We’ve all been there. We need to get something long, complicated, or boring finished, but we simply can’t focus. Every time we attempt to crack on, our mind wanders off to fairer places and we grind to a halt.
Revising for exams, finishing that report for your boss, writing an article for SaintLuxx – whatever it is, it can be a real challenge if your brain simply won’t stay on track.
There are just so many distractions in this modern world of ours – iPhone, tablet, PC, TV, games, and that’s before we mention all of the other humans we have in our lives.
There’s no surefire way to shackle your brain and make it play ball, but there are some best practices that will set you up to put the smack down on it.
Try a few of these next time you’re cramming for something and see if they give you a hand:
Get Your Environment Sorted
Before you even try to settle into some business, make sure your environment is conducive to working hard. In other words, minimise distractions. Don’t have your iPhone on your desk notifying you every 10 seconds that someone “likes” you.
Let’s be honest, those notifications are rarely important, so put the phone on silent and turn it face down. Turn off vibrate too; if you hear it buzz, you won’t be able to avoid turning it over to have a look.
In fact, turn it off. Nothing is that urgent.
Wherever you are working – home, school, the library, office – make sure that your desk is tidy. I don’t want to sound like your mum, but the tidier your workspace, the tidier your mind will feel.
Visual distraction can play havoc with concentration spans. Also, it feels pretty crappy to be stuck somewhere for hours that looks like a rubbish dump. If the environment feels more pleasant to be in, then you’re less likely to feel bad about staying put.
Some people work well with music on, some people don’t. So it’s your call. If you do want to listen to music, I would say that you should go for something relatively soothing and without distracting lyrics. And you’ll probably want to have the volume down pretty low, too.
Sometimes other people can be just as much of a distraction as our own minds. If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t help – we encourage people to interrupt us, because we sort of don’t want to be working.
If you are at home, go to a room with a “do not disturb” sign on the door, or, at least tell people (nicely) not to bother you for a few hours.
At work, this can be challenging. People are quite often milling around having a chat – normally because they are sick of not being able to concentrate themselves.
You don’t have to be rude, but you can be firm. Tell them you really have to get something done and ask them to come back in 1-2 hours when you will be ready to start mucking about and wasting time again.
Mind Over Matter
The brain likes to wander, especially if it is bored. It’s natural. But it needs to be curtailed. It is possible, over time, to train your brain to focus.
Every time you feel it waltzing away from its focus, command it back. It is your brain after all. Sometimes we use our badly controlled brain as an excuse to stare into space – don’t allow it. Each and every time it walks from the line of concentration, be mindful of it, reign it back in and start again.
This isn’t as easy as I’m making it sound, but the more often you show your brain who’s boss, the more often it will obey you.
Switch It Up Every So Often
If you have done a pretty good, long session, but you feel like your concentration is waning, switch something up.
Something simple like switching the music off, changing position in the chair, facing in a different direction, or moving to another room can be all that is needed to get your focus back.
Try as many different things as you can to achieve the perfect working position for you. Everyone is different, and when you find the right spot, or the right position, you will know about it.
Streamline And Plan
Whether it is a report deadline or an exam looming, make sure you get your plan straight. If you have loads of things competing in your mind for your attention, your poor old brain won’t know which way to turn.
Set out a clear plan, a structure to your time. Do one thing at once, and really focus on it. Don’t worry about the other things you have to do next – the time for them will come, just concentrate on the matter in hand.
If your plan isn’t well written, you can start to panic, and concentrating while you are panicking is pretty much impossible.
Sleep Well, My Friend
Sometimes we need to pull an all-nighter, that’s not ideal though, so avoid it if you can. When we have a lot on our plates, sleeping can be difficult, and we are more inclined to either stay up late working, or stay up late relaxing because we are dreading starting work the next day.
Sleep is essential for maintaining focus. Without enough rest, our brain will be super flighty. It will whizz off whenever it gets half a chance.
A tired brain is not a helpful brain. Keep it seduced by sleep.
Whatever your current project is, I wish you luck. Now stop wasting time reading this article and get on with your work… yes, you.