Ever sit down to work and realize 20 minutes later that you haven’t even started? Have you picked up your phone to make a call and forgot because you received a news alert? Have you ever reread a paragraph multiple times before you truly take in the information?
The ability to focus, or center your attention, is not a given. Inc. recently reported that nearly three out of four American workers feel distracted at work. The good news is that mental clarity is something you can cultivate with practice.
Here are four tips for improving your ability to tune out distractions and focus on what you are doing.
According to the Harvard Health Blog , exercise can improve your mental clarity both directly and indirectly. Exercise reduces insulin resistance and inflammation, while stimulating the release of growth factors – chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells and the growth of new blood vessels in the brain. Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety . Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to mental fogginess, or an inability to concentrate.
Begin a mindfulness practice
Studies looking at how the brain changes before and after meditation have found that brain structures involved in awareness, attention, and self-related thinking changed in structure and increased in volume after meditation. Research has also shown that after eight weeks of meditation training, the hippocampus area of the brain, which is involved in learning and memory, developed more gray matter density. Very literally, mindfulness practices increase your brain’s ability to focus on the task at hand.
Change how you think about multitasking
Many studies have squashed the idea that multitasking increases productivity. Still, chances are high that you will be tempted to multitask many times throughout any given day. To improve your focus, be deliberate about when you are multitasking and when you are not. Pressuring yourself to either focus all the time or multitask all the time is not realistic (or fun). Plan your schedule so you have some of each in your day.
Identify your peak time of day
For most people, there is one time of day (morning, afternoon, or evening) when they are most productive. To improve your focus, examine which time of day is your personal peak time, and use that information to your advantage . For example, if you are a morning person, block off two hours of uninterrupted work time to focus on critical projects first thing in the morning, and then catch up on meetings and email later in the day.
Obtaining more mental clarity is possible with a few lifestyle changes and healthy habits … indeed, a bit of focused attention.