How to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work

Ten simple strategies that anyone can use to improve concentration and memory

THE BASICS

  • Understanding Attention
  • Find a therapist to help with ADHD

[Article revised on 3 May 2020.]

How to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work

Here are 10 simple strategies that anyone can use to improve the amount of information that they take in and remember:

1. Get plenty of sleep. If you read a book or article when very tired, you will forget most of what you have read. Sleep improves attention and concentration, and therefore the registration of information. And sleep is also required for memory consolidation.

2. Pay attention. You cannot take in information unless you are paying attention, and you cannot memorize information unless you are taking it in. It helps if you are actually interested in the material, so try to develop an interest in everything! As Einstein said, ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’

3. Involve as many senses as you can. For instance, if you are sitting in a lecture, jot down a few notes. If you are reading a chapter or article, read it aloud to yourself and inject some drama into your performance.

4. Structure information. If you need to remember a list of ingredients, think of them under the subheadings of starter, main, and dessert, and visualize the number of ingredients under each subheading. If you need to remember a telephone number, think of it in terms of the first five digits, the middle three digits, and the last three digits—or whatever works best.

5. Process information. If possible, summarize the material in your own words. Or reorganize it so that it is easier to learn. With more complex material, try to understand its meaning and significance. Shakespearean actors find it much easier to remember their lines if they can understand and feel them. If needs must, concentrate on the important things, or the bigger picture. In the words of Oscar Wilde, ‘One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.’

6. Relate information to what you already know. New information is much easier to remember if it can be contextualized. A recent study looking at the role of high-level processes found that chess knowledge predicts chess memory (memory of the layout of a particular chess game) even after controlling for chess experience.

7. Use mnemonics. Tie information to visual images, sentences, and acronyms. For example, you might remember that your hairdresser is called Sharon by picturing a rose of Sharon or Sharon fruit. Or you might remember the colours of the rainbow and their order by the sentence, ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.’ Many medics remember the symptoms of varicose veins by the acronym ‘AEIOU’: Aching, Eczema, Itching, Oedema, and Ulceration.

8. Rehearse. Sleep on the information and review it the following day. Then review it at increasing intervals until you feel comfortable with it. Memories fade if not rehearsed, or are overlain by other memories and can no longer be accessed.

9. Be aware of context. It is easier to retrieve a memory if you find yourself in a similar situation, or similar state of mind, to the one in which the memory was laid. People with low mood tend to recall their losses and failures while overlooking their strengths and achievements. If one day you pass the cheesemonger in the street, you may not, without her usual apron and array of cheeses, immediately recognize her, even though you are otherwise familiar with her. You might even say something like, ‘Gosh, remind me, where do I know you from?’ If you are preparing for an exam, try to recreate the conditions of the exam: for example, sit at a similar desk, at a similar time of day, and use ink on paper.

10. Be creative. Bizarre or unusual experiences, facts, and associations are easier to remember. Because unfamiliar experiences stick in the mind, trips and holidays give the impression of ‘living’, and, by extension, of having lived for longer.

How to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work

According to researchers in Stanford University, California, your brain turns off when you’re not concentrating. Fair enough if you’re parked in front of Michael Bay’s latest offering on the weekend, but not making the most of your working hours means your brain is continually in a de-powered state.

Spending too long switched off could lead to premature ageing and early-onset dementia, and that’s bad news for anyone wanting a sharper mind. Employ laser focus to keep the lights on with our 8 concentration tips.

Switch off to switch on

Office phones mean no excuses when it comes to constant mobile use. Your workplace policy needs to be out of sight and, more importantly, out of mind. The journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews found that working without distraction better involves the brain’s hippocampus, which makes maintaining laser-like focus easy. Twitter, transfer gossip and cat memes can wait until 5pm.

Change your Outlook

After your phone, emails are the next greatest enemy to your concentration. Loughborough University reports the average UK office worker checks his email 36 times an hour and constantly sifting through dodgy Viagra deals is killing your productivity. Use techniques like adding NRN (no response necessary) to the end of messages and turning off on-screen notifications to keep your inbox tidy. Not only will this help you focus, it’ll lower your blood pressure and stress levels too.

