How to Stay Focused
By Deanna deBara Posted May 19, 2020
How do you stay focused in a world full of stress and distractions? We provide some techniques for maintaining focus and being more productive.
You have things you need to get done throughout the day—and in order for those things to get done, you need to stay focused.
But with everything going on in the world right now, many people are finding it harder to focus than ever. And if you’re one of those people, the experience can be extremely frustrating.
So, the question is, if you’re struggling to get things done, how can you stay focused throughout the day? Let’s take a look at four strategies you can use to improve focus, increase productivity, and get more done throughout the day:
Practice proper sleep hygiene
If you’re having focus issues throughout the day, your issues may actually have started the night before.
Studies show that lack of sleep can have a serious impact on cognitive performance—including making it harder to focus and concentration throughout the day. So, if you want to stay focused throughout the day, getting better sleep at night is a must.
Incorporating good sleep habits into your routine (also known as “sleep hygiene”) can help you get more high-quality sleep, which can help improve cognitive performance and help you stay focused. Some sleep hygiene practices you may want to try to improve your sleep quality and duration include:
Cut back on caffeine
Caffeine can help you stay focused in the short-term—but if you consume too much or too late, it can hinder your ability to sleep, making it harder to focus in the long run. Limit your intake to one to two caffeinated beverages per day and don’t consume caffeine past 1pm.
Have a nighttime routine
Do the same routine every night before you go to sleep (for example, 10 minutes of reading followed by washing your face and brushing your teeth). When you do the same routine before bed each night, your brain will eventually start to associate the routine with going to sleep, making it easier to doze off.
Go to sleep at the same time every night
Again, the brain and body respond to routine—so if you go to sleep at the same time every night, it will be easier to fall asleep than, say, if you went to sleep at 9pm one night, 2am the next, and midnight the following.
No screens before bed
Electronics—like your laptop, cell phone, and computer—emit blue light, which inhibits the production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, making it harder to fall and stay asleep. Make it a rule to avoid screens for the hour or two before you go to sleep.
The more high-quality sleep you get each night, the more well-rested, alert, and focused you’ll feel throughout the day—so if you want to stay focused, make sleep a priority.
Try the Pomodoro Technique
If you’re feeling unfocused, it can be hard to power through hours of work at a time. So, if you’re struggling to stay focused over long stretches of time, why not shorten those stretches?
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management strategy that allows you to harness your focus by breaking your day into short bursts of work—and then rewarding those bursts with scheduled breaks.
Here’s how it works: choose a task you want to focus on or need to get done, then set a timer for 25 minutes. For that 25 minutes, commit to focusing only on that task—no checking your email, no scrolling through social media, no distractions. (You can use a website blocker like Freedom to keep distractions at bay.) Once your timer goes off, sit back, relax, and take a five-minute break—then repeat the process with another task off your to-do list. After four cycles of 25 minutes of work followed by five minutes of rest (known as pomodoros), schedule in a longer break, between 15 and 30 minutes.
If you’re struggling to concentrate and get things done throughout the day, breaking your work into smaller, more manageable bursts can help you focus; it’s a lot easier to stay focused when you know only have to maintain that focus for 25 minutes (as opposed to trying to stay focused for one, three, or six hours at a time).
Have a clear stop time every day
During the coronavirus pandemic, more people than ever are working from home—and, as it turns out, they’re working more than ever. According to data outlined in a recent CNBC article, the average workday in the United States has increased by three hours since mid-March, when many companies implemented remote work requirements in response to COVID-19.
But indefinite work hours don’t help you focus; in fact, working too much has the opposite effect. A 2014 study from Stanford University found that productivity starts to dramatically decline after 50 hours per week.
Or, in other words, the more hours you put in, the less productive those hours become.
That’s why it’s so important to set clear boundaries around your time—and have a set stopping point for work every day. Not only will having a clear stop time help you keep your productivity high but knowing there’s an endpoint (instead of feeling overwhelmed about working around the clock) can help relieve some pressure—and can help you feel more present and focused during the hours you are at work.
Schedule time for distractions
It may sound counterintuitive, but if distraction is the root of your focus issues, one of the most effective ways of taking back your focus? Making room for your distractions.
Schedule a block of time each day where you allow yourself to engage in your distractions. So, for example, if you find yourself distracted by social media throughout the day, schedule 30 minutes each afternoon to scroll through Instagram and Facebook. If you constantly find yourself reading the news when you should be tackling work-related projects, slate in a few “news breaks” into your daily schedule. Whatever it is that’s currently stealing your focus and distracting you from work, give yourself full permission to engage with it—just in a more structured, scheduled way.
By allowing yourself a set time each day to engage in your distraction of choice, you make it easier to say no to those distractions when you’re trying to focus on something else—which can improve your focus, concentration, and productivity overall.
Stay focused, stay productive
Focus is the key to productivity. And if you’re struggling to stay focused throughout the day, these strategies can help you refocus your attention, increase your productivity, and get things done.