Focus. It’s a word often yelled at children from frustrated teachers, and at ourselves when we have trouble getting to the bottom of something. “Come on, focus, you can do this.”
Why is it easy for some people to hone in on a problem and give it laser-guided focus, while other people cannot go two minutes without staring out of the window or thinking about sitting on a beach? Well, there are many reasons beyond personality types. Here are 12 of the biggest reasons you may be having trouble concentrating.
1. You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
There’s a reason we spend at least 25% of our lives in bed. Sleep is very important. It helps us recharge, gives the brain a chance to exercise neuronal connections, and gives our bodies time to repair muscles and replace chemicals. So, when we’re not getting the right amount of sleep (and it varies from person to person, but around six to eight hours is average), everything suffers — in particular, the mind takes the brunt of it. You will find it very difficult to stay focused on anything because your brain is not only tired, it’s confused. It hasn’t had the necessary time it needs to prepare for another full day of activity, and as such it is torn between the task at hand, and wanting to shut down.
Now, you may think you’re getting your six to eight hours every night, but still have trouble focusing. Check to see if you have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. Even though you go to bed at 11 p.m. and wake up at seven, you may have had a night of restless, constantly-interrupted sleep. If you haven’t had a good amount of deep, restful REM sleep, you will suffer the consequences. Lack of sleep can also lead to depression, and anyone who has ever been depressed knows all too well how the mind wanders.
2. You Surround Yourself With Distractions
It’s said that today’s teenagers will interact with three different technologies at the same time (a phone, TV, and computer) without any kind of problem. It’s just a way of life. But it’s not a way to focus.
This plays into conversations, or interactions with people either in person, online, or on the phone. We think we’re giving that person enough attention, but we’re not. We hear the phone beep, and have to check it. We see something come on the TV in the background, and our attention wanes. We all need to take a long, hard look at how the devices we own and use hinder our focus. We should get into the habit of turning off everything we don’t absolutely need when a job needs to get done. Does the TV need to be on in the background? Do we need to have music playing? Can the phone be put in a drawer on vibrate, ready only for important calls? If we remove all of these distractions, we could all vastly improve our focus.
3. You’re Not Dealing With Problems
Remember that old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease?” It applies to a lot of aspects of our life, in particular to people who are always complaining and get most of the attention. But when it comes to focus, that squeaking wheel is a problem (or problems) that have not been dealt with. If it is a problem that has gone completely unchecked, we find ourselves thinking “I really need to deal with that dripping faucet” or “I need to talk to my mortgage broker.” These problems will stop nagging us if they’re on a list of things to deal with, or we make steps to get them done. So make an appointment with the broker. Watch a video on replacing a washer. Even though the actual problem is not solved, by simply starting to work on it, it stops “squeaking.”
4. You Haven’t Made a Good Plan
This definitely goes hand-in-hand with the point above. A plan is essential if you want to focus. When a mechanic looks under the hood of a car to see why it’s not running correctly, he or she is not just vacantly looking around hoping to see an issue. There is always a plan about what to check, when to check it, and always in a specific order. A doctor has a plan when he or she checks you for a medical complaint. And so, when you are dealing with something, have a plan. Whether it’s as simple as making a list before you go to the grocery store, or it’s building an entire set of schematics and directions for a home improvement project, make sure you have a plan. That way, you can focus on each step, and not on the whole project, which can become overwhelming.
5. You’re Not Getting Enough Exercise
On the flip side of the sleep coin is exercise. Most of us are just not getting enough good exercise, and it’s showing by the rising obesity rates in the U.S., and the world. It’s easy to brush off exercise due to the amount of hours we all work, and the supposed lack of free time we all have. BUT, a lack of exercise will take its toll on the mind as well as the body. Exercise spurs brain growth, boosts hormones, fights anxiety and depression, reduces stress, and even increases sensitivity to insulin. All of these are factors that can affect our focus and concentration. So, get some exercise. Even if you start slow, by taking the stairs every day instead of the elevator, you are doing your brain the world of good.