Get office SMARTs

Sitting down at 9am to an unstructured slog is enough to turn off even the most dedicated employee (you, obviously). The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants recommends writing down your goals and making them specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic and time-bound (SMART). You don’t need an overbearing boss to set a deadline. Aim to hit the day’s hardest tasks on the head by lunch when your concentration is at its peak.

Call a time out

Once your plan is in place, become a master of time management with the pomodoro technique. Spend 25mins at the coalface before taking a 5min rest. Extend this to 15mins after every 2-hour work cycle. This process saves your brain from getting bogged down. Skip the Kit Kat and make your rest periods worthwhile by doing a lap of the office, stretching your legs and taking 10 deep breaths.

Exercise your mind

Your lunchtime workout is doing more than prepping your physique for that last minute summer holiday. Harvard Medical School found that 30 mins of moderate-intensity exercise, five days a week, releases a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This boosts brain function and helps you concentrate for the rest of the working day. The beach body that comes with it is a welcome side effect.

Go green

Fresh air sharpens the mind but, in a stuffy office, it’s up to you to bring the great outdoors inside. Make the most of your desk space by adding some focus-friendly foliage. The University of Exeter found that the extra oxygen gained from growing your own is enough to increase office productivity by 38%. Get your brain running on clean energy and power through your daily to-do list.

Swap your extra shot

If you normally rely on a mid-afternoon coffee to bring your brainpower back from the brink, swap your iced-latte for an isotonic drink. Lancaster University researchers found that a small dose of glucose boosts your memory and brain performance by 50% and fills the void in your motivation – minus the risk of coffee breath.

Call it a night

If your Netflix policy is “just one more episode” it’s likely you’re hitting the hay too late and wondering why tomorrow’s attention span is suffering. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology discovered that for every hour of lost sleep your propensity for slacking off, procrastinating and endlessly scrolling Instagram increases by 20%. Make eight hours mandatory and fortify your mind against distraction.

By: Edward Lane; Photography: Getty

Ten simple strategies that anyone can use to improve concentration and memory

THE BASICS

  • Understanding Attention
  • Find a therapist to help with ADHD

[Article revised on 3 May 2020.]

How to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work

Here are 10 simple strategies that anyone can use to improve the amount of information that they take in and remember:

1. Get plenty of sleep. If you read a book or article when very tired, you will forget most of what you have read. Sleep improves attention and concentration, and therefore the registration of information. And sleep is also required for memory consolidation.

2. Pay attention. You cannot take in information unless you are paying attention, and you cannot memorize information unless you are taking it in. It helps if you are actually interested in the material, so try to develop an interest in everything! As Einstein said, ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’

3. Involve as many senses as you can. For instance, if you are sitting in a lecture, jot down a few notes. If you are reading a chapter or article, read it aloud to yourself and inject some drama into your performance.

4. Structure information. If you need to remember a list of ingredients, think of them under the subheadings of starter, main, and dessert, and visualize the number of ingredients under each subheading. If you need to remember a telephone number, think of it in terms of the first five digits, the middle three digits, and the last three digits—or whatever works best.

5. Process information. If possible, summarize the material in your own words. Or reorganize it so that it is easier to learn. With more complex material, try to understand its meaning and significance. Shakespearean actors find it much easier to remember their lines if they can understand and feel them. If needs must, concentrate on the important things, or the bigger picture. In the words of Oscar Wilde, ‘One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.’

6. Relate information to what you already know. New information is much easier to remember if it can be contextualized. A recent study looking at the role of high-level processes found that chess knowledge predicts chess memory (memory of the layout of a particular chess game) even after controlling for chess experience.

7. Use mnemonics. Tie information to visual images, sentences, and acronyms. For example, you might remember that your hairdresser is called Sharon by picturing a rose of Sharon or Sharon fruit. Or you might remember the colours of the rainbow and their order by the sentence, ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.’ Many medics remember the symptoms of varicose veins by the acronym ‘AEIOU’: Aching, Eczema, Itching, Oedema, and Ulceration.

8. Rehearse. Sleep on the information and review it the following day. Then review it at increasing intervals until you feel comfortable with it. Memories fade if not rehearsed, or are overlain by other memories and can no longer be accessed.

