I am finding it harder and harder to stay focused. I get distracted with information overload and too often get upset about something I read. What are some ways to keep my concentration without my mind wandering?
Answer: I agree, it does seem more challenging than ever to block out the constant barrage of emails, Tweets, and social media interruptions. But you can improve your focus and concentration. Here are actions you can take immediately when your mind starts to move off target.
When you feel your attention waning or need to prepare your brain for situations that require a high level of focus, try the following:
Don’t be a mental superhero. Do one task at a time until it’s completed, and then move on to the next one. That way, your mind doesn’t have to compete with other stimuli.
Work in blocks of time.
Find your ideal time frame for brain work. When you do routine mental activities, like reading a book passage, take note how much time has passed before your attention drifts. You should be able to find a range where your attention is at its peak. Work within this time segment (set a reminder when time’s up), take a break, and then return for another round.
Turn off your TV and set up website blockers so the Internet won’t tempt you. If your smartphone interferes with your ability to stay focused, place it in a drawer, another room, or anywhere that you can’t see or hear it while you try to concentrate. You also can adjust your phone’s settings to block calls during certain hours. (If you’re worried about missing a critical call, you can create a list of contacts who will be allowed to reach you.)
If you find that some background noise actually helps with concentration, listen to soothing ambient sounds, like nature settings or white noise.
Take a quick jog.
A study published online Nov. 22, 2021, by Scientific Reports found that just 10 minutes of moderate-intensity running increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for executive function skills, like staying focused on a task until completion. Not a runner? Try a brisk walk — or anything else that gets your body moving and heart pumping.
Practicing mindfulness is another way to improve focus. One exercise to try is open awareness. The goal is to keep your mind from wandering while doing routine and mundane tasks like eating, showering, cooking a meal, or household cleaning.
Howard LeWine, M.D., is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. For additional consumer health information, please visit www.health.harvard.edu.
(C)2023 President and fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.