Five ways science can improve your focus (2023)

Five ways science can improve your focus

Five ways science can improve your focus (1)

By Caroline Williams25th September 2017

Anyone who has tried to concentrate on a difficult or boring piece of work will know how tough it can be, but science has some counter-intuitive findings that could help.

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The internet is bursting with advice on how to concentrate amid a sea of distractions. But many of them are either wildly unrealistic or leave you out of the office loop and distracted by thoughts of what you might be missing. How many of us can “always find what you do inspiring and fun” or would be comfortable turning off social media, spending the day wearing headphones, or working offline?

Many tips bear little relation to what psychologists are discovering about the way the human mind works

Perhaps more importantly, however, many of these tips bear little relation to what psychologists are discovering about the way the human mind works.

Many of the things we think we should be doing to help us concentrate actually work against the way that our brain naturally operates. So what can we learn from the science of focus to get more done, and do any of common tips actually work?

Zone out

It might seem counter-intuitive, but allowing your mind to wander may be one of the best approaches if you are struggling to focus. There is a growing realisation among psychologists that we spend an awful lot of time daydreaming – almost 50% of the time by some measures. This has led some psychologists to suggest that mind wandering is not so much a glitch, but rather a key part of the system itself that can help our brains function.

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Looking at the brain itself can help to reveal that our focus wanes for a good reason. Concentration requires a network of brain regions including the frontal cortex, which is responsible for resisting distractions and controlling our natural impulse to do something more fun. Keeping this network functioning requires more energy than the group of brain regions that are active when we are thinking about nothing in particular. Inevitably, at some point during the day, we run out of steam and that’s when mind wandering kicks in.

People who are better at staying on task tend to do their daydreaming at times when it doesn’t matter

So if it’s going to happen, then why not schedule it at a convenient time? Paul Seli, a psychologist at Harvard University, has distinguished between deliberate and accidental mind wandering, and says that only the accidental kind is bad for getting stuff done. People who slot intheir daydreaming when they know that it won’t matter – when doing mindless admin, for example, suffer less than those whose mindsskip off without their say-so, says Seli.

“If the task is easy, intentionally mind wandering will likely not result in performance costs, but it should afford people the opportunity to reap the benefits of mind wandering, such as problem-solving and planning,” he says.

This suggests that deliberately letting your mind off the hook now and again might pay dividends.

“Think about something unrelated, maybe problem-solve something else that you've got on your mind and then come back to your task,” suggests Seli.

Giving yourself permission to think about anything but work not only takes the guilt out of mind wandering, it also helps tick a few things off the mental to-do list that caused the mind wandering in the first place.

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Muck about

Five ways science can improve your focus (3)

One study recommended workplaces should encourage a more “playful” culture – mandated cat video breaks, perhaps? (Credit: Alamy)

Funny cat videos are often seen as the ultimate distraction for procrastinators, but some psychologists think that they might actually help put us in the right mental state to get on with work.

According to a recent study, a good way to boost your reserves of willpower is to have a good laugh

This is because, no matter how much you love your job, staying focused on something difficult requires willpower. According to a recent study, a good way to boost your reserves of willpower is to have a good laugh. In experiments, people who had watched a funny video tried longer and harder to complete an impossible puzzle than a control group of people who watched a video that was relaxing but not funny. The study concluded that humour replenishes our reserves so effectively that workplaces should encourage a more “playful” culture.

“Creating a culture of fun in your team – where you deliberately find something funny to laugh at, like a funny email or YouTube video would be one way of helping you to boost your work productivity,” says David Cheng, a leadership researcher at the Australia National University in Canberra, who led the research. “Of course this isn’t a blank cheque to watch cat videos all day, but taking the occasional break to joke around is useful, especially when you are feeling really tired.”

Make it harder

To concentrate properly you must get rid of all external distractions, right? Actually, according to one influential theory of attention, the opposite is true.

Nilli Lavie, a psychologist at University College London, came up with what she calls ‘Load Theory’ in 1995. The idea is that there is a limit to how much information from the outside world our brains can process at any one time – once all of these processing ‘slots’ have been filled, the brain’s attention system kicks in to decide what to focus on.

