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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 neighbour, or make a quick trip home. When you return, you’ll be better able to focus on the task at hand.
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.