9. Be aware of context. It is easier to retrieve a memory if you find yourself in a similar situation, or similar state of mind, to the one in which the memory was laid. People with low mood tend to recall their losses and failures while overlooking their strengths and achievements. If one day you pass the cheesemonger in the street, you may not, without her usual apron and array of cheeses, immediately recognize her, even though you are otherwise familiar with her. You might even say something like, ‘Gosh, remind me, where do I know you from?’ If you are preparing for an exam, try to recreate the conditions of the exam: for example, sit at a similar desk, at a similar time of day, and use ink on paper.

10. Be creative. Bizarre or unusual experiences, facts, and associations are easier to remember. Because unfamiliar experiences stick in the mind, trips and holidays give the impression of ‘living’, and, by extension, of having lived for longer.

Last Updated: April 8, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by George Sachs, PsyD. George Sachs is a Licensed Psychologist and the Owner of Sachs Center based in New York, New York. With over ten years of experience, Dr. Sachs specializes in treating ADD/ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders in children, teens, and adults. He holds a BS in Psychology from Emory University. Dr. Sachs earned his Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, Chicago. He completed his clinical training in Chicago at Cook County Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the Child Study Center. Dr. Sachs completed his internship and postdoctoral work at the Children’s Institute in Los Angeles, where he supervised and trained therapists in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT). He has been trained as a Gestalt Therapist and certified by the Gestalt Associates Training Program of Los Angeles. Dr. Sachs is the author of The Adult ADD Solution, Helping the Traumatized Child, and Helping Your Husband with Adult ADD. He has appeared on the Huffington Post, NBC Nightly News, CBS, and WPIX discussing his holistic approach to ADD/ADHD treatment.

There are 19 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 347,434 times.

Increasing your attention span can benefit you greatly, especially in the work place. Improving your overall attention span takes some dedication, but some fairly simple tricks can help. Work on engaging in certain activities, such as meditation, that are shown to boost attention span. Take initiative to better manage your time. Make sure you’re using your time wisely and take breaks as needed. You should also adjust your overall lifestyle. Cutting back on stress and improving your sleep can greatly improve attention span.

How to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work

Normal aging leads to gradual changes in many skills associated with thinking and memory. For example, you might find it harder to focus your attention and absorb information quickly. The slowdown in processing can lead to a bottleneck of information entering your short-term memory, reducing the amount of information that can be acquired and encoded into long-term memory.

But the following 4 strategies can help you learn how to improve focus and attend to the information presented to you:

  1. When someone is talking to you, look at the person and listen closely. If you missed something that was said, ask the person to repeat it or to speak more slowly.
  2. Paraphrase what is said to make sure that you understand it and to reinforce the information. For example, if someone says, “We can see the movie either at Loews Theater at 7:30 or at the Paramount at 7:50,” you might respond, “Which would you prefer, 7:30 at Loews or 7:50 at the Paramount?”
  3. If you find that you tend to become distracted during conversations, try getting together with people in quiet environments. For example, you could suggest meeting at someone’s home instead of at a noisy restaurant. When you do meet people at a restaurant, sit at a table near a wall. If your companions sit against the wall and you sit facing them, you’ll be able to focus on them without having your attention wander to other diners.
  4. You can improve your ability to focus on a task and screen out distractions if you do one thing at a time. Try to avoid interruptions. For example, if someone asks you something while you’re in the middle of reading or working, ask if the person can wait until you’re finished. Don’t answer the phone until you’ve finished what you’re doing — let voice mail take the call.

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The more concentrated we are, the better we do at most everything. But these days we face a stream of distractions — and every time we get pulled into the latest Facebook update, tweet, or email, it can take several minutes to regain full concentration on what we’re supposed to be doing.

Here are some practical ways to stay focused despite the blizzard of distractions:

1) Manage your settings instead of letting them manage your attention. Turn off those pop-ups that tell you you’ve just gotten an email and ringtones. Those calls and messages may seem urgent, but they are not important enough to break your focus — get to them later. Give yourself protected time to sustain your focus on the task at hand.

