Do you ever struggle to concentra … Oh, look! What’s that out the window? Your level of concentration can affect your performance in work, home and social situations, with small lapses potentially leading you to neglect important details or make costly mistakes. And it seems distractions are largely to blame.
According to 2013 report Workplace productivity, “people are losing the ‘fight against distraction’ and that as much as people try to ignore a ‘distraction’ their attention will be captured and work forgotten”. In fact, about one in three of the Australian workers surveyed reported spending at least one quarter of their days on tasks they weren’t paid to do.
So, here’s a collection of tips for overcoming some common reasons for lapses in concentration.
‘I need to check Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram …’
- Problem: You want to update your status on one or more social media accounts, or check what others have posted.
- Solution: Try to resist the urge to use social media for personal reasons during your workday and instead log in afterwards or during breaks. If the temptation is too strong, consider disconnecting your electronic device from the internet, when possible.
‘I’ve just got an email’
- Problem: An email alert has popped up on your computer or phone screen and you want to reply straight away.
- Solution: Some work-related emails may require immediate responses, but when it comes to the rest, consider scheduling blocks of time to reply and take further action, where needed. If you’re doing something important or on a tight deadline, you could temporarily switch off your email alerts.
‘My phone is ringing’
- Problem: Your phone is ringing and you want to answer it.
- Solution: Consider using caller ID or setting a different ringtone for particular people to help you gauge whether to answer their calls even though you’re busy. If you’re doing something important, you could turn your phone off or to silent and let the call go to voicemail. Then, schedule a block of time to check your messages.
- Problem: You’re doing several tasks at once because it makes you feel like you’re achieving more in less time.
- Solution: The Workplace productivity report suggests that multitasking may hinder productivity as you’re not giving each activity “100 per cent focus”. Indeed, 2013 research in the journal PLoS One found that people who are most likely to multitask “are less able to block out distractions and focus on a singular task”. So, if you’re doing something important, aim to give it all your attention and save multitasking for less taxing chores.
- Problem: You find some tasks less interesting than others, so you’re prone to distractions.
- Solution: Aim to do a task for a specified block of time then reward yourself, perhaps with a short break. A 2013 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that rewards can in fact motivate you to perform boring tasks for longer.
‘I have other things to do’
- Problem: You’re worrying about other tasks you have to do.
- Solution: One way to help reduce your worries is to jot them down. “By writing down your worries, you feel as though you’re emptying your brain, and you feel lighter and less tense,” writes associate editor Margarita Tartakovsky in a post for PsychCentral. If you’re worried about work you have to do, consider making a list of tasks, prioritising them and deciding when you’ll do each one.
‘I’m stressed out’
- Problem: You’re stressed to the point it may be taking a physical toll – you may have tight shoulders, a headache or faster heartbeat.
- Solution: Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or visualising a peaceful scene, may help to reduce your stress levels. You could attend a local course on relaxation or enlist the help of a counsellor or psychologist.
- Problem: You’re too tired to concentrate.
- Solution: If you need to improve your focus and productivity, a 10- to 20-minute nap may help, based on a 2012 study published in the journal Sleep. Any longer and you may face half an hour of post-sleep grogginess. Also, bear in mind that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to feel refreshed and function well the next day, according to the Sleep Health Foundation. So, make good quality shut-eye a priority and if you still feel tired during the day, consult your doctor.
- Problem: You’re too hungry to concentrate.
- Solution: To function effectively, your brain needs a steady supply of fuel, beginning with breakfast. Accredited Practising Dietitian Kara Landau explains that by eating first thing in the morning, you can “get your brain to switch back on, which can make you feel less sluggish and more easily able to concentrate”. She says a healthy breakfast provides dietary fibre, protein and slow-release carbohydrates; for example quinoa porridge topped with chia seeds, crushed almonds, some ricotta cheese and half a banana.
‘I feel depressed’
- Problem: You’ve had trouble concentrating and felt either depressed or disinterested in your regular activities, most of the time for at least two weeks. It’s affecting your everyday functioning.
- Solution: Difficulty concentrating, feeling sad and losing pleasure in daily activities can be symptoms of depression. Other symptoms may include: feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt; weight loss or gain; sleeping too much or too little; tiredness; slowed or agitated thought processes or physical movements; and thoughts of death or suicide. If you believe you may have depression, consult your doctor, a counsellor or psychologist.
‘I’m on a new medication’
- Problem: You’ve had difficulty concentrating since you started taking a new medication.
- Solution: Particular medications, such as some used to treat depression, can affect your concentration. If you believe this may apply to you, consult your doctor or a pharmacist about changing your medication or dosage.
‘I might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’
- Problem: You were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child, or have a short attention span and difficulty concentrating, among other symptoms.
- Solution: ADHD is often considered a childhood disorder, but it can be a lifelong condition. There are different types of ADHD and not all adults with these subtypes of the disorder will experience the same symptoms. If you suspect you may have ADHD or have already been diagnosed and want to review your treatment plan, consult your doctor, a psychologist or a counsellor.
Maintaining your concentration for an entire workday can be challenging. While these tips may help you overcome some reasons for a loss of concentration, remember that regular breaks are important. So, listen to your body, and take reasonable steps to stay as focused and productive as possible.
** Note this was not written by me, and the author was unkown