Some days it can be an elusive beast — like a unicorn. Or Bigfoot. But it's essential for productivity at home and at work, especially if you have big goals to crush.
You're not alone if you're wondering how to focus and how to get more done. A lot of people struggle to stay on task every day; the good news is, you can overcome it.
Here's why you're not always at the top of your game and what you can do to fix it.
Why can't I focus on anything?
If you have a hard time sitting still, can't seem to finish what you start or feel like everything you read or hear goes in one ear and out the other, these productivity killers might be to blame:
- Lack of sleep — When you're asleep, your body cleans toxins and waste products from your brain. Skimping on sleep truncates the process, which can lead to protein buildup — and increase the risk of diseases like Alzheimer's.. Plus, a tired brain can't function at full capacity; slower reaction times and less-than-coherent thought processes make it tough to accomplish anything.
- Bad lifestyle habits — Downing coffee nonstop alongside a diet of highly processed foods packed with sugar, salt and fat is a recipe for burnout. The same goes for overdoing it on tough workouts without enough recovery time in between. These habits undermine brain health and emotional health, leaving you feeling "blah" and unmotivated.
- Lack of planning and/or prioritizing — If you don't know what's most important or what you're supposed to be doing next on any given day, there's no solid reason to focus. Instead of getting things done fast, you'll simply meander along without moving toward your goals.
- Lack of goals and discipline — Speaking of goals, true productivity requires clarity on what you want to accomplish. No vision means no drive or motivation to hunker down and pursue something worthwhile.
- The "LOOK, A SQUIRREL!" effect — Nobody can focus when notifications are going off every two seconds, demanding an almost Pavlovian response to messages that seem urgent but can often be left until later. Switching your attention at the drop of at hat has a high price — it can take up to 20 minutes to fully regain focus after an interruption. Multiply that by every distraction you experience on a daily basis, and you could lose hours of productive time.
- Mountains of clutter — Letting stuff pile up around your workspace is even more distracting. You'll keep thinking about the stuff that's around you and wanting to clean it up instead of working. There's always something nearby to look at, read or toy with, which gives you an "excuse" to disengage from the task at hand.
- Procrastination — Starting the day by looking at what you have to do and letting yourself get overwhelmed by the workload is paralyzing. You can't wait until you "feel like" working, or you'll never figure out how to get more done in less time.
Do you see yourself anywhere (or multiple places) on this list? Then it's time to tackle the problem with the one-two punch of better planning and targeted focus support.
How to Stay Focused and Boost Productivity
Try these tips and natural solutions to banish distractions and skyrocket your focus.
1. Set Goals and Milestones
The first step in learning how to stay focused is clarifying what you're supposed to be focusing on.
Is there an upcoming deadline for a big project at work? Are you training for a race or competition? Do you have a big dream you want to make a reality?
Write down your major goal, and work backwards to determine the smaller steps you need to get there. Give yourself personal KPIs — key performance indicators — to measure along the way. Businesses do this to determine if they're making progress and what, if anything, needs adjusting in pursuit of success
Setting similar milestones keeps you motivated with "small wins" on the journey toward your larger goals.
2. Clean Up Your Diet
Dietary "bad guys" can mess with your brain health and make it hard to focus. For better productivity, start rooting out:
- Additives and preservatives
- Artificial sweeteners
- Added sugars
- Excess saturated fat
- Excess sodium
In their place, start taking in high-antioxidant, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Berries and leafy greens are particularly beneficial due to their high antioxidant content. Omega-3s — found in hemp, chia and flax seeds, as well as algae-based supplements — have also been associated with better brain function.
Even a little dark chocolate doesn't hurt! Chocolate contains its own dose of antioxidants and releases endorphins for a quick mood boost. Enjoy up to one ounce per day of low-sugar, dairy-free dark chocolate to get the benefits.
3. Drink Coffee or Tea
Consuming up to 400mg of caffeine per day — about 4 cups of coffee — interferes with norepinephrine inhibition.
