Have your ever read five pages of a book just to realize that you cannot remember a single word of what you read? Tried to complete an important task at work but found that your attention kept drifting away to other places? Or zoned out in the middle of a conversation with someone? If so, you may be experiencing focus and concentration problems. Experiencing poor concentration can be very frustrating. It can impact our ability to function in everyday life and to focus on work and other activities. This may affect not only ourselves, but also our colleagues, family, and friends. Here, I outline some common causes that may explain why you are struggling to focus in everyday life. I then offer some advice on how to improve your focus and attention.
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Some Common Causes of Focus and Concentration Problems
Most of us experience days when our ability to focus is worse than normal. This may be because we have not had enough sleep. Or because we are thinking about something that draws attention away from other tasks. Many of us will also experience periods in life that put extra pressure on ourselves. For example, we may go through a month with a particularly high workload. We may also experience losses, or struggle with relationship problems that are hard to handle. All these situations may put extra stress on us and challenge our ability to focus. Luckily, these situations are often temporary, and in many cases our focus will improve once stressors cease.
However, in other cases the causes of concentration and attention deficits may be more severe or long-term. If we do not handle stressors appropriately, we may end up experiencing long-term problems, such as burnout or depression. Both these conditions can lead to significant problems with focusing. In severe cases, concentration and attention deficits may also be caused by disorders such as ADHD.
Keeping these causes in mind, what should you do if you are suffering from poor focus?
Understand the Causes of Your Focus and Concentration Problems
First of all, it is important to try to understand the causes of your focus problems. That way you can try to deal with the causes, which in turn may relieve your attention problems. For example, if you have not slept enough the past few days, getting a good night’s sleep may improve your ability to focus. Similarly, if you are experiencing high levels of stress, taking steps to reduce your stress levels may improve your attention.
Understanding your focus problems is also important because in some cases you may want to get professional help to deal with them. If you think that a condition such as depression, burnout, or ADHD is causing your concentration and attention deficits, consider talking to a medical doctor or psychologist. They can help you decide whether you require professional help to handle your problems. You can also take steps yourself to enhance your mental health, and with that your ability to focus. For example, getting enough exercise, sleep, and healthy food can help you maintain a healthy mind and improve your focus.
Divide Your Workload into Smaller Chunks
Too much information at once can lead to information overload and make it hard to concentrate. Therefore, if you are in a period of high workload and this is making it hard to focus, you may benefit from dividing your workload into smaller chunks. Rather than thinking about the twenty-page report you have to write, try thinking about one section at a time. Once you have finished a section, cross it off your to-do list. That way, you need to focus on less information at a time, and your workload may seem more manageable.
If you find that your focus frequently drifts away from your tasks, you could also try to set work time intervals. For example, set time intervals of 30 minutes where you try to maintain your work focus. Each time you complete a time interval, allow yourself a small break. Just make sure your breaks do not end up longer than your work intervals!
These days, a lot of us work from home. In doing so, some may have noticed that their home has a lot of tempting distractions. It may be social media, chitchatting with friends, or plants that need watering. All these attention grabbers have in common that they draw focus away from the tasks we are meant to do. If you struggle to maintain your focus, try to be aware of possible distractions and take steps to minimize them. If you are easily distracted by social media, try to turn off notifications. You could also try to set a time limit on apps such as Instagram. A final thing that may be helpful is to make a list of distractions that you know you are easily drawn towards. This may make it easier to catch yourself when you feel the temptation to engage in any of these distractions.
Train Your Focus and Attention Skills
My final advice is one that requires a little extra effort. Mindfulness is a practice that involves training our attention and focus, and has seen an incredible growth in popularity the past few years. There are now numerous studies supporting its benefits. Some of the proven benefits are improved focus, and enhanced ability to manage distractions. In other words, mindfulness practice may help you focus on your everyday tasks. As an added bonus, mindfulness practice may also enhance your resilience to stressors and protect against depression. That way, it may prevent you from experiencing problems with focusing when faced with stressful situations in the future.
Mindfulness practice may seem like a lot of effort, but try to see it as a kind of mental workout. In the same way as physical workout promotes a healthy body, mindfulness practice can help you maintain a healthy mind. Fancy giving it a try?
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