2) Mindful second thoughts help tear you away from those distractions. When you find yourself checking your email when you should be working on something else instead, just telling yourself ‘I’m distracted now’ activates a brain circuit that makes it easier to drop what’s irrelevant and get back to focusing on your work.

3) Build up the mind’s muscle for focus through a daily session of meditating on your breath. This is the mental equivalent of working out in the gym. The battle tension between focus and distraction takes place in the brain’s circuits for resisting impulse. In the mental gym, the more often you catch your mind wandering off and return it to concentrating on your breath, the stronger your concentration grows – like bulking up your pecs on a Cybex.

4) Will power — the key to staying focused on that important task — wanes with stress. Managing your stress better by reducing demands or deploying a relaxation method you can practice as needed keeps your focus high.

5) Focus tanks when we are sleepy — and there’s an epidemic of sleep deprivation. No matter how many hours sleep you manage to get, the real measure of whether you are sleeping enough is whether you feel like dozing off during the day. A short mid-day nap (if you can get away with it) reboots your brain.

6) Eat high protein, low carb meals at breakfast and lunch. Carbs convert to sugar quickly, giving you a burst of energy and then a crash. Proteins become the brain’s fuel more slowly, giving you a steady energy level that helps sustain focus.

7) Sip your caffeine slowly: A steady low dose helps your focus go on and on. Too much at once gives you a high (or nervousness) that ends in a focus crash.

One of the big struggles for Wiccans in the 21st century is focus.

Our attention span has gone from several minutes to only 13 seconds (at the time of writing this).

Isn’t that crazy?

That’s because, in average, something distracts us every 13 seconds. A Facebook message, a cute kitten on Instagram, an instant message or a phone call.

Imagine how things were just 25 years ago…

…back then, there weren’t really any cell-phones and computers couldn’t do much more than simply office tasks.

Not anymore…. Because now, almost everything is connected to the internet and it will make sure, we never miss a status update or an “important” email.

There is a way out of this madness though. It will require that you train your mind to stay focused for more than a few seconds at the time and it will require that you turn off you phone, computer, tablet, tamagotchi (remember those 😉 and everything else that beeps, dings and knocks.

How to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work

For this spell, you will need:

  • A candle (orange is best, because it represents focus and and energy, but any color will do)
  • Time and a quiet place to sit.

Step #01: Before lighting the candle, spend a couple of minutes charging it with your intention. Tell the universe why you are doing this spell and which outcome you hope to get out of it.

For example, you might want to stop procrastination or simply improve your ability to focus.

Step #02: Light the candle. Imagine how the flame and heat takes your intention and spread it into the air, the sky and the universe. Make the image vivid in your mind. This should take a couple of minutes of well.

Step #03: Say the following:

“Gods and Goddesses of the world, the universe and everything else, help me reclaim my mind and my energy and give me back the power to focus. So Mote It Be!”

(you can change the words so they fit your practice and your deities)

Step #04: For the next 28 days, do everything you can to help yourself “re-learn” how to stay focused. That means silencing or turning off, all the things that distracts you. Not for ever, just when you are doing something that requires focus.

Personally, I like to dedicate a set time everyday to check email, social media etc. I only check it at those preset times. Trust me, you don’t miss anything.

The only thing that I allow to disturb me when I am working or with my family, is if my phone rings (on my phone, I can set it so only certain people can call, when it is in “do not disturb mode”).

I have a thing for symbols and another thing I’ve found works for me, is to wear a piece of jewelry that symbolize focus. Like the solar cross of essence, Brooms of Elder, and the New Beginnings pendant (read more them, by clicking here).

How to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work

Essence of Wicca Bundle from The Moonlight Shop

Try it out and I am sure you will be amazed at how focused and super sharp you can be.

What about you? Is lack of focus something you are struggling with?

Elena Klimenko, MD, is a board-certified doctor in internal medicine and licensed in medical acupuncture and homeopathy.

How to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work

There are many natural ways to stay focused and sharp. From alternative therapies to herbal remedies, these natural approaches can help boost your productivity, protect your brain health as you age, and improve your overall wellbeing.

Nutrition to Stay Focused

Getting your fill of certain types of foods may help you stay focused and sharp.

