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5 Effective Ways to Improve Concentration and Cognition

What to do and not do to become less stressed and more focused at work and home.

Key points

  • As a nation, we are more stressed out than ever, which affects our ability to concentrate.
  • You can improve your concentration as you begin to avoid unnecessary distractions.
  • Starting a daily mindfulness practice can improve your concentration and cognitive functioning.

If you are easily distracted or unable to concentrate, you’re not alone. According to a recent American Psychological Association poll, nearly two in five adults report that when they are stressed, they can’t bring themselves to do anything; stress causes forgetfulness and impacts the ability to concentrate and make decisions.

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Five Ways to Improve Your Concentration

  1. Prioritize your health and wellness. Your concentration is best when you have proper sleep, nutrition, hydration, and work-life balance. Keep your blood sugar and energy balanced throughout the day by taking micro breaks for self-care. You will have difficulty concentrating if you are overworked and burned out.
  2. Get a mental health tune-up. Research shows rates of depression and anxiety climbed by more than 25% worldwide in 2020 due to the ripple effect of the pandemic. Think of therapy as a routine and preventative form of healthcare, like seeing the dentist or the doctor. Make an appointment to clear the cobwebs from your mind.
  3. Start a morning routine. Having a morning routine that involves self-care will set you up for success for the rest of the day. Set your alarm 20-30 minutes earlier and take a few moments when you wake up to journal, have your coffee out in nature, do some stretching, make your bed, or set your intentions for the day. Research shows that a disruption in your morning routine has ripple effects throughout the day.
  4. Structure your day. Designate periods of time for different tasks or activities and commit to those boundaries. Be sure to schedule in time for self-care and time to access the support you need so you can recharge your batteries and maintain focus. Allow time to transition between activities.
  5. Silence your inner saboteur. We all have that voice in our head that puts us down and overwhelms us with negative thoughts. Over time, we can silence the inner saboteur and replace that voice with self-compassion, self-care, and self-affirmation, which will improve self-esteem and self-efficacy so that we are more confident in our ability to focus and achieve our goals.

What to Avoid for Better Concentration

  • Multitasking. We often think that multitasking saves time and increases productivity, but the opposite is true. Multitasking causes our brains to be stressed and overwhelmed. We lose time transitioning from one task to the other. Multitasking increases errors and reduces productivity.
  • Notifications. Turn off your social media, email, gaming, and other notifications (including texts on your phone). Each time a notification goes off, you are interrupted and need to redirect your attention.
  • Too much caffeine, sugar, or other substances. You can’t expect your brain to function properly in the morning if you took a sleep aid at 4am when you couldn’t sleep. Or perhaps you had a pot of coffee or ate only a donut and diet soda the previous day. Recognize that even foods affect your mood and ability to focus.

How to Get into that Flow or Focused Headspace

Research shows that mindfulness improves concentration and cognitive functioning. Practices such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, or simply unplugging from technology and connecting with nature will help you get out of your head and into your body. When we connect with our breath and our senses we can silence our mind chatter and access deeper and more intuitive aspects of ourselves and access that flow state—the space where our mind, body, and spirit are aligned and our energy is focused.

  • Limit distractions

Each of us has internal or external distractions. External distractions may be the challenge for the mom who works from home with five kids and three pets and a partner who plays the electric guitar. Meanwhile, internal distractions may be more of a challenge for the single person with ADHD or someone with massive life stressors.

How to limit external distractions:

  • Turn off notifications by using the Do Not Disturb feature on all your devices (including phone and smart watch).
  • Shut down tabs or open screens for anything other than what you are working on.
  • Set firmer boundaries with your loved ones if working from home. Communicate your need for uninterrupted and dedicated concentration during a certain time frame and hold firm to that. Request that children, pets, and other distractions be kept from interfering with your work.

How to limit internal distractions:

  • Do a short meditation prior to your work time. Visualize yourself completing your tasks with ease and success. Feel how it feels to complete the work with a job well done.
  • Set an intention for your work time. For example, “I will complete this project and feel proud of my work and at peace.”
  • Make your intention your mantra. Repeat the intention as a mantra silently or out loud any time you fall off track. Even write it on a sticky note and post it on your monitor.
  • Practice healthy detachment. Learn to cultivate healthy emotional separation from other people’s problems, your own negative emotions, expectations, and outcome. Detachment is a mindfulness strategy to zoom out and see the greater perspective so that you don’t get entangled in the weeds that prevent you from concentrating. Compartmentalization is a detachment strategy by which you put your worries on a shelf so that you can focus on the task at hand.

If you still have challenges, consider counseling or therapy as mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, substance use disorders, and ADD/ADHD all impact concentration.


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