Episode 47: How to Improve Focus and Concentration with 6 Easy Tips

Are you having trouble focusing?

Maybe you have a big project that you want to finish, but for some reason, your mind keeps wandering.

Or maybe each time you sit down to work, you can’t seem to get started.

Or you find yourself bouncing from one thing to the next, unable to stick with one project for longer than 3 minutes.

Whatever your challenge, you’ve come to the right place.

This week we’re exploring my top six strategies to improve your focus and concentration so you can start making process on your big projects and goals.

Check out the episode below, or stream it from your favorite podcasting app!

Prefer to read? Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE!

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL DISCOVER…

  • The importance of creating consistency and routine in your day
  • Powerful strategies to clear your mind
  • My top six strategies to increase your focus and concentration today

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

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How to Improve Focus and Concentration with 6 Easy Tips (Transcript)

Hey everybody, Welcome to episode 47 of the podcast. What’s happening?

So this week we are talking about improving your focus and your concentration, and this is more of a tactic centered episode this week. 

Reminder of Show Notes

We are looking at six different ways to help you boost your focus and concentration, and before we dive in, I want to remind you that for this episode – and every episode – I always include a transcript of the podcast over at imbusybeingawesome.com. So if you are listening to this and you want to refer back to specific tips or idea, you can always head to imbusybeingawesome.com/episode47 – and episode 47 is all one word – for all of the links and updates and information related to the episode.

Focus and Concentration

So again, this week we are focusing on tactics to help you stay focused, and I chose this subject for a very specific reason – I’ve heard from my clients, I’ve heard from several of you listeners, and I’ve also noticed for myself that staying focused on one thing for an extended period of time feels pretty challenging right now. There is a lot happening right now, and from what I’ve heard from many of you is that you’re really struggling to focus and concentrate on the work that’s sitting right in front of you

And since I’ve heard this from several people, I wanted to share with you what I’ve been doing to help me recenter my focus and my concentration so that I’m being as intentional with my time and my energy as possible.

A Few Points

Now, I have a few things I want to say here before we explore these strategies.

It’s Still New

First, as I mentioned, things are far from normal right now. Many of us are still in quarantine. School vacation has started so kids don’t have their schoolwork anymore. A lot of summer camps and day camps aren’t in session. And our brains are constantly jumping from one thing to the next. So if you are feeling distracted, or you’re having a hard time focusing, don’t worry. Nothing has gone wrong. And in fact, it’s totally normal.

However, there are things that we can do to help us regain that focus and clear our minds a bit more, and I’m going to share some of my favorite strategies with you today.

ADHD

And my second point, which I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned on the podcast before, has more to do with why I am so interested in this topic of focus and concentration personally. So, I have ADHD. I had a late diagnosis, I think I was first diagnosed around 4 years ago now, and because I was unaware of this diagnosis for most of my life, I had to develop a whole bunch of different productivity and time management and focus strategies to get me through every day. And I really had to develop these strategies once I entered grad school had to write my dissertation and complete my Ph.D. 

And the reason I bring this up is that with this sudden shift in routine and lifestyle over the past 3 months, I found that I really needed to pull out all of the stops. I really needed to muster up ALL of my strategies and approaches to help me stay focused.

And once I started hearing from my clients and from you listeners that you are also struggling with focus, and follow-through, and concentration, that’s when I thought, “you know, I think I better do a podcast on this. I think everyone is having a hard time focusing right now.”

How I Improve My Focus and Concentration

So today, I want to share with you how I have structured my day in order to help me get focused and stay focused throughout the day.

Now, am I perfect every time? Definitely not. But, when I put all of these different strategies together, the difference is remarkable. So I highly encourage you to consider each of the strategies that I offer and think about how they might fit into your routine and your life. I’m telling you, when you start implementing them – whether it’s all six or just a handful — you will notice a real difference in your focus and concentration overall.

1. Create A Plan The Night Before

So the first strategy I want to talk with you about focuses on getting clear on your schedule for the day ahead. So that means this strategy begins the night before. As I’ve talked about in earlier episodes, I generally like to schedule out my week in advance. I create a long to-do list on Sunday evening, and I schedule out the tasks for the week so I know exactly when I’m going to complete each project and task.

Now, since I’ve already mapped out my to-do list throughout the week, what I love to do the night before, is make my tasks and outcomes results-based. Generally, I don’t like to have more than three big tasks scheduled for each day. So I write those tasks in my time blocking schedule, which I keep on my desk. And as I discussed back in episode 29, I make sure that these are results-driven tasks. So rather than simply writing “podcast” from 8 to 10, I would write, “complete podcast outline.” Rather than write “email” from 10 to 11, I would write “reply to all new emails.”