Five ways science can improve your focus (4)

Can’t see your desk under all the mess? Lavie’s experiments suggest you’re onto something (Credit: Alamy)

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Lavie’s experimentssuggest we might be better to work not in clean, tidy and silent surroundings, but in those that are messy and confusing. It works because once all the perceptual slots have been taken up, the brain has to pour all its energies into focusing on the most important task. Distractions simply get screened out.

The problem with putting this into practice, however, is finding the right kind of distraction and keeping it on the right side of being overwhelming. There are a few apps, such as ommwriter or focus@will, that add visual or musical distractions to order, but so far none have been tested in scientific studies and may be no better than putting the radio on.

The key is to give your mind just enough to do, so that your brain doesn't have the chance to look elsewhere for stimulation. For most people it might be a case of trial and error to find what works for them, but since screening out distractions can be tiring, perhaps this is one to use sparingly, when all else has failed.

Stop working

When you’re up against it, taking a break might be the last thing on your mind. But there is a huge amount of evidence to suggest it can actually help you get more done. The challenge is working out when to take a break, for how long, and what to do with that downtime.

Some studies suggest that due to natural variations in our cycle of alertness, we can concentrate for no longer than 90 minutes before needing a 15-minute break

Some studies dating from the 1990s suggest that due to natural variations in our cycle of alertness, we can concentrate for no longer than 90 minutes before needing a 15-minute break.

Other studies have found that even a micro-break of a few seconds will work, provided it is a total distraction – in the studies, people did a few seconds of mental arithmetic, so you may have to do something more intense than staring out of the window.

Five ways science can improve your focus (5)

For those who can unglue themselves from their keyboards, a lunchtime jog outdoors could do the trick (Credit: Getty Images)

Exercise is a good thing to do in with your break, as it seems to rev up the brain, putting it into a better state to knuckle back down, particularly, according to this study, if you follow it with a caffeinated drink. Take your exercise outdoors and get a further boost – spending time in nature has long been suspected to improve people’s ability to focus.

Meditation is another option. There is growing evidence that experienced meditators have better control over their attention resources than non-meditators and are much better at noticing when it’s time for a break.

If that all sounds a bit time-consuming, the good news is that, with or without exercise, a quick dose of caffeine improves memory, reaction time and attention in the short term. So however you choose to take your break, always stop to put the kettle on as you make your way back to your desk.

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Five ways science can improve your focus (6)

Exercise not your thing? Caffeine can provide a short-term solution (Credit: Alamy)

Don’t try so hard

When you need to focus for long periods, less is more, according to studies by Joe DeGutis and Mike Esterman at the Boston Attention and Learning Lab in Massachusetts. In brain imaging experiments, they found that the most successful strategy for staying on course was to focus for a while, and then to take a short break before going back to concentrating. People who tried to be ‘on’ all the time made more mistakes overall.

The more we know about the brain, the clearer it is that stress is the enemy of concentration

Similarly, research by Christian Olivers of Vrije University in Amsterdam found that people’s attention resources stretched a little bit further when they were simply told to back off and think about something else instead of concentrating fully.

This, in fact, may be the most useful outcome of all the research into focus. The more we know about the brain, the clearer it is that stress is the enemy of concentration. So take the time to do whatever it takes to feel calmer and more in control, and, with luck, the work will take care of itself.

Caroline Williams is a science journalist and author of Override: My quest to go beyond brain training and take control of my mind.

