Can't Concentrate? Use These Tips to Get Your Attention Back on Track
It can be hard to concentrate. Even on your best days, you're surrounded by distractions. When you struggle to concentrate, you can’t focus on what needs to be done, you waste time and you stress yourself out. It’s time to review some solutions.
Lay out the work and stick to it
When you embark on a task without a plan, it’s like going on a road trip without a map. You need to know where you’re headed. A key part of exercising your cognitive finger is to plan.
What to do? Before starting an activity, create a detailed plan of action. What do you need to do? How much time can you devote to it? Do you require any additional support? Map out your task from start to finish, and don’t forget to sequence tasks and number them. This will ensure you don’t overlook anything.
If you’re inclined to procrastinate and can’t seem to get started on your plan, tell yourself you’ll work on it for only 10 minutes, starting in 10 minutes. The dread of starting is often greater than actually executing the task. The plan won’t be perfect the first time, but that’s OK -- at least you’ve started. And once you’ve finalized your plan, commit to it wholeheartedly. Don’t give in to interruptions!
Example in practice: Here’s a cautionary example that showcases what can happen when you fail to plan. A few years ago, Hershey’s was gung-ho about getting viral attention online and made the rash decision to change its logo from a three-dimensional Hershey’s Kiss to a two-dimensional one. Had the company taken more time to plan, it might have realized that it needed to do some consumer marketing tests first. When the new logo hit, it didn’t resemble a delicious chocolate treat. Instead, people complained that it looked like a piece of poo!
Give away time-consuming work
You could easily spend all your waking hours on time-consuming work. Time-consuming work is like steroids for stress -- the opposite of what you want. Your success depends on your ability to delegate as much time-consuming work as possible.
What to do? Embrace delegation and planning. Start each week by taking note of the people around you, their skills, and their time availability. Then map out the most time-consuming work you have on your plate and align it to their skills. Make sure these employees are capable of taking on the work. If they’re not, take some time to coach, train and prepare them for the task -- or, better yet, assign another manager or employee to train them.
When it comes to delegating, “I can do it faster myself,” is a terrible excuse. It only results in you being overloaded and unable to concentrate. “I can do it better myself,” is just as bad. It doesn’t allow others to take on more responsibility, be recognized, or gain skills.
Example in practice: Esteemed American philanthropist Eli Broad has built KB Home and Sun America, two Fortune 500 companies. Broad credits much of his success to being able to delegate. He sees the inability to delegate as one of the biggest leadership problems. He advises leaders to focus on the most important tasks and find a way to delegate anything else.
Pay attention to where your mind wanders
Everyone’s mind wanders. It’s natural. But unless you’re in a highly creative field, mind wandering can disrupt productivity. It’s in your best interest to pay close attention to where your mind is venturing.
What to do? The next time you find your mind wandering, go with it and take a moment to reflect. Where is your mind headed? Is it a passion area? Is it an underlying worry? Jot down a quick note and schedule some time in your calendar to think about it later. If you’re preparing for a big presentation at work and your mind keeps drifting to worrying that you’ve forgotten to lock your front door, it can derail your focus. Take action. Phone a neighbor, or make a quick trip home. When you return, you’ll be better able to focus on the task at hand.
Example in practice: One of my clients is a former VP at a furniture sales business. He approached me with concerns that his mind often wandered to thinking about store design. He always looked forward to the holiday season. He loved to visit the stores and see their holiday setup designs and decorations. This was clearly a passion area, so we decided to take action. The VP enrolled in a three-month interior design class, which ultimately led him to clinch a promotion in operations, then a promotion to COO. Pay attention to where your mind wanders—it’s likely trying to tell you something.
It’s important to stop and take a break occasionally. If you’re constantly in ready-aim-fire mode, your fight-or-flight response is always switched on, and your cortisol levels will be sky-high. Sometimes the only way to get your cortisol back down to healthy levels is to stop. Doing nothing can be a recipe for success.
What to do? Carve out 10 to 15 minutes. Find a quiet space, close the door, turn off all your devices, and even close your eyes. Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale. Let all your worries, fears, and apprehensions float away. After 15 minutes, you’ll find you’re able to concentrate more effectively. That brief reprieve can be just what you need to regain a state of balance.
Example in practice: Whenever I have a full-day on-site visit scheduled with a client, I proactively build in 15 minutes to do nothing. During those 15 minutes, I devote myself completely to inaction. I find a comfortable place, turn off all devices, and sit down. I close my eyes, focus on my breathing, and listen as the oxygen flows through my lungs. When I resume my work, I feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle whatever comes next. There’s a hidden value in empty time.