And already by making that little shift, you’re giving your brain greater focus on what it’s meant to do when you sit down to work. 

Break It Down

Then, to further increase your focus, I recommend breaking down those tasks into smaller steps. And this is because even when you know the result that you’re creating – even when you have a results-driven task in front of you – if it’s a big project, your brain will want to freeze up. It’s going to want to start getting distracted before it even begins working because it’s so much easier to scroll through Instagram than it is to write an expense report or grade papers or write a blog post. Am I right?

So for my podcast prep yesterday, when I wrote this outline, my calendar read, “complete podcast outline” between 8 and 10, but my time blocking schedule was much more specific. The first step was researching keywords from 8 to 8:10, then it was creating a brief outline of the six main points I wanted to share with you from 8:10 until 8:30. Then I wrote the introduction to the podcast from 8:30 to 8:40. Etcetera. This type of intense structure – although it may seem over-the-top – is incredibly useful when you are struggling with intense distraction. 

Remove the Overwhelm

And this is for two main reasons. The first, as I mentioned, helps to take away the overwhelm that comes with a big project. Your brain will immediately want to go to scrolling through Facebook rather than sitting down and trying to work on a highly time-intensive multi-hour project. But when it just sees, research keywords for 10 minutes, it has a much easier time getting started. And then secondly, when your brain does start wondering, you have your clear timetable to pull you back in. It helps you stay on track and keep moving forward.

So again, as quick recap, the first thing you can do to help you really boost your focus and concentration comes in the form of preparation. And that preparation includes getting clear on your tasks for the day ahead. Make the tasks results-driven so you know exactly what you’re creating. Map out those tasks on your time blocking template. Then, break down the steps into small manageable pieces that prevent brain-overwhelm. 

Get Your Templates

And if you want to grab a set of time-blocking templates that I created for you, you can either head to today’s show notes at imbusybeingawesome.com/episode47.

2. Create A Morning Routine

So the next strategy I want to explore after you create your schedule the night before is the importance of establishing and following a consistent morning routine. Now, you’ve probably heard about the importance of having some kind of morning routine in the past. And clearly, I also subscribe to this idea. But I also want to stress that I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all routine that everyone should follow. 

Each of us has different living situations, right? Some of us are morning people and some of us are night owls. Some of us have kids and some of us don’t. So it’s really up to you to decide what kind of morning routine works best for you. The most important thing is to create consistency in your morning as much as possible. The most important thing is to create some kind of routine to center yourself, clear your mind, and be ready to take on the day. And again, this might look like 20 minutes with a cup of coffee and your journal before everyone wakes up, maybe it’s a multi-hour complex plan, or maybe it’s somewhere in between.

Working Out

Since I said I’d share what I do, I’ll give you a quick rundown of my morning routine. So I start by getting up and working out. For me, when I get the blood moving first thing in the morning, it helps me to clear my mind and release endorphins and start the day on the right foot. Then after I work out,  I get ready for the day, and as I do that, I love to listen to a podcast or an audiobook to really get my brain focused on something good.

Self Coaching

After that, I sit down with my cup of coffee and my breakfast, and I do my self-coaching. And this starts with thought work. So, I begin by doing a huge thought download of all of my thoughts on paper. And I can not recommend this enough – especially if you’re dealing with a lot of distractions right now. Take five or ten minutes, and download all of the different thoughts that you have racing through your head on paper. 

Now, the first few times you do this, it might take a little bit longer than normal, but that’s totally okay. Just take all of that big jumble of crazy in your head and get it down on paper. Don’t judge the thoughts. Don’t self-censor or edit the thoughts. Just get everything down. Then, take a look at it. What is going on in there?  I’m telling you, this is such a great way to really clear your mind of all of your worries and all of your concerns so you can start the day fresh.

After I do the thought download, I then start picking out thoughts that might not be serving me, and I run them through my self-coaching model. I’ve talked about this on other episodes – you could check out episode 8 if you really want to learn a little bit more about the thought work process. But that’s a big part of my morning routine.

Review Schedule

After I finished my thought work, I look over the first item on my time-blocking schedule that I made the night before. And I think about a sentence that I can put on repeat in my mind that will make me feel committed and ready to follow through on those steps no matter what. Sometimes I will even write that thought down on a Post-It note and stick it on my computer monitor to help give me that reminder.

