The 3-Step Reset For When You Can't Concentrate

This article was written for and originally appeared in Career Contessa

No one expects you to operate at full capacity one hundred percent of the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that a day spent staring blankly at a long list of to-do’s and accomplishing nothing can be extremely frustrating.

Even if you start the day with good intentions, we live in a world of constant distractions where things like texts, emails, social media, and the latest Netflix series are poised to steal away your attention at a moment’s notice. This constant deluge of information is hurting our productivity levels and putting us all on edge. Yep, one researcher at the University of California, Irvine found that attention distraction leads to higher stress and a bad mood.

Whether it’s at the office or in your personal life, finding ways to combat distractions and concentrate better is something that every girl boss will benefit from learning. The next time you’re on the verge of zoning out or you feel your mind drifting away from your work, try using this three step method to clear your head, recharge, and in the words of Rihanna: (get back to) work, work, work, work, work.

Step 1: Tough it out for five more minutes

When distractions start pulling you away from the task at hand, force yourself to keep going for five minutes longer. Depending on how far-gone your concentration level is, the quality of your work during this time could be pretty rough, but the point is to avoid automatically giving into the distraction. Do this every time you feel your focus slipping away and you’ll slowly strengthen your mental endurance, which will make concentrating much easier in the long run.

Step 2: Identify the cause and find your motivation

Take a moment to acknowledge the underlying reason for why you can’t concentrate. Sure, you’re bombarded by distractions, but why can’t you tune them out? There are a few things that could be contributing, some of the most common include having too many things on your plate, wanting to avoid a difficult task, or being uninterested in your work.  

Once you’ve identified the heart of the issue, decide how you will solve this problem or stay motivated in spite of it. For example, if you’re overwhelmed by the amount of work you have, perhaps organizing your desk or writing out your to-do list will help calm your nerves. Are you bored? Think about the ultimate goal or purpose of your work and find encouragement there. This process of understanding why and making a change, either to your mindset or physical environment, is important in order to avoid falling back into distraction over and over again.

Step 3: Set a timer and take a break

Allow your brain some time to rest and reenergize before you refocus. Physically walk away from whatever it is you’re working on for 5-10 minutes and indulge your inability to concentrate. It’s up to you what exactly you do during this time, but activities like getting some fresh air, doing stretches, or grabbing brain food can all be helpful. Just be sure to set a timer to ensure that you stay on track.

Speaking of timers, taking short, scheduled breaks throughout your workday is a great way to prevent your concentration level from getting to the point of no return in the first place. One method we love is the Pomodoro Technique. This focus hack involves working in 25-minute sessions and maintaining regular five-minute breaks between each session. Working in this way can help train your brain to concentrate on the task at hand and deal with distractions later.

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