Zoning out sucks, doesn’t it? You’re sitting there, wishing you can concentrate, wishing you knew how to improve focus … and yet … your mind is just dancing all over the darn place.
Well, if you want to know how to improve focus and concentration so you can finally get those important things in your life done, these ultra-fast tips from Joanna Jast will give you exactly what you need to succeed. Make sure to read the entire post and download the audio she narrated for your convenience. Enjoy this game-changing focus training! 🙂
Everything You Need To Know About Focus
Guest post and podcast guest host narration by Joanna Jast.
How would you like to skyrocket the effectiveness of your favorite memory techniques? Or, if you’re having trouble getting started, how would you like to develop rock-solid focus that will allow you to learn, memorize and recall anything?
Here’s the deal:
Without good focus, no matter how much time you spend using mnemonics or walking through Memory Palaces, very little will stick.
Because focus is to memory and attention what a key is to a lock.
Yes, you can always force-open a lock. But it’s easier and smoother and faster with a key, don’t you think?
Most people get this point about focus wrong, but …
Here’s Exactly How To Stop Making
Such A Focus-Killing Mistake
Most people get the whole focus improvement idea wrong. They think focus is a matter of motivation – and they keep digging into their ‘whys’, reading inspirational quotes and hiring accountability coaches.
These efforts all have their time and place. But they all take time, effort and cost money. Worse, they only work until the next motivational low crashes down on your head.
And then …
You Have To Start Over Again!
Yes, motivation fluctuates and it’s not your fault – that’s just the way it is.
But no matter what your motivation for improving your focus is, making some simple changes in your environment and the way you work can dramatically improve your concentration and your ability to memorize information fast.
The Fastest Way To Improve Your Focus
Meditation is great. Don’t get me wrong. Its benefits are multiple and well proven. It helps improve concentration, mental and physical health. Even better, meditation keeps you young and happy.
There is a downside to meditation though. It takes time to see the benefits. Plus, you need to commit to at least 4, 15-minute sessions per week. Well worth it, but not instantaneous.
You have more pressing questions:
What about that neuroanatomy revision for the exam tomorrow? Or the German phrases you need to memorize for your trip next week?
Meditation is great and you should continue practicing it if you’re already doing it, but for all those moments when you need a quick focus fix, here’s my trick:
How To Increase Focus With These
Quick Environmental Hacks
I admit, I don’t meditate – I’ve tried many times and abandoned my efforts.
Between my inner wriggler, uncomfortable back, tendency to fall asleep immediately when still and relaxed and a number of other effective strategies I use for my ‘mental powers’ – I’ve never been able to experience enough benefits of meditation to keep doing it.
Making changes to my environment, on the other hand, has been the quickest way to make an impact and offered the most bang for my buck.
What can you do with your environment to maximise your ability to focus?
First, check if your workspace is ergonomic. Make sure your desk and chair are at a comfortable height so you don’t strain your back. Often a simple thing such as a small cushion or a rolled-up towel to support your lower back is enough to fend off that back soreness interrupting your workflow.
Adjust the position of your computer and any other work tools you use. The optimal set-up for your desk space includes your monitor being at arm’s lengths away from your eyes and your wrists and hands on the keyboard straight at or below elbow level.
These little tweaks will help your body stay comfortable at work. Check out this Mayo Clinic article for more info on office ergonomics.
Cut Your Brain Some Slack!
Noise is another vital element of work environment many people don’t appreciate the effects of. Noise is not only a powerful distractor, but also forces your brain to do additional work by ignoring it. If you’ve ever worked in a noisy environment, you know how tiring this can be.
Eliminating or minimizing noise in your environment can reap immediate benefits for your focus and memory.
You don’t need complete silence, but at least try to minimize/eliminate conversations and anything that resembles conversations around you. These are real focus killers, because our brain is wired to tune in to conversations (in case there are some survival benefits to it).
