD is a medical condition characterized by having issues related to focus and concentration. Contrary to popular belief, however, having ADHD doesn’t always mean you’re unable to concentrate. In some cases, it can actually mean you fixate too much on something instead.
While most common in children it can also affect adults and it’s because the condition showcases differences in how the brains of those affected work. Where other people might be able to sit still and read through a whole book with no issues, those with ADHD might find themselves losing focus and unable to stop moving around.
How working from home has increased ADHD diagnosis
While the number of diagnoses surrounding adult ADHD seems to have increased as Covid forced a work from home model on us, it actually doesn’t correlate in the way you might think. This is because while more people are being diagnosed it’s not working from home that’s causing the ADHD, it’s more that this new methodology is bringing up hidden symptoms that were already there.
One of the best tactics for people with ADHD to control their symptoms is a carefully crafted routine. If they know what to expect every step of the way then there are fewer small things to focus on. Working from home unexpectedly forced those routines out the window. People found that not going into the office, having to get ready for work, or driving the kids to school anymore left them feeling stressed and anxious.
As many of us flocked to our doctors for help getting through the emotional (or physical) toil of the pandemic, ADHD diagnoses started popping up. And with that, it seemed that the signs of ADHD that had been there since childhood started becoming more clear as well. So in the end, all working from home did was shed light on a problem that was already there.
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5 ways to improve your concentration and focus
Understanding what concentration is, how it can benefit you is very important. But so is learning how to practice it. So, if you find yourself constantly drifting when your boss is talking to you, then the tips below might help you improve your concentration skills.
1. Get outside
There’s something calming about being out in nature – have you ever noticed that? The smell of the air, the sight of greenery, and even the warm sunlight can change your energy levels in a snap. It works the same for concentration. Staring (or being) at nature, even for a few moments, can give your mind a place to focus on that won’t take up a lot of energy. This tip works so well that even a house plant on your office desk will do the trick.
2. Take a break
This one might sound counterproductive but think of it as coming up to the surface while diving to gather more air into your lungs before you swim back down. Recharge your battery by turning off all the things that may cause you to want to focus on them while you relax. Put your phone and do not disturb, close your email tab, and mute your Slack.
3. Train your brain
Just like when trying to tighten a muscle, your brain needs to be workout too in order to learn what you want it to. Which in this case is concentration. How can you do this? By teaching yourself the same thought process you need to activate your focus. Try doing a puzzle, a crossword, memory-based games, and even video games.
4. Focus on you
There’s no way to pour from an empty cup, so focusing on yourself is one of the best things you can do for concentration. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet, sleeping enough at night, and exercising too. Building a self-care routine will also help. It can be something as simple as a weekly bath but it can also be carving time to do that hobby you like. Even spending time with loved ones is a great option as well.
5. Check your space
Another way to improve concentration is to physically set up your environment for it. Ideally, this would look like placing your desk in front of a window with good sunlight and a view of nature. But if that’s not possible start by making sure the area around you is clean and tidy. Then you can add relaxing sounds in the background (lyric-free songs or nature sounds) and concentration boosting essential oil diffusers (rosemary is a great option).
Is it possible to be too focused?
While we’ve been talking about how important concentration is for your daily life, it’s also worth noting the flip side of that. There are certain situations where too much concentration can actually play against you.
When you’re in the zone and crossing things off your to-do list you run the risk of getting too last in the task. All that energy you’re using can leave you feeling drained, tired, and with not enough gas left in the task for all the other things you need to do after work. If you tend to be a perfectionist then concentration can also be a negative thing for you. It will cause you to keep focusing more and more to achieve a goal that will simply never happen.
When your concentration also forces you to have tunnel vision around the task it can take away focus from other important things. Things like your friends, family, self-care time, or the hobbies you enjoy which give you back that depleted energy.
The art of concentration is both simple and complicated at the same time. While there are so many factors that can affect your ability to focus, once you’re able to find out what works best for you then you’re setting yourself up to win.
There are tons of tips and tricks you can use to reach peak concentration, like the ones we mentioned above. But even that doesn’t touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning how to laser focus on a task.
Chris Bailey, a Canadian author who’s spent years researching the topic, talks more about concentration in his viral TedTalk video “How to Get Your Brain to Focus”. He’s also the author in charge of the international bestseller The Productivity Project, and he runs alifeofproductitvity.com. These are all great resources to keep learning how to train your brain to focus on anything you want it to.
Getting People Right (GPR) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional GPR resources below will be useful: