Like all of us, you’ve probably experienced days at work where you just could not concentrate.
Maybe last night you did not get the best sleep, feel a little tired and you’re experiencing a lack of motivation.
So if any of that is happening, there are often scientific explanations, with easy solutions that can help improve your focus.
Here are 7 tips to boost focus at work to help you make the most of a workday.
7 Tips to Boost Focus at Work
1. How to Get Higher Quality Sleep
It might seem ironic that the first thing on this list is sleep.
But how you rest the night before plays a big role in how productive you are the following day.
When you sleep, and your brain enters deep sleep mode, your hippocampus and neocortex are hard at work reviewing what you did that day, and converting it into long-term memory.
If you find that after a poor night’s sleep you’ve forgotten critical things like an email you needed to send or a client to call up, this is why.
While you acquire and recall information while awake, memory consolidation, during which the associations between neurons related to specific information get stronger, happens while you sleep.
That’s not all.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you can feel a bit of brain fog, or may notice you’re a bit ill-tempered.
None of which bodes helps you to have a productive work day.
Good sleep helps you maintain a healthy emotional state.
It also helps your amydalya – which is the emotional center of your brain. Normally this is your fight or flight center and it tends to shrink when you don’t get high quality sleep.
So even if you’ve had a difficult workday the day before, a full night’s rest ensures you’re in a more positive and productive state, feeling much better the next day.
When you’re falling asleep, and just as you’re waking up, your brain is also undergoing alpha wave activity.
This type of brain waves keeps you clear-headed, calm and relaxed – and as a result, able to focus better.
One of the easiest ways to fall asleep faster is to entrain your brain to a specific rhythm.
Then slow that rhythm so that your brain waves slow way down and your brain waves follow towards the theta range which is when you’re really near sleep.
Sit on the side of your bed, begin to tap on the top of your upper legs, in an alternate sequence, like a ticking clock. Do this for 3 or 4 minutes and your brain waves follow the pattern into the alpha range.
Then slow that rhythm way down to as slow as you can and keep tapping on your upper legs until you feel sleepy.
Sounds very simple, and it is. But it is science-backed and all about the number of brain waves per second. The slower they are, the closer you are to sleep.
2. Limit Your Online Activities At Least a Couple of Hours Before Sleep
You might be one of the millions who struggle to sleep properly, and don’t know how to get better sleep in the first place.
Another simple way is to cut down the time you spend on your devices.
Your smartphone, tablet and laptop screen emit blue and white light, which disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm.
In other words, your brain thinks it’s daytime, and tries to stay active because it thinks it needs to be alert and process incoming stimuli.
So, although it might be tempting to stay scrolling through your social media feeds, try to shut off your devices a couple of hours before you go to bed.
If you have to keep working until late or need to be on your phone for other commitments, ensure you set yellow light filters on your computer and phone.
These can often be pre-programmed to switch on automatically at specific times of the day.
It helps to stay offline during work as well.
Since you might be working with devices, it’s pretty tempting to check out what’s happening on your newsfeed or timeline every couple of minutes.
But the brain – despite what you might have heard otherwise – doesn’t do well with multitasking (as you’ll see more about in a bit).
One experiment in a workplace environment found that if your concentration is disrupted while working, it can take up to half an hour to refocus.
So, turn off the notifications of your social media.
And if you don’t trust yourself not to give in to distraction, use options like Freedom to block social media sites and apps when you’re in work-mode.
You can always unblock them during your breaks and after work!
3. Change Your Lighting
Your devices aren’t the only things playing a role in lighting and the stimuli your brain receives.
So, switch out bright glaring lights for soft yellow/orange lighting in the evenings – which is similar to dusk, and therefore signals to your brain that it’s time to start relaxing.
You can opt for smart lighting which changes color temperatures depending on the time of day to maintain your circadian rhythm.
During the day, try and let lots of natural sunlight into the room where you work. You can change out all the bulbs, even the overhead ones to full spectrum lighting which mimics daylight.
Not only does this tell your brain it’s time work, and focus, it also creates fewer headaches than flourescent lighting and helps make you more productive.
Bright and naturally lit rooms signal to your brain that it’s time to concentrate and work.
This simple change can make a big difference in your sleeping patterns and your ability to focus at work!
4. Stay Active
Your job might involve you sitting down at a desk for long stretches of time.