6. You Are Working in a Messy Environment
You may be one of those people who can achieve a lot when surrounded by mess and clutter; you are definitely in the minority. Unless you’re an artist who thrives on chaos, you really need some order in your chosen workspace. Clutter and mess may not bother you, but they can still be a distraction for your mind. And whether your desk is filled with toys and games or old take-out wrappers and soda bottles, the end result is the same: you have something else to focus on other than the task at hand. So, clean it up. It doesn’t have to be pristine, and it doesn’t have to be a completely blank space. Just give yourself, and your brain, the ability to easily focus on just one thing.
7. You May Have ADHD
Do you have trouble listening to people, and following instructions? Are you often irritable? Do you have a lot of trouble relaxing? Are you restless, constantly moving around, and jiggling your legs? Are you late more often than you are on time? Do you have trouble prioritizing tasks? These are all possible symptoms of adult ADHD, and if you have it, you are going to have major problems focusing on the task at hand. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be suffering from adult ADHD, and he or she may be able to prescribe something to help, be it medication, meditation techniques, or other possible ways to alleviate the symptoms.
8. You’re Working Too Hard
The U.S. is now leading the world when it comes to the number of hours worked every year by the average citizen. And, the U.S. is also one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t have national paid parental leave, mandated paid sick time, or mandated annual leave. The bottom line…we’re all working too much, and our ability to focus is suffering. It’s very beneficial to step away from the office, wherever that may be, and think about something else.
In creative professions in particular, the easiest way to solve a problem is to stop thinking about it for a while and let the subconscious go to work. But, by working every hour that you are able, you are going to lose focus, and be less efficient at your job, or whatever else you want to focus on. Step away, take a break, take a vacation, and give yourself, and your brain, a much-needed rest.
9. You Aren’t Eating or Drinking Correctly
Along with sleep and exercise, the body needs fuel. And just like any machine, your body will have issues if it is not given the correct fuel. A cheeseburger with fries and a Coke is a tasty treat now and again, but it’s not going to do much for your brain. And if you are dehydrated, your mind will wander and your body will weaken. You need to feed your body, and brain, the nutrients they need to function at their best.
Get in the habit of drinking water at your desk at work. Add fish oils and vitamins to your breakfast routine. Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. No one is asking you to become a magnificent healthy eater overnight, but by making a few important changes to your diet, you will quickly notice the results in your ability to focus, and get things done.
10. You Need More Sex
Well, there it is. The “S” word. This one is self-explanatory, but in layman’s terms, if you’re not getting what you need in the bedroom, your mind will really start to wander. Just as hunger can make your start to think constantly about food, the same can be said for a lack of sexual satisfaction. If you have a partner, this should be something that’s simple enough to solve. Of course, that’s easier said than done, so it may be something that requires couples therapy.
However, if you’re single, it’s a different story. There are ways to release the pressure on your own, but you should think about joining a few dating sites, or app, and getting out more to social events. Humans need that intimate connection, and without it our focus can definitely suffer.
11. You Haven’t Identified the Specific Problem
It’s hard to focus on a problem if you have no idea where to look. And yet, it happens in the workplace, and at home, every single day. It’s amazing how many times a meeting can be completely brought to a halt by the phrase “What exactly is the problem we’re trying to solve here anyway?”
So, before you focus on the task at hand, nail down the specific problem you’re trying to address. Don’t go into any task looking at generalities and vague issues. If the problem is “The utility bills are too high,” ask why. Is it because the A/C is on too long during the day? Then, figure out how you can reduce the temperature in the house without running the A/C. That’s a problem to focus on.
12. You Are Way Too Stressed
We all are. It just feels like this is what life is these days; stress, followed by a side order of anxiety and a second helping of angst and worry. Stress is not good for your body, or your mind. You may not be able to eliminate the cause of stress, but we can all find ways to lower the stress they cause. Yoga, meditation, more sleep, better food, and more time off, are all ways to help reduce the stresses in our lives. With less stress, and less anxiety, we are able to breathe a little easier and focus on the tasks that lie ahead of us. And if we can focus more, we get more accomplished. This is turn helps us reduce stress even further. It’s a healthy cycle.
What prevents YOU from concentrating?