So for me today, the thought I chose as I sat down to record and edit this podcast is: this is going to help so many people. And when I think that, I have a much easier time staying focused, because that’s really my driving force behind creating this podcast each week.

Meditation and Focus

And then finally, the last step of my morning routine is very new. In fact, I’ve just started it over the last couple weeks. And this is the process of meditation. Now obviously, there are so many people who praise the benefits of meditation. 

However, I’m not going to lie, I’ve never really slowed down to even give it a shot. I would try it for 3 or 4 minutes once, and then decide it wasn’t for me. And then I hear someone else talk about it and how peaceful and relaxing it was, and I try it for another 5 minutes once, and then give up again.

But as I’ve been doing more research on focus and ADHD specifically, I kept coming across the value of meditation. 

Because the practice of meditation is all about learning how to quiet your mind, to watch your thoughts come and go, and stay focused on the breath. And even though your mind wanders every once in a while, you just keep bringing it back to the breath. And after doing more research, I realized how this practice of meditation really helps you strengthen your focus skill overall. Because as you build on your ability to let your thoughts go and focus on the breath and stay in the moment during meditation, these are skills you can transfer to your work. When you have thoughts come into your mind when you’re working, you can notice them, let them go, and stay focused in the moment without getting distracted.

So if you are like me, and you never really made time for meditation because you either thought it was a waste of time, or you weren’t particularly drawn its benefits, then you might want to give it another consideration. And especially if you are struggling with maintaining focus. Because believe me – I get it. I was definitely the same way. But I’ve noticed over the past couple weeks a greater ability to stay focused for longer amounts of time, with more intentional focus overall. 

3. Track Your Time With A Time Audit

The next thing I’ve done to help me really get focused and maintain my concentration is to actually track my time throughout the day. Now, this might seem a bit counterintuitive. Isn’t keeping track of your time just one more thing to do? Isn’t it more of a distraction? I can definitely understand why it might seem that way, but I want to suggest that it’s not. And I also want to note that this isn’t a long-term thing. 

So, I would recommend tracking your time for a few days in a row because this will not only help you recognize where your time is actually going each day, but it also helps make you more aware of what you’re doing in the moment. Because when you’re switching tasks, you have to write that down. Or make note of them in your app. And that extra step is a bit of a deterrent because it makes more work for your brain.

So you can do this with a piece of paper or you could also use something like toggl, which I think I’ve mentioned on the podcast before. It’s a free website that lets you track your time throughout the day. You can check it out at toggl.com. And they’re not a sponsor, I just really like the platform.

So again, if you are feeling distracted, if you’re having a hard time maintaining your concentration, I really encourage you to do a time audit. Do it for a few days, and figure out where your time is going. You might be surprised at what you find.

And as a side note, in the workbook with the time-blocking templates, I have several pages intended to help you track your time as well. So again, make sure you grab it.

4. Keep An Accomplishment List

The next thing I’ve been working on over the past couple weeks is to maintain a list of what I’m actually completing each day. So, one of the repeat thoughts that I used to play on repeat was, “I didn’t get anything done today.” And over the last several weeks, I’ve been noticing this thought creep back into my mind.

Now, intellectually, I know this is absolutely not true. I’m always doing something. But because my mind is going a million miles an hour, and I’m feeling super distracted, I don’t always take note of what I’ve started and what I actually complete.

So in addition to tracking my time, I am also jotting down what I complete each day, from working out, to walking Bruno, to recording a podcast, to answering the emails in my inbox. Nothing is off-limits. Again, this is a great way to both keep you focused and engaged in the work that you’re doing, and it also helps you recognize that you are indeed making progress. 

I think so many of us tend to get discouraged when we tell ourselves that we didn’t get enough done. Or we didn’t get anything done. But that’s just not true. And when you keep a list, you have evidence to help you remember that.

5. Eliminate Distractions and Triggers

The next tip I want to share with you is going to be an obvious one. In fact, you’re probably going to actually roll your eyes and think, “well, duh.” But I’m going to mention it here anyway because I think it bears repeating, and I think that we consistently tend to forget it. And this is to eliminate the triggers that distract you.

If you find yourself reaching for your phone every 5 minutes, leave it in the other room. Turn off all of the notifications on your computer screen. And I’m not just talking about this sounds. I’m talking about even the little red circle above each app that lets you know you have a text message or a slack message waiting for you. 

