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How to Improve Concentration and Stay Focused at Work and While Studying?

If you are a student, then you probably have sat down to study with a big plan of what you can do in a day. Unfortunately, the reality is completely different. You open the excerpts, read the first sentence, and that’s where it starts to go downhill. Instead of the brain perceiving the subject matter, thoughts begin to move elsewhere entirely. In no time, the brain begins to pull out memories of a summer holiday, you think of the weekends, or start putting together a new training plan. The big plans for study will collapse like a house of cards in no time.

And if you are an adult, you might often have this problem when you need to focus on an important project or prepare a work presentation. Unfortunately, your mind runs to planning a family menu, shopping, or you just start cleaning because you just can’t concentrate. The brain simply doesn’t cooperate sometimes, and instead of concentrating, it’s much easier to stare blankly into space. However, this deprives you of valuable minutes that you could spend much more effectively. In today’s article, we will therefore present some tips to help you improve your concentration and thus overall productivity.

11 tips to help improve concentration and get rid of brain fog

Feeling tired, drowsy and unable to concentrate is often referred to as brain fog. These 11 tips can help you get rid of it. 

1. Stick to your routine

You may have heard of the fact that people can be divided into owls and larks, depending on whether you prefer to get up early or stay up late. What routine is closer to you depends to some extent on your genes. Social life, work obligations and other factors that force people to adapt to a particular routine also play a role. However, the older we get, the more we tend to gravitate towards morning-type. This involves falling asleep earlier in the evening and getting up early in the morning. [1-2]

If you want to maximise the most of your potential and you have the opportunity to determine what time of day you will attend best to your duties, try to find out what group you fall into.

  • Do you fall asleep at 9 p.m. watching TV, and by 6 a.m. you’re waiting anxiously in the kitchen for the rest of the household to wake up and start the day together? Then you’re clearly a lark.
  • At 11 p.m., you’re still able to solve demanding work tasks, and then you read in bed for at least an hour, all without signs of fatigue? Then you most likely belong to the owls.

For larks, the morning hours will be the time during which they should try to work on the most difficult tasks. That’s when it will naturally be easiest for them to concentrate. Owls will then be most productive in the afternoon or in the evening. This is confirmed by the results of meta-analyses, according to which there is a link between the chronotype (whether you are an owl or a lark) and what level of cognitive abilities you have at a certain time of day, which can also affect academic results.

Try to find out which category you fall into and when you can generally concentrate better. Adjust your routine to this. For example, if you feel you are more likely to sleep after lunch at work, plan less demanding activities after eating that do not require 100% focus. This self-knowledge allows you to work effectively throughout the day.

11 tips to help improve focus and get rid of brain fog

2. Create a work environment where nothing will distract you

People who have chaos on their desks often claim that they don’t mind the piles of stuff around them and don’t see them as a distraction. But science says otherwise. Research confirms that disorder makes it difficult to concentrate on individual tasks. Because of it, the eye is easily overwhelmed by things unrelated to our main task. It makes it more challenging for the brain to assign importance to different things and thus help with completing tasks effectively. A clean work desk, on the other hand, reduces the presence of distracting elements that would distract you. This makes you better able to concentrate on a specific task and work much more efficiently. [3-4]

How to keep your desk organized?

  • Always spend five minutes after work cleaning up everything on your desk. The next day you come to a clean work area and you can start your day productively.
  • Get folders to file important papers. Everything will then be neatly placed together. It will make things easier to navigate when your partner or colleague cleans up your office in good faith.
  • Place a basket at your desk where you can throw unnecessary things right away.
  • Hide everything on your desk that you haven’t used in weeks in a closet or throw away. You probably don’t those things.
  • Do not forget to clean and disinfect your desk, keyboard and all your equipment regularly. This will reduce dust and bacteria.

If you clean your work site regularly, you’ll see that it becomes a matter of course over time. As a bonus, you achieve higher productivity and the ability to concentrate. I’m sure your colleagues will be glad to see you again and not view your mess. The only downside is that you won’t be able to hide behind piles of papers from the rest of the family during home office.

And if a clutter-free workplace seems a little empty, get a plant on your desk or shelf. Research even confirms that looking at greenery can increase productivity, concentration and satisfaction in the workplace. Regular ventilation to get fresh air into the room can also help with better concentration. [5-6]

Create a work environment where nothing will distract you

3. Prioritise and avoid multitasking

Multitasking, or the ability to work multiple jobs at the same time, is a skill that all managers and other people who simply don’t do everything they want to during the day would like to do. But is it really that beneficial?

