A genuine desire to do something gives us focus and energy that seemingly comes out of nowhere. This happens when we remember what we truly want, which triggers a response in our brain that strengthens our willpower. This is known as our “want power” and we can activate it in 2 ways:
Ways To Increase Your Energy, Focus and Productivity
We can never seem to find the time to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. Whether those things are work-related, family-related or goal-related, we just don’t seem to have enough time or energy to get them done.
Because of this universal importance, there is now an entire industry that is dedicated to helping people become more productive. There are hundreds of apps and programs you can download that will help you change your behaviors, set priorities and goals, and practice mindfulness to tune out distractions. There are countless productivity gurus with books and articles about his or her philosophy about how you get more done in less time.
All of these strategies and tools do have value – they would not be in business otherwise. But with all of the information out there, becoming more productive now seems like a complex formula, when really it is quite simple when you break it down.
THE 3 COMPONENTS OF PRODUCTIVITY
Managing your time is about making sure that you are working on the highest priority tasks within your unique schedule. It doesn’t matter if you’re focused and energetic if you’re not working on the right things at the right time.
Managing your focus is about tuning out all distractions and giving your full attention to the task at hand. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on the right task and have a lot of energy, if that time and energy is being wasted checking your email and Facebook.
Managing your time is a very personal thing. We all have unique schedules and unique ways of prioritizing. Your ability to manage your time goes beyond the scope of this site, but managing your energy and focus directly relates to how you use your willpower.
Keep learning to keep your mental muscles strong
Your brain’s energy requirements are so high that your brain cells live and die by the use-it-or-lose-it principle, literally. Whatever functions you’re not using quickly weaken.
“What’s happening under the hood is your brain cells are firing, and they’re constantly forming stronger and weaker connections that help them work together in exactly the right networks for exactly the right output. And what do we mean by output? That could mean the perfect backhand. That could mean the perfect Ping-Pong overhead spin shot, or it could mean learning a language. It’s all about your brain optimizing itself to get the job done,” Wingeier says. You can listen to the rest of his interview on Bulletproof Radio (iTunes).
Design your schedule to match your internal clock
You probably have a part of the day when you’re unusually productive. For some people it’s early in the morning; for others it’s late at night.
Everyone’s body has a different natural rhythm to it. Structure your day so you work during your most energetic times, and rest during the times when you’re less productive. If you usually feel focused between 6AM and 10AM and you want to relax during the afternoon, plan to do all your most challenging and thinking-intensive work first thing in the morning.
Factors affecting concentration
Some days it seems like our concentration is under attack from all sides. In fact, concentration is affected by both internal and external or environmental factors. If you want to learn how to improve focus and memory, it helps to understand what’s getting in the way now.
- Distraction. We are bombarded by a constant flow of information, whether new or old, during the process of doing something. Researchers have found that our brains are so primed for this distraction that just seeing our smartphone impairs our ability to concentrate. We constantly assess whether the information is useful, sufficient, or meaningless. The sheer quantity coming in muddles our assessment of whether we actually need more information to make decisions.
- Insufficient sleep. Scientists have found that lack of sleep can lead to lower alertness, slower thought processes, and reduced concentration. You will have more difficulty focusing your attention and may become confused. As a result, your ability to perform tasks especially relating to reasoning or logic can be seriously affected. Chronically poor sleep further affects your concentration and memory. Dr. Allison T. Siebern from the Stanford University Sleep Medicine Centre notes that if you cannot concentrate on what is at hand, it is unlikely to make it to either your short- or long-term memory.
- Insufficient physical activity. Have you ever noticed how vigorous exercise leaves you feeling more relaxed and energetic throughout the day? When you don’t do physical activity, your muscles can become tense. You may feel tightness in your neck, shoulder, and chest and such persistent, low-level discomfort can affect your concentration.
- Eating habits. What we eat contributes to how we feel, including our mental sharpness and clarity, throughout the day. If we don’t fuel our brains with the proper nutrients, we start to experience symptoms like memory loss, fatigue, and lack of concentration. Low-fat diets can ruin focus because the brain needs certain essential fatty acids. Other restrictive diets may negatively affect concentration by not providing the nutrients the brain needs or by creating hunger, cravings, or feeling of unwellness in the body that are themselves distracting.
