I’ve sometimes wondered – and others have asked – if I have a form of ADD or ADHD. I have a very hard time sitting still, and not a moment goes by in the day when I’m not doing something, playing with something, reading something, or fiddling with something. I’m not a smoker, but I can see why the oral fixation and the need to have something in your hands can be so hard to deal with.
I have a hard time staying focused on anything, so I had to actually find ways how to improve concentration in order for me to be an effective writer, teacher, runner, and martial artist (all of these things require a good deal of concentration).
If you want to know how to improve concentration or how to improve focus, here are some tips that have helped me…
Get Your Senses Involved
If you want to concentrate more, try and engage all of your senses in what you’re doing. If you’re sitting in a meeting, try and take notes as you listen and see. Engaging your brain and your sense of touch can help make it easier for you to stay awake and alert – no matter how boring the droning may be.
Did You Know: Exercising your mind to improve your concentration and focus can help to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease? Whether you learn something new, memorize information, play games, do puzzles, solve riddles, or do new things with your mind, you’ll keep it active and prevent your mind from decaying as you age.
Mnemonics uses visual images as a means of recalling information easily. There are mnemonic devices for just about everything, and you can create your own if you want.
“My very excellent mother just served us nine pickles” is a great way to remember the order of the planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto).
They’ll help you to picture something in your head, and that picture will be related to information you want to remember. If you have a hard time concentrating on important facts, use mnemonics to help you.
Understand the Information
If you don’t understand what you’re reading, writing, or listening to, how are you going to focus? In order to be able to concentrate and focus properly, you’ll have to understand the information being presented.
Try and relate the new information to information you already have or understand, or structure it in a way that follows a logical progression. Just like you learn a new recipe by structuring it like an old recipe, structure your information this way to make it easier to remember.
You should try to use music for your work as well, as it will prevent your mind from wandering. When I write, I love to listen to music. It engages my sense of hearing, and it helps to tie my attention to the computer that I am using to write.
The music has to be coming through headphones directly into my ears, and surround sound or speakers just don’t work for me. Your brain can only multi-task so much, and occupying it with music and work leaves no room for any errant thoughts.
Just make sure the music you listen to matches the work you’re doing.
Know yourself and how you pay attention. My attention span lasts for about an hour and a half, and then I need a break. Some people can work for hours straight, but they have to down gallons of coffee to make it happen. Find out how you work, and make it easier on your body and your mind by tailoring your schedule accordingly.
Lifehack: Break your work up into chunks, and take a break once you’ve completed a task. I take a break after 90 minutes, and it helps me to focus more on what I’m doing once I get back to it. Plus, it gives my brain time to recover from the wealth of information I’ve typed and read as I work.
Whatever you do, stay offline and incommunicado as much as possible. You don’t want to be distracted by emails, Skype messages, texts, and phone calls, so take your phone off the hook, close your internet window, turn off your cell phone, and close Skype.
Lifehack: Social media is a mixed bag. Staying socially connected comes with many benefits, but like most things, should be enjoyed in moderation. Cut yourself off from the internet. If you have a hard time focusing on your work, you need to cut off all distractions. There are some apps what will do it for you. It will block your email, social media sites, and any other non-essential internet pages, helping you to focus on what you’re doing.
Exercises from the Early 20th Century
There’s this nifty book called The Power of Concentration, published in 1918 and written by Theron Q. Dumant. It’s got some great exercises that can help to improve concentration, like:
Focus on a Glass
Hold a glass of water in your hand, and extend your arm to its full length. Now stare at the glass, and hold it still for as long as you can. It can help you gain control over your voluntary muscles, and will sharpen your focus.
Smell the World
Sit in a comfortable spot, and inhale deeply through your nose. Try and isolate each of the smells that you are inhaling, and identify as many as you can. Try this at home, in the park, at the office, or anywhere else. It will help you concentrate your attention on individual things that make up a whole.
Feel Your Body
Listen to your heart beat, your stomach growl, your lungs fill and empty, and your blood pump. Picture your organs working, your blood flowing, and your body doing its thing. You’d be amazed at how relaxing it can be.