There are so many things vying for our attention these days that it’s no wonder we have a hard time staying focused. From the constant distractions of social media to the never-ending barrage of emails, it can be tough to stay on task.
But being productive is key to achieving success in both our professional and personal lives. So how can we boost our focus and increase productivity?
The Key: Neuroplasticity
Our brains are incredibly adaptable organisms. Neuroplasticity is defined as the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections.
During our childhood and adolescence, our brains form the synapses — the connections between our brain cells — that influence our critical thinking, decision-making, and memory. By participating in the same activities over and over, some synapses may dissolve as per the saying “use it or lose it”, but we can rewire these synapses to adapt to new situations and circumstances.
No matter our age, there are many ways we can improve neuroplasticity. Getting out of our comfort zone with novel activities can create new connections and increases resilience. Every brain-boosting activity has four elements:
- It requires learning something new. Your brain needs to be stretched in new directions to grow and make those new connections.
- It’s challenging. Activities we are familiar with are often done on ‘autopilot’. Engage your brain with something that kicks you out of that comfort zone.
- It’s a skill you can build on. When you can continue to challenge yourself while improving and learning along the way, your confidence and resilience grow.
- It’s fun, rewarding, and satisfying for you. Rewards support the learning process and help you stay engaged in the activity.
We have the opportunity every day to rewire our brains. Each new experience we have or a new piece of information we learn has the potential to connect neurons in new ways, changing the way our brain operates.
When we exercise the most powerful muscle in our bodies, it results in:
- Increased productivity. By building new connections that guide your mind into focus mode, you can more easily get into a flow and do your best work anywhere, anytime.
- Better memory. The more neural connections your brain makes, the better you’ll remember what you’ve learned.
- More effective learning. As you push yourself into absorbing new information and experiences, your mind gets used to building new connections, making it easier to retain information.
11 Ways to Boost Focus and Increase Productivity
- Break out of your daily routine – Although it’s been proven that productive routines create a more healthy lifestyle and prepare you for focused work, changing your daily routine from time to time can energize your brain, improving efficiency and productivity.
- Travel – Regularly expose your mind and body to new surroundings. There are opportunities everywhere, even in your neighborhood, to explore new ways of seeing your surroundings. Take a new route to work, and see how easy it is to change your thinking.
- Learn a new language – Learning new languages offers many cognitive benefits. Speaking, reading, and listening to different languages leads to better memory, improved visual-spatial skills, and increased levels of creativity, among many more positive effects.
- Meditate – Daily meditation calms your body, regulates breathing, reduces stress, and boosts your productivity, to name a few. A few minutes of meditation can also help to fine-tune your memory, increase the brain’s ability to process information, and build strong neural pathways (remember that resilience we mentioned earlier?)
- Socialize – Building strong interpersonal connections can prevent cognitive decline, as well as promote overall well-being. If it’s not possible to meet people in person, consider setting aside time with a friend to catch up on Zoom (maybe you can even talk about the new languages you’re learning!)
- Use your non-dominant hand – Doing daily things like brushing your teeth or cleaning the counter with your “wrong hand” encourages your brain to move your body in unfamiliar ways, sparking those new neural pathways.
- Add music to your day – Music activates our brains. Whether playing an instrument, listening to classical compositions, or singing with friends, music is a creative outlet that boosts our brain power, attention, and cognitive function. If music isn’t your thing, consider sketching, coloring, or creative writing as other potential creative hobbies to explore.
- Get enough sleep – Sleeping encourages learning retention; as you sleep or take naps, connections called dendritic spines between neurons are strengthened, making it easier to transmit new information and store old ones. Make getting enough sleep a priority!
- Have a healthy diet – Make sure you’re consuming enough Vitamin D and Bs, Omega-3, and Magnesium. Grab a snack with walnuts, blueberries, and whole grains, or a light tuna sandwich.
- Expand your vocabulary – Learning new words spark the growth of visual and auditory neural pathways. Reading, working through challenging crossword puzzles, or playing games like Scrabble help expand your mind and your vocabulary.
- Exercise – Taking care of your body is crucial to having a strong, resilient, and creative mind. Aside from a regular exercise regimen, even getting up to stretch a few times during your day can help improve your focus and cognitive ability (and help you break out of that routine).
Don’t waste your brain power
Now that we’ve discussed ways to improve your cognitive function and boost your brain power, let’s talk about habits you should avoid that have the opposite effect.
Lack of sleep — For adults, it’s important to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night. When we sleep, our brains — although still active — have a chance to recuperate, and bad sleeping habits can be detrimental to our health and overall well-being.
Doom-scrolling — Though social media can be a helpful connection tool both personally and professionally, it tends to zap our energy and eat up a lot of our time. This distraction decreases creativity and too much information often leads to debilitating habits.
Multitasking — It’s no secret that switching between multiple tasks simultaneously has a massive impact on our ability to focus and retain information. You don’t only lose time when you attempt to multitask while trying to remember what you were previously doing, multitasking can also decrease your focus and your brain’s ability to function.
Not taking breaks — Having boundaries around study or work time is crucial to a healthy noggin. Not taking regular breaks to have a snack or take a walk (or even stop looking at any screen altogether), and letting your study or work time linger past the stopping point leads to decreased concentration.
When I get distracted, I turn to technology for help. One of the tools that I recommend is the nifty Freedom tool. It allows you to block websites and apps so you can focus on the task at hand. If you’re someone who struggles with focus, give it a try!
What techniques help you boost your concentration and be productive? Let us know in the comments below!
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