Conversations and fragments of conversations come from many sources, For example:
Whether these tidbits of gossip and other verbal diarrhea float in through the window, an open door or thin walls, they will keep your brain busy trying to make sense of the fragments. As a result, your focus and memory powers will be affected.
Music needs special attention, because music evokes emotions, and emotions, positive or negative, affects the learning process. That’s why many people find music helpful in the learning process.
If you have found music that helps you memorize better, good for you. If you’re still looking for the right music, be mindful that evoking emotionally powerful memories can hurt your learning process, too. And if you like to listen to music with lyrics – just mind that conversation effect: don’t add any more work to what your brain is already doing by trying to tune into the lyrics and understand what they mean.
If you don’t have your own office/study room, don’t despair. There are a number of simple devices that can help. The easiest thing is to get a pair of noise cancelling headphones or earmuffs.
White noise may also provide a solution, albeit not a permanent one, as white noise can be tiring in the long run, too. I’m writing this post in our dining room (I don’t have an office at home) while my husband is watching Hunger Games in the living room next door. I’m generally sensitive to noise and get distracted and tried by it, but the fact that the dehumidifier is on and it’s loud really saves the day for me.
Before I finish talking about your environment, let me mention one more powerful trick to improve your focus immediately.
How To Manage Technology So That It Doesn’t Manage You
Turn technology off.
Yes, technology can be helpful when it comes to learning and work productivity, but if you don’t manage technology, it will manage you.
I’m not telling you to go ‘off the grid’ completely, but you can boost your concentration and ability to memorize by simply turning off all the notifications. Or, as Anthony suggests in Mandarin Chinese Mnemonics And Morning Memory Secrets, don’t even turn any computers on until you’ve got your most important memory goals completed.
The Ugly Truth About Popups And Notifications
Here’s something that might shock you:
The purpose of those pesky popups and sound alerts? They’re not just about announcing that you’ve got a new email, text message, or your friend posted something on your favourite social media network – they disrupt whatever you’re doing, and they’re very good at it.
Every single time you let an ad or a message pull your focus away from your memory activities, you’re surrendering your time and energy to stuff that doesn’t necessarily help you progress to your goals of creating and living a knowledgeable life.
Turn all notifications off.
If you can’t live without notifications (seriously?), set up ‘notification-free zones’ for when you’re learning, memorising and practicing recall. Turn them off for those periods of time and switch them on again only when you’ve reached specifically identified goals or milestones.
These are all simple strategies that take minutes to set up and can bring considerable improvement to your ability to focus.
Body First And A Focused Mind Will Follow
Now that I’ve told you about fixing your environment, it’s time to talk about fixing your brain, right?
I’m sure you’ve heard about all sorts of exercise to improve your brain powers.
But did you know that one of the best strategies for a sharp mind has nothing to do with those ‘mental workouts’?
I can’t emphasize this enough:
Two years ago, I was struggling with focus. My memory was shockingly bad and I was constantly fighting tiredness.
At that time I was doing research for one of my online courses and discovered a book by John Medina called Brain Rules. This is an excellent book, well written and full of useful, evidence-based stuff.
Among many other strategies, Medina emphasises the immense mental benefits of sleep. Anthony covered the benefits that sleep brings to our memory, but it bears repeating that sleep deprivation affects also your ability to concentrate, think, problem-solve and many other tasks. One sleepless night impairs your performance as much as having 0.1% alcohol in your blood (which is above legal driving limits even in the most liberal countries).
So if you want your mind to be sharp, your wit quick and your thinking top-notch, don’t skimp on your zzzz …
And if you happened to sleep badly last night and you can feel the effects of it – take a power nap. Power naps are 15-20 minutes long naps aimed at ‘resetting your brain’. You may need to find your own sweet spot, but generally it is recommended not to exceed 30 minutes, so you don’t enter the deep sleep phase as this can make you feel groggy and sluggish. Set the alarm, sleep in a quiet, dark room or use an eye mask, make sure you warm and comfortable.
