10 simple tips to improve concentration when it matters the most
Happily, there are some simple tips and tricks you can use to improve your focus when it matters the most.
Whether you're in school, college or in a corporate job, February-March heralds a hectic period: those still studying have their exams to write and people in jobs have year-end targets to meet and reports to file.
Happily, there are some simple tips and tricks you can use to improve your focus when it matters the most - during exams and while rushing to meet your KRAs. To be sure, there's no magic here. Each of these tips is backed by science. And each one requires regular practice.
1. Don't let the pressure get to you
We know this is easier said than done. But the more you stress, the less you'll be able to focus. And the less you can focus, the worse you will be at retaining information and completing tasks.
Research shows that stress affects your problem-solving ability and causes you to make bad decisions. The fix is simple if you can take a disciplined approach: limit your use of social media, go out to the balcony or at least the window sill to get some fresh air when you take short breaks in-between studying or working and get up to stretch your legs.
It may feel like you'll have less time for work if you do all this, but the time you will have will be much more productive.
2. Take a tiny break every 30 minutes
Research shows our mind focuses best in shorter spurts. So try to take two-three-minute breaks after every 30 minutes of intense concentration. During this time, do anything that doesn’t take up mind space: take a walk, listen to a quick song, or have a little chat with your favourite co-worker.
Things like scrolling on social media aren’t recommended because you want to avoid losing track of time and getting too involved in something else at this time. Short three-minute breaks every 30 minutes or so will help you come back to the job reinvigorated. It will also help you avoid digital eye strain and muscle stiffness if you work on the computer a lot.
3. Plan drift-off time into your schedule
Don't be too hard on yourself when you find your attention drifting; it's just how the human brain works. Instead, focus your energy on bringing your attention back to work when this happens. Set yourself smaller tasks. Pat yourself on the back when you achieve these.
4. Finish one thing first
A lot of us believe that the most efficient people are multi-taskers, but this is simply not true. Research has shown that multitasking actually hampers productivity. If you shift from task to task without finishing any, you are telling your mind that it is okay to lose concentration. The best way to handle it is to make a rule: finish the task at hand first. This way you can train your brain to concentrate when it tries to switch to another task.
5. Choose where you work carefully
If you have a home office or if you are studying for exams at home, it is very easy to slip into a routine where you sit in bed to work. Not only does this affect your posture — leading to neck, shoulder and back pain eventually — it affects your focus, too. Your brain associates the bed with a place to sleep. When you try to work while sitting on your bed, you end up confusing your brain by demanding both sleep and concentration. The best way to work around this is to stick to the rule of always working at your designated workstation – preferably at an upright chair and a table.
6. Five-more rule
Losing focus as you get tired is absolutely natural. But you can stretch yourself just a little bit more when you really need to. Whenever you are too tired to work, acknowledge that you are tired. Remind yourself why you need to get this chapter or file or job done now. Then do five more things towards completing this report or chapter before taking a short break. Drink a glass of water.
Remember, the idea is to back yourself always. Give yourself positive reinforcement. Believe that you will do a great job.
7. Meditate, exercise
Regular exercise helps increase blood flow to the brain and hence improves concentration, memory and efficiency. If you haven't been regular with exercise so far, don't start a strenuous regimen now. Instead, do gentle stretches or yoga. Practice abdominal breathing to de-stress several times a day. Meditate, if possible. You can use an app to help you do this.
8. Get seven to eight hours of sleep
Our brain stores important information when we sleep - without sleep, you may not be able to retain the information you're trying to cram into your brain in a short time.
A proper sleep schedule helps your body clock designate and balance time slots for work and rest, hence improving your focus while at work. This also ensures that your body gets enough rest and is recharged for when you need to work at your best.
9. Remember to eat, and eat well
Grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat bread; proteins such as eggs, fatty fishes such as mackerel, salmon; vegetables such as avocados, bell peppers, beets, broccoli and green leafy vegetables go a long way in keeping you healthy and active. Try to avoid too much coffee or tea. Instead, drink water to stay hydrated and on top of things. Remember, a big lunch will just make you feel sleepy and skipping meals could leave you with a bad mood or even a headache.
10. Back yourself, always
Remember that your brain loves positive reinforcement. Let it come from you first. There's no point in chiding yourself if you've lost time in the past. You're studying or working on that report now. Research shows that positivity has a lasting impact on your overall well-being, starting with the outcome of the job at hand!
Read How to reduce the effects of burnout for more information.
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After authoring a book on the issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will now address students' examination-related concerns in person on 16 February.
If you feel like you (or someone you know) may be struggling while preparing for tests, here are a few things you may want to keep in mind.