- Environment. Depending on what you are doing, the environment can affect your focus. Obviously, a noise level that is too loud is a problem, but many people also have difficulty concentrating when it is too quiet. It isn’t just the overall noise level but the type of noise that matters: the high-energy, anonymous hum of a coffee shop might bring focus while the overheard conversation of two co-workers derails it. A favorite song quickly has you singing along, happily distracted, while less distinct instrumentals might keep you attuned to the task. Lighting that is too bright or too dim can affect your vision. A room that is too hot or too cold creates discomfort.
Conditions related to concentration
If you frequently can’t focus your thoughts and are experiencing ongoing concentration difficulties, it may indicate a cognitive, medical, psychological, lifestyle, or environmental cause. Depending on the cause, you may have to temporarily accept that your concentration is low and learn a few tricks to reduce the impact or accept the dips as they come. If you need help with concentration and think your difficulties go beyond the list above, consult with a professional.
Cognitive. Your concentration may decrease if you find yourself forgetting things easily. Your memory sometimes fails you, you misplace articles, and have difficulty remembering things that occurred a short time ago. Another way your concentration may be cognitively impaired is if you find that your mind is overactive constantly thinking of multiple things due to concerns or important events. When thoughts and issues intrude in your mind, demanding attention, it prevents effective concentration.
Psychological. When you are depressed and feeling down, it is difficult to focus. Similarly, when you are recovering from the loss of a loved one during bereavement or are experiencing anxiety, you may have difficulty focusing on a single task.
Medical. Medical conditions like diabetes, hormonal imbalances, and low red blood cell count can affect our concentration. Some medication also makes you drowsy or bleary and severely impair concentration.
Environment. Poor working conditions, shared spaces, and intense or negative work dynamics may also contribute to a lack of concentration. When we are experiencing burnout or stress from work or personal life, we will find it difficult to concentrate due to emotional exhaustion. Similarly, the environment can create discomfort to our body with effects that we’re aware of (heat, light, noise) and others that don’t fully register (tension, negativity, monitoring)..
Lifestyle. Fatigue, hunger, and dehydration can derail concentration. Lifestyles that involve too many missed meals, rich foods, or excessive alcohol consumption can challenge our memory and ability to concentrate and focus.
Eliminate distractions. How do we focus better if we are always bombarded with information? Make a practice to block time in your schedule to do a specific task or activity. During this time, request that you be left alone or go to a place where others are unlikely to disturb you: a library, a coffee shop, a private room.
Close social media and other apps, silence notifications, and keep your phone hidden from sight in a bag or backpack. As described in HBR, researchers found that cognitive capacity was significantly better when the phone was out of sight, not just turned off. Keep Your primary focus is to complete what you need to do. Shutting off both internal and external disturbances can help you to concentrate.
Reduce multitasking. Attempting to perform multiple activities at the same time makes us feel productive. It’s also a recipe for lower focus, poor concentration, and lower productivity. And lower productivity can lead to burnout. Examples of multitasking include listening to a podcast while responding to an email or talking to someone over the phone while writing your report. Such multitasking not only hampers your ability to focus but compromises your work quality.
Practice mindfulness and meditation. Meditating or practicing mindfulness activities can strengthen well-being and mental fitness and improve focus. During the meditation process, our brain becomes calmer and our whole body becomes more relaxed. We focus on our breath during the process so that we will not be distracted by our minds. With practice, we can learn to use our breath to bring our attention back to a particular task so that it can be done well even if we get interrupted.
Get more sleep. Many factors affect your sleep. One of the most common is reading from an electronic device like a computer, phone, or tablet or watching your favorite movie or TV show on an LED TV just before bedtime. Research has shown that such devices emit light towards the blue end of the spectrum. Such light will stimulate your eye retina and prevent the secretion of melatonin that promotes sleep anticipation in the brain. Use a filter or “blue light” glasses to minimize such blue light or avoid all electronic devices before bed. Other ways to improve sleep include avoiding exercise late in the day, staying hydrated throughout the day, using journaling or breathing exercises to quiet the mind, and creating a predictable bedtime routine and schedule.
Choose to focus on the moment. It might feel counterintuitive when you feel unable to concentrate, but remember that you choose where you focus. It’s tough to concentrate when your mind is always in the past and worrying about the future. While it isn’t easy, make an effort to let go of past events. Acknowledge the impact, what you felt, and what you learned from it, then let it go. Similarly, acknowledge your concerns about the future, consider how you are experiencing that anxiety in your body, then choose to let it go. We want to train our mental resources to focus on the details of what matters at the moment. Our minds go in the direction we choose to focus.