Why Movement Is More Important Than Meditation
On top of keeping you physically well and happy, exercise can also improve your mental performance. And it happens in two ways:
- By increasing the flow of oxygen into your brain.
- By boosting the creation, survival and resistance of your brain cells.
In a nutshell, exercise is the cheapest and easiest mental enhancer available.
And I experienced it myself. Those 2 years ago, having read about the benefits of exercise, I decided to get back into regular running. And once I started running, my concentration, memory and thinking powers improved quickly. I was able to finish writing and recording not only the course, but also my recent best-selling book, Laser-Sharp Focus. A No-Fluff Guide to Improved Concentration, Maximised Productivity and Fast-Track to Success.
If you’re still hesitating if you should go for a walk or work out tonight – just get on with it. Do it for the health and happiness of your precious mind and memory.
The Most Obvious Way To
Fight Your Inner Procrastinator
(Most People Ignore This!)
Procrastination is a massive killer of productivity. From bills unpaid on time, to Christmas gifts bought at the last minute, to time spent on playing games, or watching stupid programs/videos instead of preparing for tomorrow’s exam or that crucial presentation.
We all procrastinate. But do you know, what your favorite procrastination monster is?
I don’t mean what you do when you procrastinate, but why you procrastinate in the first place?
If you don’t, I recommend next time you procrastinate, explore the underlying issue.
Once you understand that, you can apply a targeted solution..
I’m going to make it easy for you. Here are the 7 most common reasons why people procrastinate:
- Fear of failure or success
- Perfectionism (which is usually p.1 in disguise)
- Feeling overwhelmed by the task
- Lack of /insufficient interest or motivation to do the task
- Skill or knowledge gap
- Internal (thoughts or emotional state)
Explore your underlying reasons for procrastination by asking yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing instead of working on what you should be doing. Keep asking why (usually 5 times is enough) until you get to the bottom of the problem – or until you reach one of the reasons listed above.
Why should you investigate the roots of your procrastination?
Because, the better you understand your problem, the more targeted solution you can put in place to address it. And this is the point many people miss, jumping from one ineffective/partially effective anti-procrastination strategy to another. Don’t waste your time and energy on strategies that are unlikely to address your problem. Diagnose your problem and apply the right strategy.
Forget Motivation And Remember To Do This Instead
Remember what I said at the beginning? Motivation is flimsy. Get over it and get on with your life.
But, hang on, Joanna. Your tricks are clever (hopefully that’s what you think :-)), but surely, we need something more substantial to carry us through all those days, weeks and months filled with stuff to do? If not motivation, what should I rely on then?
Well, let me get this motivation bit straight.
If you want to get somewhere where you want to get – not to a random anywhere, you need motivation.
But since you’re listening to Anthony’s podcast, you already have motivation. Motivation to improve your memory, your mental performance and probably – also your life.
Because these are all self-improvement goals. And that’s awesome.
You know what you need, you’ve done some research to identify what may help, you’re listening to Anthony’s podcast, reading, digesting it and maybe even implementing.
That’s a lot, actually.
So in my books, this means you’re motivated.
And even if you haven’t started implementing any of the advice Anthony and his guests have shared with you – it still doesn’t mean you need to ‘motivate yourself’ to get there.
We’re all driven by some type of motivation, whether extrinsic, like money, praise or avoidance of punishment, or intrinsic – autonomy, mastery or purpose.
Most of us have a mix of things that make us tick, but often there is a dominant one – one motivational driver that lights your fire.
I suggest you find out what it is. Because, honestly, if you know what lights your fire, you’ll be always able to put the right fuel into your motivational tank and get where you want to get without having to ‘motivate yourself’ again and again.