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FAQs

How do you focus science? ›

Here are 13 tips scientists have found that enhance focus.
  1. Minimize multitasking. ...
  2. Meditate. ...
  3. Exercise regularly. ...
  4. Establish a to-do list. ...
  5. Try a small amount of caffeine. ...
  6. Take breaks. ...
  7. Listen to the right music. ...
  8. Train your brain to focus.
26 Jan 2022

How can a student improve focus? ›

How to improve concentration starts with these few basic steps.
  1. Create a dedicated study area to improve student focus. ...
  2. Avoid distractions while studying. ...
  3. Set up a schedule – and stick to it. ...
  4. Avoid loud music or television. ...
  5. Develop a study strategy. ...
  6. Take scheduled breaks.
2 Dec 2020

How can a teenager improve concentration? ›

Try these top tips to help them stay focused and develop better study habits:
  1. Understand Energy Levels for Better Focus. ...
  2. Brain Training To Ignore Distractions - As Easy As ABC. ...
  3. Know the Difference Between Work and Relaxation. ...
  4. Limit Access to Mobile Phones and Devices. ...
  5. Turn Off Internet Access. ...
  6. Headphones Can Help.

How can I focus on school work? ›

10 Tips on How to Stay Focused in High School
  1. Identify your learning style. ...
  2. Actively participate in class discussions. ...
  3. Create a productive learning environment for yourself. ...
  4. Take notes. ...
  5. Preview and review material. ...
  6. Keep a calendar for assignments and deadlines. ...
  7. Eliminate distractions. ...
  8. Practice healthy habits.
29 Sept 2020

Why is focus so important? ›

Focus is so important because it is the gateway to all thinking: perception, memory, learning, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making. Without good focus , all aspects of your ability to think will suffer... Here's a simple reality: "If you can't focus effectively, you can't think effectively."

Where should we focus our attention on Class 5? ›

1. Where should we focus our attention on? Ans: We should focus our attention to achieve the common goal.

How can I improve my memory and concentration? ›

Advertisement
  1. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. ...
  2. Stay mentally active. ...
  3. Socialize regularly. ...
  4. Get organized. ...
  5. Sleep well. ...
  6. Eat a healthy diet. ...
  7. Manage chronic conditions.

Why is focus important in school? ›

In essence, Focus helps us to get started on something and sustain our attention and effort through its completion. Focus is very important for many academic tasks. Students need to be able to use Focus when reading in order to pick out main ideas and fully comprehend the parts of a story.

How do you use focus in a sentence? ›

Noun He's successful, but he feels that his life lacks focus. His life lacks a focus. Verb She has an amazing ability to focus for hours at a time.

How can I improve myself everyday? ›

Here's a look at some ways to build self-improvement into your daily routine and let go of negative thoughts about yourself.
  1. Cultivate gratitude. ...
  2. Greet everyone you meet. ...
  3. Try a digital detox. ...
  4. Use positive self-talk. ...
  5. Practice random acts of kindness. ...
  6. Eat at least one meal mindfully. ...
  7. Get enough sleep. ...
  8. Breathe consciously.
24 Apr 2019

How can I stop looking for love? ›

6 Ways To Stop Looking For Love And Let Love Find You
  1. Stop wearing makeup on a daily basis. ...
  2. Get a drastic haircut. ...
  3. Take off the high heels. ...
  4. Say thanks but no thanks when you would rather stay home. ...
  5. Open up in a vulnerable way with a new friend. ...
  6. Share your creativity and open yourself up to critiques.
14 Sept 2015

What is good for focus and concentration? ›

Nuts and seeds are good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which has been linked in some studies to less cognitive decline as you age. Dark chocolate also has other powerful antioxidant properties, and it contains natural stimulants like caffeine, which can enhance focus.

How can I improve my child's concentration and focus? ›

  1. 1 Set aside a reasonable amount of time for your child to practice focusing on a specific task. ...
  2. 2 Do one thing at a time. ...
  3. 3 Set aside homework time and space. ...
  4. 4 Build in planned breaks. ...
  5. 5 Practice belly breathing. ...
  6. 6 Break big tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces. ...
  7. 7 Practice observing things in the moment.
27 Jan 2016

How can students concentrate at home? ›

10 tips for staying focused when learning from home
  1. Make your study space cozy and clean. ...
  2. Switch up your study spots. ...
  3. Do a “brain boost” whenever you find yourself drifting. ...
  4. Hydrate! ...
  5. Keep lists. ...
  6. Play around with sound. ...
  7. Find a creative outlet. ...
  8. Learn a new skill to balance your studying.

