How many times per day are you 200% concentrated on a task? What do you think is keeping you from getting to this optimal concentration level?
The answer is pretty obvious I reckon, we are constantly solicited by exterior elements that scatter our attention. Ringtones, Facebook notifications, a member of your family calling you… there are many reasons to be distracted. However, keeping them away is sometimes more a matter of a state of mind than a practical issue.
It is that particular state of mind that concerns us now: monoideism, which means focusing your energy and attention on one thing.
- In order to achieve monoideism, start by cutting out all obvious sources of distraction around you. Put your phone on airplane mode and put it away, keep Wi-Fi on only if you really need it, warn the people that could disturb you that you are going to work, etc.
- The second step: put yourself in the right mental condition to be concentrated. That’s to say, get all the problems that don’t concern your current task out of your head. You will have time to deal with them, later.
- Eventually, when you get to work, start with a « sprint ». If you begin working on your task quickly and in a dynamic way, there’s a great chance that you won’t stop after that.
Focus and Concentration Tip #1 : AVOID MULTITASKING
Let’s be clear and put an end to a myth right away: your brain isn’t neurologically capable of doing several tasks at the same time. When you’re brushing your teeth while reading the news, you’re brain goes from the order « tooth brush » to the « newspaper understanding » order. But these orders are given one after the other.
However, each time you ask your brain to concentrate on something new, it has to erase the information on which it was working, and load the new data your are giving it, and concentrate on the new context.
Imagine a computer, on which you are constantly opening new tabs, it will end up being slow, overheat and break down. Do you want this to happen to your brain?
Obviously the point isn’t to give limits to your intellectual capacities, but rather to organize them in order to solicit your brain for similar problems that will require less time and energy.
In order to avoid your neurons overheating, avoid exceeding your « performance rate »
As a matter of fact, when seeing you have too many things to do, you work less well on each thing, due to lack of time or energy. According to Josh Kaufman ( author of the best-seller « The Personal MBA» ), once you get to a certain number of tasks, your productivity will decrease proportionally to the number of things to do which you add on.
Example: you know how to juggle, you’re pretty good since you’re able to handle 3 or 4 balls without making mistakes. The more balls you try to juggle, the more you risk making mistakes and dropping them all.
To be productive: set your limits. Remember the Parkinson law: the more time you have to do something, the more time it will take you to complete it. If you don’t determine a mental boundary not to step over, work could take over your entire life, without you even being productive.
Focus and Concentration Tip #2 : MUSIC AND WORK
More and more people listen to music while commuting, exercising or working. But is it really a good idea to keep your headphones on to study?
Music can have the effects of a drug. Yes, a drug, as it triggers the production of dopamine in the brain, just like cocaine and amphetamines. It all depends on the quantity and context in which you use it. It can be useful to learn foreign languages for example. Have you ever been able to sing
the chorus of a French or Spanish song even though you’re not fluent in that language?
Everything started in 1993, Dr Rauscher from California conducted a revolutionary study on the students of her university. She made a group of students in the same grade listen to a sonata of Mozart before answering a spatial reasoning test. The doctor observed that the students who had listened to the music got grades between 8 and 9 times higher than others.
This theory called « Mozart effect » was soon used by students, who saw this as a good excuse to work while listening to music. Except that today, new studies tend to show that listening to music BEFORE work is productive but not DURING. Music can help you get to work more easily as it can calm and motivate you. However, listening to music while doing another task that solicits your neurons is counterproductive.
According to a study from 2010 by Nick Perham, who works in the psychology department at the Cardiff Metropolitan University, we memorize things less while listening to music and it’s even worse if you like the music you are listening to.
Finally, according to a study conducted by Teresa Lesiuk in Canada, music shouldn’t be completely banned from the work place. Indeed, if you’re working in a noisy environment, music cannot distract you anymore. In addition, if you are working on a project that requires creativity, it can only help you. Lastly, if you are angry or tired, listening to the right music can help to get your heart rate back to normal, and you’ll be able to better concentrate.
What type of music should you listen to ?
- Listen to music without lyrics. Lyrics can distract you, while instrumental music can improve concentration. Play it at low volume or as background music.
- Listen to slow or medium rhythm music, no fast music or music with strong bass such as rock or metal.
- Don’t listen to new tracks, because your brain would focus more on the music than on your revisions
In a nutshell, listening to music is a good thing if:
- You are working on something creative,
- You are in a noisy environment and you need to isolate yourself
You should ban it if:
- You need to memorize information
Anyway, your efficiency will also depend on whether you are used to listening to music while working or not. Don’t wait until the night before an exam to try it out! Try it out before to see what suits you the most.
Focus and Concentration Tip #3 : TAKING BREAKS
Human beings aren’t meant to stay seated at a desk for 8 hours per day. Except that your documents and computer are easier to work with when you’re sitting at a desk. You should deal with the fact that you have to study, but also remember to take proper breaks.
In Latvia, in the offices of Draugiem Group, the founder of the most popular social network over there, conducted a study about the work/rest ratio of employees. Here are the results of this study:
The employees work intensely for 52 minutes and then stop their work completely for 17 minutes while they read a book, walk, chat with colleagues… anything but talk about work or look at a screen. The brain has to be completely rested before starting a new sprint.
Use your kitchen clock or set an alarm. During your breaks, yes you can lay down on your bed or take a walk outside, but avoid drinks that are too sweet, checking your Facebook account or playing a round of FIFA. Also remember to air the room your are working in regularly, your brain needs fresh air.
The optimal rhythm of productivity is 52 minutes work for every 17 minutes of rest.
To conclude, don’t try to stay focused for four consecutive hours, your brain is like a muscle, if you want it to stay effective, you need to give it some rest.
Focus and Concentration Tip #4 : OVERCOMING STRESS
We’ve all been through it at some point, stress can ruin our day and keep us from getting to work.
But what exactly is stress? Stress is a thought. That’s it. A thought that can be turned off. Stress isn’t something that happens to us, it’s something we can control.
The medical definition of stress is: « the perception of a real or imaginary threat for your body or your ego. » Even if the impression comes from our mind, we generally feel it in our bodies. Indeed, stress triggers a number or hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which increase our heart rate, our blood pressure… In short, stress can be devastating.
But this toxic worry can be stopped. You need to understand first and foremost that these thoughts are a product of your mind.
One technique is to imagine the worst possible scenario when you start to stress out. What can happen in the worst case? You realize that most times the scenario that seems like the worst can be overcome one way or another. Most daily problems aren’t a question of life or death. Knowing that, the probability of getting there will be decreased because your stress levels will have gone down.
Know your enemy, you’ll be guaranteed half the victory. By thinking about the source of your stress and by taking a step back, it will have less impact on you.
Other small techniques to fight stress:
- Move! Jump, run, dance, swim… by doing something active and animated, your brain will focus on the sport and burn stress hormones.
- Breathe: When you’re stressed, we tend to hold our breath or breathe in an irregular way. A slow and deep breath had a real effect on stress because when you relax your diaphragm, you activate your vagus nerve (the nerve of relaxation). Force yourself to take 5 deep breaths. You will always feel better after.
- Take a warm shower or bath: the hot steam will help you to breathe better and the warmth of the water will relax your tensed muscles
- Sleep : Lack of sleep increases the quantity of stress hormones. That’s why sleep should become one of your priorities. Go to bed early, take a nap, whatever you do, sleep.