I recommend you read Daniel Pink’s great book: Drive. The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. If nothing else, watch his TEDTalk, The Puzzle Of Motivation:
It’s awesome to always feel motivated to do what you need to do, but sooner or later you’ll end up feeling like you’d rather play your favorite game, watch silly cat videos, or clear your desk.
The best way to prevent it from happening is to create a system that runs on autopilot.
This is the way I get my writing done – my book(s), guest posts, emails, etc. Even this podcast was written using my system – a system that makes me do what I need to do even when I don’t feel like it.
Systems are reliable, repeatable and run on autopilot.
They require some time and effort investment upfront, but once set up, they run automatically, without fuss and extra cost.
I can talk for hours about building productivity and habit systems, but let me give you a few juicy tips.
How To Make Achieving Your Goals A No-Brainer
Want to focus on revising German vocabulary for that trip next week?
Make the revision the only or the easiest thing to do. Prepare your workspace the night before, so what you find on your desk first thing in the morning – is exactly what you need for your revision and nothing else. If you revise without your computer – turn it off before you go to bed.
If you use language software, before you go to bed, log out of your email inbox and any other sites you check regularly, close your browser and clear your favorites, but have the application you use for revisions open.
When you open your browser in the morning, you’d have to find all those websites and log back in again – too much fuss, too hard to do first thing in the morning, isn’t it?
But hey, your language software is open – why don’t you just get on with revising?
The Sneakiest Way To Increase Focus On The Planet
Don’t stop at making it easy to do what you want to do. Go further. Make it hard not to do it.
If you tend to procrastinate by browsing the Net, turn off your connection at the modem/router, and lock the router/modem away, so you’d have to get up and walk there and get it out to turn it back on again. That’s a lot of effort.
Or, if you keep walking away from your desk on various irrelevant errands – chain yourself to the desk. Well, maybe not literally, but find a way to sit at your desk so that getting up and walking away is a nuisance.
I have a system where I sit to write behind a table, stuck in a corner, with a large table in front of me and another chair to the side. To get up and walk away – I need to push away my chair, the other chair and squeeze behind it. Just like with turning your Internet back on again, it takes time and it’s so much fuss, and that’s exactly what I need to reconsider my decision of walking away so I just stay put, extend my attention span and keep writing.
Want To Put These Instant Focus-Boosting
Strategies To Work In Your Life?
You now know why you want your focus to be laser-sharp. This insight will fast-track your journey to your memory goals and help you become a powerful learner. Whatever the dreams you’re pursuing, laser-sharp focus will make it easier and faster to achieve.
It may seem like focus is a skill that takes a long time to develop and a lot of effort to perfect – and yes, traditional approaches, like meditation and motivational strategies indeed take time and practice before you can reap the rewards.
But with a bunch of smart tricks that truly improve two levels of intelligence, you can quickly turn your overwhelmed by distractions and defeated by procrastinations mind into a powerful machine that you can turn on with a flick of a button.
Ready to get started?
Great! Pick one of the strategies you’ve just learned and implement it this week. Sorting out your environment is always good and easy thing to start with.
Whichever focus-improving technique you choose, take small, determined steps and you’ll quickly realise your focus is sharp and ready, available at your service, whenever you need it.
Joanna Jast is the author the bestselling books Laser-Sharp Focus and Not Another Motivation Book: A Pragmatist’s Guide to Nailing Your Motivation, Keeping It, and Effortlessly Achieving Your Goals. She’s also a blogger and top-performance seeker. She helps people who need to quickly learn and adapt to new environment, accelerate their success with pragmatic, evidence-based strategies.
For more tips on how to get rid of those procrastination problems once and for good, grab my Laser-Sharp Focus Quick Action Guide now. This guide helps you identify the best strategies for your specific situation, depending how much time and energy you can afford to spend on fixing the problem at the given time. I deliberately separate longer term strategies that address the underlying problem(s) from quick fixes that can help you get jobs done on the spot. Click the title at the beginning of this paragraph now and let your mind powers shine.