And when you’re done for the day, you might feel too exhausted to try exercising.
But this is to the detriment of your brain health and your ability to focus.
Even if you’re not working out, staying active throughout the day.
For example, stretching and doing simple exercises at your desk, or taking the dog for a walk in the morning, sharpens your focus.
Your heart starts pumping faster, which increases the supply of blood to your brain.
As a result, the brain grows and forms neural pathways more efficiently.
Moreover, exercise triggers the production of endorphins and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
These not only make you feel great – which is something you might be missing when you have to pull yourself out of bed for work – but also improves your brain’s capacity to concentrate, learn and recall.
5. Mind Your Caffeine
Another means of triggering serotonin and dopamine?
Your morning caffeine fix.
You might be relying on caffeine to power you through the day already but might still find that it’s not a consistent solution to your focus problem.
First of all, are you putting sugar into your coffee? Or eating that doughnut with it?
Despite the dopamine rush you might initially feel from sugar, this is followed by a blood sugar drop, which leaves you feeling sluggish and unfocused.
Moreover, drinking too much coffee can also increase your feelings of anxiety, leave you jittery and restless.
Drinking too much coffee also leads to caffeine addiction which is actually pretty hard to kick.
If for some reason you don’t get your fix – a long line at your usual coffeeshop, the machine in the break-area under maintenance – you’re going to end up feeling tired, anxious, upset, unmotivated, etc.
But fret not – there’s an alternative.
Go for black and green teas instead – while these do contain caffeine, they also have this amazing amino acid called l-theanine which boosts your serotonin and dopamine production.
Without the buzziness you’d feel from black coffee.
My personal recommendation is matcha – a high-grade green tea in powdered form. Get the organic, first harvest if you can.
It’s not only excellent for your brain, but is packed full of vitamin B and free-radical combatting antioxidants!
And it also helps keep you calm and sleep better! Psst- trying to lose weight – the ECGC in green tea will make a huge difference!
6. Don’t Multitask
You might have a ton of things to do, but neuroscience shows that trying to do too many things at once actually damages your productivity.
Studies find that people who try to focus on too many things take longer to complete individual tasks and perform worse.
This is because you’re forcing your brain to switch tracks from creating and consolidating neural connections related to a specific task, over to another.
Imagine swerving your car around every couple of minutes because you decide a different route might be better, or remember a different location to go to.
It’ll just take much, much longer before you can get to where you’re going.
So, prioritize your tasks, plan ahead, and stick to your schedules.
Take regular breaks – because your brain needs time to absorb everything you’re inputting into it – and don’t overcommit if your plate is already full!
7. Mindful Breathing and Meditation
Mindful breathing is one of the best ways you can boost focus at work.
It’s something you can do anywhere, including at your desk.
When you breathe slowly and deeply, you send signals to a part of your brain called the vagus nerve.
This nerve is the longest one in the body, running all the way from your brain to your abdomen.
When you breathe slow and deep – inhaling for a couple of seconds, holding it and then exhaling slowly – your vagus nerve helps slow your heart down, gets your body to relax and your blood pressure to drop.
It’s a quick, easy and safe way to help get your work-related stress under control!
Mindful breathing is a core part of meditation, which is another helpful trick to help you focus better at work.
When you focus inward, and count your breaths, e.g. using the 4-7-8 technique (breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and breathe out for a count of 8), you are resetting your thoughts.
By directing your attention away from things which are stressing you out, you’re clearing up your mind.
Deep breathing also increases alpha brain wave activity, which as you read earlier, helps clear your mind to concentrate better!
And voila! Simple and science-backed ways you can boost your focus at work!
Try these out, and let me know which ones worked best for you!
Pat Wyman is a learning expert, university instructor, best-selling author and the CEO of HowtoLearn.com. She invites you to take the free Learning Styles Quiz on the home page.
Her courses, Total Recall Learning™ for Students, Total Recall Learning for Professionals™, Total Recall Speed Reading™and Total Recall Memory™ have benefited over half a million learners with higher grades, increased productivity and the ability to know how to read faster, learn and remember anything.
She’s worked with people in such corporations as Microsoft, Raychem and Sandvine and has won several life-time achievement awards for her work. Pat is a mom, golden retriever lover and big time San Francisco Giants fan! Come on by if you’re ever at a Giant’s game and she’ll welcome you with open arms.