Whether you're living with ADHD or just have trouble focusing from
time to time, today's world is full of concentration killers.
Psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino, PhD offers a few tips to manage
distractions, starting with social media. It's easy to connect with
friends -- and disconnect from work -- many times an hour. Every status
update zaps your train of thought, forcing you to backtrack when you
Social Media Fix
Avoid logging in to social media sites while you're working. If you
feel compelled to check in every now and then, do it during breaks,
when the steady stream of posts won't interrupt your concentration. If
you can't resist logging in more frequently, take your laptop someplace
where you won't have Internet access for a few hours.
Culprit: Email Overload
There's something about an email -- it shoots into your inbox and
itches to be answered immediately. Although many emails are
work-related, they still count as distractions from your current
project. You won't make much progress if you constantly stop what you're
doing to reply to every message.
Email Overload Fix
Instead of checking email continuously, set aside specific times
for that purpose. During the rest of the day, you can actually shut down
your email program. This allows you to carve out blocks of time when
you can work uninterrupted.
Culprit: Your Cell Phone
Perhaps even more disruptive than the ping of an email is the
ringtone on your cell phone. It's a sound few of us can ignore. But
taking a call not only costs you the time you spend talking -- it can
also cut off your momentum on the task at hand.
Cell Phone Fix
Put caller ID to good use. If you suspect the call is not urgent,
let it go to voicemail. If you're working on a particularly intense
project, consider silencing your phone so you're not tempted to answer.
Choose specific times to check voicemail. Listening to all your messages
at once can be less disruptive than taking every call as it comes in.
If you've mastered the art of multitasking, you probably feel
you're getting more done in less time. Think again, experts say.
Research suggests you lose time whenever you shift your attention from
one task to another. The end result is that doing three projects
simultaneously usually takes longer than doing them one after the other.
Whenever possible, devote your attention to one project at a time,
particularly if you're working on an intense or high-priority task. Save
your multitasking skills for chores that are not urgent or demanding --
it probably won't hurt to tidy up your desk while talking on the phone.
Some of the tasks we have to do each day are more interesting than
others. The boring ones may burn through your attention span in minutes,
making you extremely vulnerable to distractions. Your phone, the
Internet, even the prospect of dusting your workspace can seem tempting
if you're bored.
Make a deal with yourself: If you stay on task for a certain period
of time, you earn a 10-minute break. Reward yourself with coffee, a
favorite snack, or a walk outside. Boring tasks are easier to accomplish
when you have something to look forward to. This is also one case where
multitasking may work well. Listening to the radio while filing
receipts could help you stay put long enough to finish the job.
Culprit: Nagging Thoughts
It's hard to focus on the work in front of you if you're worrying
about errands you need to run or housework to be done. Or perhaps you're
hung up on a conversation you had yesterday, and you keep replaying it
in your mind. Nagging thoughts of any sort can be a powerful
Nagging Thoughts Fix
One way to keep nagging thoughts from buzzing around in your brain
is to write them down. Make a list of errands, housework, or other tasks
you plan to complete later. Vent frustrations over an unpleasant
confrontation in your journal. Once these thoughts are on paper, you may
be able to let them go for a while.
When you feel like you have too much on your plate, it can be hard
to focus on individual tasks. To make matters worse, stress takes a
noticeable toll on the body. You may develop tight shoulders, headaches,
or a racing heart, all of which can chip away at your ability to
Learn stress reduction techniques, such as meditation. This can
help you rein in stressful thoughts, so they don't demand so much of
your attention. In one study, researchers found that people who took an
eight-week meditation course improved their ability to focus. If you
can't find a meditation class locally, look for one online.
Fatigue can make it tough to concentrate, even when you have few
distractions. Studies suggest too little sleep can sap your attention
span and short-term memory.
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Instead of burning
the midnight oil, make sleep a priority. This will help you get more
done during your waking hours. Also, pay attention to which times of day
you feel most alert. Then you'll know when to schedule your most
The brain can't focus without fuel, so skipping meals -- especially
breakfast -- is a top concentration killer. Research indicates
short-term memory and attention suffer when you rise and shine but do
Keep hunger at bay and give your brain a steady source of fuel with these habits:
Always eat breakfast.
Eat high-protein snacks (cheese, nuts)
Skip simple carbs (sweets, white pasta)
Choose complex carbs (whole grains)
Most people tend to think of sadness as the hallmark of depression.
But the National Institute of Mental Health says difficulty
concentrating is one of the most common symptoms. If you're having
trouble focusing, and you also feel empty, hopeless, or indifferent, you
may be experiencing depression.
If you think you might be depressed, the first step is to talk with
a doctor or counselor. Depression is highly treatable. Many studies
have shown the effectiveness of antidepressant medications and certain
types of talk therapy.
Unfortunately, some of the medications used to treat depression can
interfere with concentration. The same is true of many other drugs.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to check if a medication or supplement
you are taking may be affecting your concentration.
If you suspect your meds are clouding your concentration, don't
assume there are no other options. Talk to your doctor about adjusting
your dosage or switching to a different class of medication. Do not stop
taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not just a
problem for children. More than half of kids with ADHD continue to
experience symptoms as adults. The classic signs are a short attention
span and trouble focusing on tasks.
If you have consistent trouble focusing, and you had attention
problems as a child, ask a doctor or counselor about ADHD. There are
ways to manage the condition, including behavioral therapy and