11 Productivity Hacks to Boost Your Mental Focus
Posted on Wednesday, July 11th 2012. Written by Michal Ugor
I am London based entrepreneur & writer on this website, you can follow my updates at @fortunepick
Making a dent in the universe requires focus. So we've collated 11 simple and easy to use tips on improving your mental concentration. Most of it is a basic stuff that I tried myself, so I selected what got me the best results.
What works for me may not work for you but the best way to find out is to keep testing new ideas all the time ( and eventually adopt what works and move on from what doesn't )!
#1. Develop a habit of getting enough sleep
Lack of sleep decreases production of chemicals such as dopamine or adrenaline that regulate your attention.
Our tip: Have a fixed time to wake up and go to bed when your body gets tired. - This way you let your body regulate how much sleep it needs. A good way to test if you are tired enough to sleep is to read a book.
#2. Avoid eating simple carbs while working. Eat complex instead
Simple carbs digest very quickly and cause insulin spike which pulls excess glucose out of your bloodstream. As a result, glucose (energy) available to your brain drops (neurons unlike other cells are unable to store glucose) your ability to focus suffers.
Complex carbs take longer to digest delivering your brain a steady supply of energy.
Our tip: Eat complex carbs while working. Use your favourite snack as a motivator to reward yourself after you’ve finished the work.
#3. Understand your biorhythm and plan your work accordingly
Our inner body clock is run by circadian rhythm - a 24 hour cycle that determines when we sleep and when we are awake and alert. This rhythm determined by our genes - with little help from external cues, such as sunlight. Different people are therefore most alert at different times (morning/evening people)
Aside from daily circadian rhythm, every 90 to 120 minutes our body goes through an ultradian rhythm a recurrent multiple periods starting with alertness eventually fading away into drowsiness and lack of focus.
Our tip: Track your energy / focus and mood levels every hour for a week or two. Use a simple excel sheet:
After few days you should see a pattern emerge:
Plan your work for your best times and less important stuff (check your email, facebook or make a coffee) for when you have energy lows.
#4. Choose a productivity method that fits you the best
Adopt it and use it in work. This Lifehacker post discusses the top 5 productivity methods
Our tip: Our favourite productivity method is The Pomodoro Technique:
1. Choose a task to be accomplished
2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break
#5. When nothing works just redirect your focus
If something doesn’t work it doesn’t work. Don’t deceive yourself if you know it’s not going to be done and that you will procrastinate. Getting stuck only results into more frustration and no productivity. Try to think of some other task you’re more excited about and forget about the boring one - leaving it for better mood.
Our tip: Have a set of 3 simple questions to constantly ask yourself when stuck on a boring task. For example:
1. Why do I procrastinate on this task?
2. Am I likely to start working on it now?
3. What else I would love to do now, that relates to my work? (If you can’t answer this, read a book, blog or take a break)
This should help you to avoid deceiving yourself and get the true picture of the situation you’re in.
Regular physical exercise can enhance your cognitive functions (including attention) dramatically. Physical activity increases blood and oxygen flow in your brain, helps create new nerve cells, enhances neuron connection (synaptic plasticity) and increases dopamine, glutamate and serotonin levels which are known to boost cognition.
Out tip: “Exercise” is easier said than done. Don’t rely on your willpower with this one - use tiny habits method - identify a routine and start with e.g 15 push-ups every morning.
#7. Supplements for brain power
Ginkgo biloba, Lecithin, Gingseng, Guarana, Omega 3 fish oils all are proven to boost your mental concentration (aside from other positive effects) You can get most of it in your supermarket.
Our tip: Consult your doctor before you start taking any of the above.
#8. Simple meditation and other mental exercises
Meditation is just like exercise: it trains your body just like as if gray matter was a muscle. According to the study conducted by Psychology Today "intensive meditation can help people focus their attention and sustain it - even during the most boring tasks. This excellent article provides 10 easy exercises you might want to try.
Our tip: You don't need to buy books and study zen buddhism just to get better focus. Try this simple exercise:
1. Take a candle, timer, pen and paper.
2. Set the timer to 10 min. light the candle and focus on the flame only - ingoing all other thoughts.
3. Everytime you divert your focus or thoughts make a mark on the paper.
4. Practice regularly, while trying to achieve as few marks as possible
#9. Drink water
Human brain is made up of approx 90% water. Drinking plenty of clean, plain water helps keep your brain well-hybrated and functioning at an optimal level.
More than 75% of US population (this likely applies to Europe as well) are dehydrated, without realizing it. Some symptoms are headaches, fatigue and lower concentration
Our tip: Start your day with 2 glasses of fresh water. Do it every day until it becomes your daily routine. (Tiny habits method)
#10. Remove distractions
Get minimalist approach, clear the mess around you and irrelevant desktop icons - it helps to clear your mind. Block distracting sites, including your email and check it only ate few certain times. Have a clear tasklist to use and focus on a one task at a time.
#11. Use productivity apps
Some of our favourite:
blogging / writing: 750words
Our tip: Don't try to use all apps at once, try it with one - get used to it - then add/try something else.
#Bonus Tip. Read our free productivity blueprint
We've put together a simple, easy to understand structure to help you get focused like a Jedi and test some simple routines that might inspire you. Download it free here
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