That's a good thing when you're trying to get more done in less time! Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter necessary for alertness and focus, so having more of it in your system should help you stay on track.
Energy drinks and shots, however, are a different story. The high caffeine content (not to mention the laundry list of questionable ingredients) can quickly push you past the healthy intake limit.
In fact, relying on caffeine from any source as your sole focus booster can lead to dependency and some nasty withdrawal symptoms when you try to back off, so keep consumption at or under that 400mg mark.
4. Get in the Zone with Spearmint
A particular proprietary spearmint extract has been shown to improve focus and concentration while helping with working memory, including in people with age-related memory problems.
It might even help the body generate new brain cells, a process known as neurogenesis.
The secret to its power may lie in two compounds in spearmint that help protect the brain: phenolics and rosmarinic acid, which prevent the breakdown of neurotransmitters involved in memory.
How does that help you focus?
The more you can recall from memory, the fewer times per day you need to stop what you're doing and hunt down information.
If coffee doesn't agree with you — or you're sensitive to caffeine — you can experiment with the power of spearmint in extract or tea form instead.
5. Try Lion's Mane Mushrooms
If you've ever seen a white, shaggy mushroom that looks a bit like a Muppet, you might have encountered lion's mane mushrooms.
These unusual fungi are natural "nootropics", meaning they contain substances that have positive effects on brain function.
Compounds in lion's mane can do something that a lot of other focus supplements can't: cross the blood-brain barrier. Inside your brain, they stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) and can help maintain, protect and even regenerate neurons and neuronal connections.
Lion's mane may also increase production of the protective sheath around nerves, allowing your brain to continue operating a peak efficiency.
Because of its unique effects, this medicinal mushroom is commonly used to improve clarity and focus.
The easiest way to get the benefits is to use a pre-extracted mushroom powder in easy capsule form.
6. Plan Tomorrow's Productivity Today
Getting more done every day is easier if you set yourself up to hit the ground running. At the end of each day, sit down with a notebook, planner or app and:
- Set goals for the next day based on your current milestones
- Make a list of what you need to accomplish to reach these goals
- Prioritize activities based on what's going to move your forward fastest
- Block out time for each task, including scheduled breaks
Yes, this will take time to do, but it’s an investment that pays for itself. Having a well-planned list gives you structure and keeps you accountable in those moments when you’re tempted to give in to distractions.
Remember to leave a little room for the unexpected — it's not unusual for some tasks to take longer than planned!
7. Smarten Up Your Sleep Routine
Falling even a little bit short of your sleep goals every night takes a serious toll on productivity .
This "chronic partial sleep restriction” robs you of the ability to concentrate and makes it nearly impossible to recharge to the point where you have enough energy to pour your all into achieving your goals.
One key to improving sleep — and the way your brain functions — is to stop using screens before bed.
Shut the laptop, turn off the TV and power down your phone. Swap in a different activity, like listening to music, reading a book, taking a bath or doing a quick stretch or foam rolling session.
If you absolutely can't avoid work, use a filter or app to block as much blue light from the screen as possible.
Before you freak out over saying goodbye your before-bed binge watching sessions, remember that this is all for your own good. Along with planning out your day ahead of time, fixing your sleep habits slashes stress and reduces the amount of cortisol zipping through your body. Less cortisol equals better sleep and better focus!
Learning How to Stay Focused and Crush Your Goals
You aren't doomed to spend your days chasing focus, only catching glimpses of it through the forest of endless distractions. It's something you can learn, and practice until you have a solid routine that serves you in pursuit of whatever you're trying to accomplish.
Start with diet and lifestyle changes first — if you've been eating poorly or skimping on sleep, that should make a big difference. Then try a few boosters to help you sget even more done. When you take care of your health, productivity will follow!
Note that, in some cases, lack of focus may be due to an underlying medical issue . If you still struggle after addressing the most common focus killers, talk with your doctor about other possible causes.