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Four ways to improve your focus
Posted 6 February 2019
Struggling to stay focussed? We’ve all been there. But before you reach for another snack, or give in to the allure of your phone, here are a few pro tips to have you finishing those tasks, and achieving your goals.
1. Set yourself up
Keep your work-station clean and distraction free. Whether you’re working at the office or home, make sure you have a space where your brain can engage in the work you’re doing – and not be pulled away by the big pile of washing in the corner, or caught planning out your weekend.
2. Create associations
Adelaide psychologist Lauren Moulds suggests the use of music or scents to help our brains concentrate and “switch on”. Scents that can help with focus include lemon, lavender, peppermint, jasmine, rosemary and cinnamon.
If you’re in the office, headphones are a great option, but it may not be considered good manners to fire up an oil burner. In this case, drinking herbal teas might work. Experiment with a few varieties to see which works best to keep your brain focussed.
3. Remove extra technology
Access to the internet, either on your phone or computer, is sometimes essential, but it can also be highly distracting.
To resist temptation, Lauren suggests you keep your mobile phone in a different room while you’re working, and “if you are doing a task that doesn’t need the internet (e.g. writing an assignment) turn off Wi-Fi so you can’t quickly check Facebook mid-sentence.”
4. Structure your day
Finding your natural work rhythm and structuring your day accordingly can be the key to productivity and maintaining your focus. Some people do their best work in the morning, for some it’s late at night. There are a stack of different techniques and suggestions out there, so try a few until you find one that suits your style. For example:
The 20/5 technique
This technique encourages you to work for 20 minutes and then reward yourself with a five-minute break. Lauren says it’s important to monitor yourself, particularly if you’re new to the technique. Lauren says, “Set an alarm for 20 minutes, and when it goes off ask yourself ‘do I need the break, or can I keep going?’ See if you can keep going, even for an extra five minutes and delay your reward. Make sure you time your breaks too!”
While we may think 20 minutes isn’t much time to work, Lauren says it can be an excellent strategy to remain focused, and could actually speed up the time it takes you to complete a task. “Working in 20-minute blocks consistently is much more efficient than being unfocussed for an hour.”
Eat the frog first
Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Frogs aside, it’s best to do the hardest, most laborious tasks first, and then you can sail through the rest of the day knowing you have achieved something.
How to refocus, if you lose it...
The reality is, we’re not all perfect and we all have times where even the best oil burner or motivational playlist can’t do the trick to keep us focused. So what do you do if you need to get back in the ‘zone’?
Change your environment
Whether you’re in a city office, your little desk nook at home, or even a shared working space, sometimes a change of scenery can reset your work spark. Head outside for some fresh air, or find a quiet meeting room where you can work uninterrupted.
Take a power nap
If your environment suits it, taking a power nap can be a good way to give your brain a restart and keep focus for the rest of the afternoon. There are a few things to be aware of though: it’s no good for people who suffer from insomnia; it’s not recommended for durations of longer than 20 minutes; and ideally it should be taken after lunch, but before 3pm. If you’re keen to give it a try, there is an additional technique which might interest you – indulging in caffeine immediately before your nap. Caffeine generally takes around 20-45 mins to kick in, so if you have this before you nod off, then you’ll wake up with maximum alertness.