Turn that stuff off. 

Because even if you don’t check the notification right away, your brain is sitting there – half distracted – thinking about the unread email, the unread text message, or the unread slack message. Just turn them off.

Allow Time 

Now here’s the other important point of that equation. I also highly recommend scheduling specific times that you will check your email, social media, Slack, texts, and anything else that normally pings and dings and lights up throughout the day.

You really need to give yourself enough time to do what you want to do in each of those communication spaces. Because otherwise, you’re going to try and “squeeze” them in everywhere do you have a spare minute. And when you do that, you’ll likely get distracted because you’re not being intentional about your time.

So schedule enough time to read and answer emails. Schedule time to go on Facebook or to post your pictures on Instagram. And scheduled time for breaks as well.

Schedule Time For Breaks

I cannot stress this enough. the ability to focus is a skill. You can build this up. And if you currently have the ability to focus for 5 minutes without your mind wondering, telling yourself you need to go 8 hours straight with no breaks is completely unreasonable. You’re going to set yourself up for failure and feel awful at the end of the day. 

So give yourself time. You can work your way up to longer stretches of focused time if you want to. Or, you can stick with the smaller chunks of time. You each know how you work best. 

So maybe you try the Pomodoro Technique, and you work for 25 minutes, and then you take a five-minute break. Or maybe you work for 50 minutes and you take a 10 or 15-minute break. Whatever it is, make sure you are scheduling in those breathers and giving yourself some white space. Step away from the computer. Go for a quick walk around the block. Step outside and get some fresh air. Go cuddle with your dog. Do whatever you need so you can come back fresh and focused for the next project or block of time.

6. Notebook of Thoughts

My last strategy to share with you is to keep a notebook of thoughts and ideas. 

I don’t know about you, but when I am working on a project or a task, I often have lots of other thoughts that pop up in my mind while working. And this is especially true if I’m working on something that’s tedious, or especially challenging, or I don’t particularly want to do it. In those situations, my mind wanders quite a bit. 

If I’m not careful, I will start acting on those random thoughts. I start thinking about what I want for dinner, and I’ll suddenly be scrolling through Pinterest for recipes. Or if I’m thinking about Bruno’s last vet appointment, I’ll start paging through my calendar to figure out the last time I had them in. Or if I suddenly remember it’s a friend’s birthday next week, I’ll get stuck down the rabbit hole of looking for the perfect gift online. It’s a little ridiculous, I’m not going to lie. 

So what I love to do, is keep a simple notebook by my side. And anytime I have one of those thoughts pop in my brain, I simply write it down. And then I get back to work. You see, when you have all those thoughts racing around in your brain, they take up space. They distract you. And they keep cycling around because your brain is saying “don’t forget this.” “This is important.” “Don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget!”

Here’s Why It Works

By writing down that thought, whether it’s important or not, you’re telling your brain – don’t worry. I got you. We’re not going to forget this. I’ve written it down. And then at the end of the day, or at the end of your particular time block, you can look over that list of thoughts. You can decide whether they are important things that you want to act on some time that day, or whether they were just random distracting thoughts that don’t actually warrant your time. Either way, getting them out of your head and onto paper helps free up more space so you can stay focused on what you’re working on at that moment. And you can do so without worrying that you’re going to forget something important. 

I know it sounds like a simple little strategy, but I’m telling you. It’s super effective.

Recap

So that’s what I’ve got for you today, friends. I hope that if you are also feeling distracted or if you’re struggling to maintain your concentration, that some of these approaches will help you regain your focus keep moving forward on what’s important to you.

And again, if you want to look at the information in a step-by-step form, you can check out the transcript at imbusybeingawesome.com/episode47. And if you want to get your hands on the time blocking and time tracking workbook, you can also go to the show notes.  

Alright my friends, that’s gonna do it for us this week. So tell me, are you busy being awesome? Do you have any additional strategies to stay focused? If so, I’d love to hear them! either send me an email paula@imbusybeingawesome.com or share a picture on instagram and tag me @imbusybeingawesome. I would love to cheer you on.

Also, if you want to keep getting more great strategies to increase your productivity, manage your time, and start living your best life, then be sure to hit the subscribe button on your podcast app now. And while you’re there, would you leave me a quick review?

And finally, are you ready to truly boost your motivation and start reaching those big goals of yours? Then you’ve got to check out my free mastering your motivation training at imbusybeingawesome.com/motivation.  You’re going to love it.

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk to you soon.

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