How can I study without distractions? ›

  1. It's easy to get distracted and check your social media during online classes. ...
  2. Close any social media sites & apps. ...
  3. Limit your smartphone usage. ...
  4. Turn off your phone or leave it out of reach. ...
  5. Create a social media schedule. ...
  6. Research where your time is going and use reminders.

How long can a student focus? ›

Some psychologists claim the typical student's attention span is about 10 to 15 minutes long, yet most university classes last 50 to 90 minutes.

How many things should you focus on? ›

No matter who you are, you can't do more than three things well - let alone recall more than three things--at any one time. Remember the child's game Whisper Down the Lane, also known as Telephone? There would be eight to 10 items initially that participants had to remember and pass along to the next person in line.

What is another word for focus on? ›

What is another word for focus on?
addressconsider
mindemphasiseUK
emphasizeUSexamine
spotlighttarget
concentrate ondeliberate on
14 more rows

What is an example of focus? ›

Focus is defined as to concentrate on something in particular. Focus is defined as to bring into view. An example of focus is to put all of one's energy into a science project. An example of focus is to adjust a microscope to better see a specimen.

What is focus success? ›

It's one thing to want to achieve a goal, but you have to do the right things if you want to achieve that goal with effectiveness and efficiency. Focusing on doing the right things and being ruthless in doing those things right is what will make sure you're ahead of the competition.

What is focus life? ›

Focus is ultimately about having full control of your mind. Learn how to develop the ability to choose what you are thinking about, feeling and doing.

How can I be a good student? ›

How to Be a Better Student
  1. Set goals. Goals, both short and long-term, are a great way to measure your success. ...
  2. Adopt and stick to a study schedule. ...
  3. Stay well-rested. ...
  4. Take advantage of educator resources. ...
  5. Healthy study techniques for proper exam preparation. ...
  6. Develop note-taking skills. ...
  7. Extracurricular activities. ...
  8. Study buddies.

How can I focus in class online? ›

Study Tips for Online Classes
  1. Establish a dedicated study area. Don't double your kitchen or dining room table as a classroom. ...
  2. Eliminate Distractions. ...
  3. Reward Yourself. ...
  4. Try The Pomodoro Technique. ...
  5. Form a study group. ...
  6. Take handwritten notes. ...
  7. Set Dedicated Study Time. ...
  8. Don't Forget To Sleep.

How do you focus in college? ›

Learn how to tackle distractions, prepare your mind and maintain your focus throughout your time at college.
...
  1. Get rid of distractions. ...
  2. Participate in class. ...
  3. Take notes. ...
  4. Eat and drink before class. ...
  5. Get enough sleep. ...
  6. Exercise in-between classes. ...
  7. Find your motivation.
23 Feb 2022

How can we improve our brain health? ›

Here are five things I recommend to my patients in order of importance:
  1. Exercise regularly. The first thing I tell my patients is to keep exercising. ...
  2. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep plays an important role in your brain health. ...
  3. Eat a Mediterranean diet. ...
  4. Stay mentally active. ...
  5. Remain socially involved.
12 Jun 2020

How do we develop the powers of our mind? ›

8 Ways to Improve Your Brain Power
  1. Exercise. We all know that we should be getting regular exercise. ...
  2. Drink coffee. ...
  3. Get some sunlight. ...
  4. Build strong connections. ...
  5. Meditate. ...
  6. Sleep well. ...
  7. Eat well. ...
  8. Play Tetris.
9 Sept 2015

What is focus for students? ›

Focus is the thinking skill that allows people to begin a task without procrastination and then maintain their attention and effort until the task is complete. Focus helps people pay attention in the midst of distractions and setbacks and to sustain the effort and energy needed to reach a goal.

What is focus on student learning? ›

Rather than focusing on the teachers' actions, the interest is in what the students are doing and learning, while engaged in the activities which are facilitated by the teachers. This provides a very positive energy and focus on increasing student engagement and agency while adding to their knowledge and skill levels.

