How can I Stay Focused?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Considering the number of distractions available in the modern world, it's remarkable that anyone can stay focused on anything for very long. This is the era of the short attention span, and many people find it extremely challenging to remain focused on an important project at work or an exercise program at home. There are ways to improve your concentration and increase your attention span, however.

Some people find it hard to stay attentive in class.
Some people find it hard to stay attentive in class.

It is important to understand that maintaining focus is an active mental and physical exercise, not a passive or automatic response. You should think of focus in the same way a sharpshooter would think of his target. Nothing else matters besides the task or objective at hand, and giving into a preventable distraction could ruin the mission. Take an active role mentally whenever a situation calls for total concentration or attention.

Turning off their cell phone can help people stay focused.
Turning off their cell phone can help people stay focused.

Some might suggest eliminating all possible distractions when trying to stay focused on a task, but this is not entirely realistic. A certain amount of ambient noise or commotion might actually help you concentrate by forcing you to actively block it out. Working in a complete vacuum may sound ideal, but sometimes your mind will seek out a distraction of its own when none are available. Decide between distractions you can't control and those you can, then take steps to eliminate only those which could pull your focus, such as a loud television or telephone.

Power naps may help increase focus.
Power naps may help increase focus.

Be sure to get a sufficient amount of rest before taking on a task requiring total focus. Sleep deprivation and mental exhaustion can make it especially difficult to stay focused, so you may want to take a power nap or a long walk before starting a new project. Drinking caffeinated beverages or taking a cold shower might temporarily improve your ability to concentrate, but be prepared for an eventual crash. Too much stimulation can be just as hard on your ability to focus as too little.

Mental exhaustion makes it difficult to stay focused.
Mental exhaustion makes it difficult to stay focused.

You may want to give your mind a more compelling reason to stay focused on a task as well. If you have no solid deadline to meet or quota to fill, it's much easier to become distracted or unfocused. By creating your own mental deadline or other imperative to get the job done quickly, you can trick your mind into remaining focused. If you assign yourself an incentive, or even a punishment, to remain on task, you may be less inclined to give into a distraction.

Staying focused often means performing one task at a time.
Staying focused often means performing one task at a time.

Focus and concentration are mental skills, and as such can be improved through exercise. There are a number of computer games available online designed to challenge a player's ability to focus on details, often under time restraints. You may benefit from playing these games from time to time as a form of mental exercise. Improving your ability to focus on the task at hand can be beneficial to your work life, which in turn can positively affect your home life.

Concentration and visualization exercises can help a person stay focused.
Concentration and visualization exercises can help a person stay focused.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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