Fish and Flaxseed

Flaxseed and oily fish like salmon and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of essential fatty acid that plays a key role in preserving brain health. A report published in Advances in Nutrition in 2013, for example, indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may help fight aging-related impairment in brain function. What’s more, some research shows that omega-3 fatty acids may help improve attention.  

In a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology in 2015, omega-3 supplementation was found to reduce symptoms of inattention in children.  

Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Antioxidant nutrients may offer some protection against an aging-related decline in cognition (i.e., the set of mental abilities associated with processes like attention, memory, and problem-solving), according to a research review published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2013.   Looking at 10 previously published studies, the review’s authors found some evidence that antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C and vitamin E may help slow the rate of cognitive decline.

Green Tea

A systematic review of 21 studies published in Phytomedicine in 2017 suggests that green tea consumption may enhance learning and memory and reduce anxiety.   One pilot study published in the journal Nutrients in 2014 also found that daily green tea intake helped improve cognitive function in a small group of older adults.  

Natural Remedies for Brain Health

A number of herbal remedies show promise as a natural approach to staying focused and sharp. Here’s a look at the science behind two of those remedies.

Curcumin

Sourced from the herb turmeric, curcumin has been found to reduce neuroinflammation, which is a key factor in the aging brain and cognitive decline. In addition, a 2018 study found that curcumin affects the brain’s tau protein and exerts anti-amyloidogenic effects, which suggests it can be a potential preventive and therapeutic agent in neurodegenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.  

Rosemary

Daily intake of the herb rosemary may boost cognitive performance and sharpen memory in older adults, according to a small study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2012.   Rosmarinic acid, the active ingredient of rosemary stimulates NRF2 (internal antioxidant system of the cells) and reduces oxidative stress in the aging brain and therefore prevents aging and degeneration. There are evidence that it may reduce amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s brain.  

Lifestyle Practices for Better Concentration

Lifestyle behaviors can also help you stay focused and sharp.

Getting Sufficient Sleep

A great deal of research has shown that sleep deprivation can have a profoundly negative impact on cognitive function, including damaging effects on focus and memory.  

Exercising

A study published in Neurology in 2010 suggests that walking at least six miles per week may preserve memory in older adults. The study also found that regular exercise helped fight aging-related shrinkage in brain size.  

Managing Your Stress

Like skimping on sleep, letting your everyday stress go unchecked can greatly impair cognitive function.   To stay focused and sharp, it’s crucial to take everyday steps to lower your stress levels.

Mind-Body Techniques for Greater Focus

Not only helpful in relieving stress, but the following mind-body techniques may also help you stay focused and sharp.

Meditation

In a study of 40 undergraduate students (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in 2007), researchers observed that five days of 20-minute meditation training helped improve attention, as well as lower anxiety, fatigue, anger, and depression.  

Tai Chi

Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2015, a review of nine previously published studies shows that taking up tai chi may help improve attention, memory, and other measures of cognitive ability in healthy adults.​  

Video Transcript

Watch this video to get 8 tips on how you can improve your powers of observation.

It’s easy to get lost in a blur of thoughts sometimes. But, when we do, we can miss vital information.

Follow these eight steps and you won’t miss a thing:

  1. Know your subject. You’ll notice more if you understand it.
  2. Slow down and look outwards. Use mindfulness to focus your attention on your surroundings.
  3. Try something new. Choose an activity that will engage your senses and heighten your awareness.
  4. Improve your concentration by cutting out distractions. Turn off your phone, log out of social media, or go somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed.
  5. Challenge yourself to a mental workout. A smarter, more agile brain will help you to observe with greater insight.
  6. Test your observation by playing a memory game. Describe a photograph, or list everything in the room you’re in right now without looking. And remember, practice makes perfect!
  7. Record and consider your observations. Go beyond the things you see. Note down the smells and sounds you experience too.
  8. Stay inquisitive! Question and analyze your observations. Doing this will add value to your work.

If you want to learn more about how you can improve your powers of observation, read the article here .

FREE 36-page Toolkit to help you beat stress, protect yourself from burnout, and stay calm under pressure. Subscribe before midnight, April 29 to download for free.

How to improve concentration and sharpen your attention at work

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