What causes lack of focus and concentration? ›

Such symptoms may be due to an underlying condition, like mild cognitive impairment, or a mood disorder, like depression and anxiety. Declining focus also could result from lifestyle issues that should be addressed, such as stress, fatigue, poor sleep, dehydration, an unhealthy diet, or sedentary behavior.

What is the best supplement for focus? ›

Top Supplements for Improved Focus
  1. Resveratrol. Resveratrol belongs to a group of compounds called polyphenols. ...
  2. Phosphatidylserine. Studies have shown that those taking up to 400 mg of phosphatidylserine daily had improved memory and thinking ability. ...
  3. Ginkgo Biloba. ...
  4. Rhodiola Rosea. ...
  5. Bacopa Monnieri. ...
  6. Maca Root. ...
  7. L-theanine. ...
  8. MCT.

How do you focus on important things? ›

Write down your top priorities...and keep them in view.

To focus your attention in the right place, it's essential to remind yourself every day of what is truly most important. Recognize what is essential in your life to have clear goals. Ask yourself: "What is most important for me this year?

What are the power of focus? ›

1-Sentence-Summary: The Power of Focus offers its readers a focus-based approach that they can use to achieve their financial and personal goals through practical exercises and habits that they can implement into their daily lives to actively shape their future.

How can a teenager improve concentration? ›

Try these top tips to help them stay focused and develop better study habits:
  1. Understand Energy Levels for Better Focus. ...
  2. Brain Training To Ignore Distractions - As Easy As ABC. ...
  3. Know the Difference Between Work and Relaxation. ...
  4. Limit Access to Mobile Phones and Devices. ...
  5. Turn Off Internet Access. ...
  6. Headphones Can Help.

Can technology help you concentrate? ›

5. Can technology help you concentrate? Technology does not have to be a distraction: there are plenty of devices which can help you focus by acting directly on your brain or your surroundings.

How long can you focus for? ›

studies dating from the 1990s suggest that due to natural variations in our cycle of alertness, we can concentrate for no longer than 90 minutes before needing a 15-minute break.

What is good for focus and memory? ›

Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, cod, and pollock, are among the most commonly known foods for concentration. Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids and DHA, which are great for improving concentration and memory. Nutritionists recommend at least two servings of fatty fish each week.

How can I improve my memory and concentration? ›

Advertisement
  1. Include physical activity in your daily routine. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. ...
  2. Stay mentally active. ...
  3. Socialize regularly. ...
  4. Get organized. ...
  5. Sleep well. ...
  6. Eat a healthy diet. ...
  7. Manage chronic conditions.

Why is focus important? ›

Focus is so important because it is the gateway to all thinking: perception, memory, learning, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making. Without good focus , all aspects of your ability to think will suffer... Here's a simple reality: "If you can't focus effectively, you can't think effectively."

How do you focus in class? ›

  1. Tips to Focus your. Attention in Class.
  2. Prepare before class. Preparing before class can help you understand the material better.
  3. Get a minimum of 8 hours sleep. Fatigue makes it really hard to concentrate in class. ...
  4. Get moving. ...
  5. Sit near the front. ...
  6. Turn off your phone. ...
  7. Participate. ...
  8. Take notes.

Why is it important to focus on yourself? ›

Focusing on yourself means spending time and energy on thoughts and actions that help you achieve happiness and meet your own needs. It's a cornerstone of self-care, which is crucial for physical health and emotional well-being.

What is focus life? ›

Focus is ultimately about having full control of your mind. Learn how to develop the ability to choose what you are thinking about, feeling and doing.

How can focus lead to success? ›

With focus, you can achieve anything

When you allow yourself to be distracted all the time and don't have a clear, singular goal, you'll waste a lot of precious time, and time is your most limited and important resource. You can always earn more money, but you can't earn more time.

Why concentration is important in studies write 10 points? ›

Staying focused helps you memorise things more easily. Concentration allows you to better use your resources and approach problems more efficiently. When you are concentrating it is less likely that you will miss important information. Staying focused helps you memorise things more easily.

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