You’re probably thinking that it is. You can do more things on your own at the same time – like listen to a podcast while you vacuum or watch TV while you eat. But the point is, realistically, you’re not able to focus on two things at once. Either you focus on the TV and eating is an automatic activity that you put on the side-line, or you pay full attention to your food. But then you’re missing information from the TV. This multitasking forces the brain to switch from one activity to another. If you can do this quickly, you may feel that you are managing to pay full attention to both activities at the same time. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Now let’s bring this multitasking into our working lives. You’re writing an important e-mail trying to get your thoughts exactly right, so that they come out the way you want them to. A colleague comes to you and starts explaining their work problem, which you need to solve urgently. Are you still able to do multiple things at the same time? With more demanding tasks, the brain can no longer switch between actions so easily, so you are simply forced to interrupt writing your email and pay full attention to your colleague. After the situation is resolved, you want to go back to writing the e-mail, but you find your train of thought lost. So you need to read the last few sentences to get back on the right note. In the end, combining these activities will take you more time than if you tackled them gradually. Work productivity can then fall by up to 40%. Beware, that goes for women, too. The results of studies show that women are on par with men in multitasking. [7-9]

Before you go into dealing with a few things at the same time, remember this article and you’d better slow down. It will be much more effective if you prioritize, determine which task needs the most attention, and place your attention so. Feel free to inform your colleagues so they know not to disturb you now. This way you will work more efficiently and you may well go home from work earlier. It also helps if you hide your phone in a drawer or take it to another room at home. That way, you won’t have the urge to constantly check what’s new.

The fact is that you can’t pay full attention to two activities and you always have to neglect one, think about this every time you get in the car. If you need to send an urgent message to someone, stop and take care of everything you need to. This avoids one of the most common causes of accidents – using your phone while driving.

Prioritise and avoid multitasking

4. Create your own routine before work

You come into the office, sit at your computer, but you’re not able to concentrate on your work immediately, and you prefer to stare blankly into space? If you’re having trouble starting to focus on your work right away and you feel that your brain just doesn’t want to, try a method of composing habits. This is based on the ideas of the Premack principle, according to which it is effective to associate activities we do not want to engage in with those we like. [10]

In real life, this means that you should set five minutes after you get to the office to check the news on the networks and then get to work. If you were to start working right away, you might not want to. The brain would have felt that there was going to be heavy activity, so it would have preferred to put it off. But if you combine these two activities as something that follows each other, you are more likely to engage in them. The brain will look forward to watching the news on social networks. At the same time, it gets used to the fact that the five-minute fun is immediately followed by a work block, so it learns to start concentrating immediately. Thus, it won’t happen that you put your phone away and spend a few more minutes staring into space. [11]

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5. Take regular breaks

There’s probably no need to explain that concentrating fully for eight hours straight just isn’t possible. This is also why, for example, air traffic controllers rotate between 25 and 120 minutes of work during their shift, followed by a 15 to 45-minute break. They have thousands of human lives in their hands, which requires the utmost attention. [12]

You can use a similar model of concentration and breaks in your life, perhaps during exam study periods. In this case, shorter blocks will probably be more effective.

  • For starters, you can try a scheme of twenty minutes of studying and then have a five-minute pause.
  • After six such blocks, take a longer thirty-minute break, followed by another six blocks.
  • With this system you will spend a total of five and a half hours studying and taking breaks. 

During the study blocks, though, you’ll probably be able to concentrate better because the mind will be rested by regular pauses. Realistically, you are then able to master the same amount of learning over this period as during eight hours of non-systematic learning. Depending on the need, your skills and the intensity of your activities, you can extend or shorten your concentration period to create your ideal learning system. [12]

So you don’t have to keep setting alarms which will advise the end of a block, use Forest application. It can track time and won’t allow access to social networks to distract you. Well, if you successfully master the study block, you’ll grow a tree in your virtual forest. That’s well worth it! 

Take regular breaks

6. Make sure you get enough sleep

Sleep helps to make everything work in our body in the long run as it should. If you are willingly depriving yourself of it, be sure it will affect you sooner or later. Due to increasing fatigue and instability of neurobehavioural function, sleep deprivation affects cognitive speed, attention, working memory and other abilities. According to experts, insufficient sleep can also cause relationship stress due to higher moodiness and causing conflict. It also affects your safety and overall quality of life. [13-15]

To avoid these negative impacts, make sleep a priority. If you are able to determine the time it takes to work or do sports, then make sure you also set aside seven to nine hours each day for undisturbed sleep. In the bedroom, ventilate and maintain a temperature of about 15-18 degrees. Try to keep the room quiet and dark. To help you fall asleep and get a good night’s sleep, avoid heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine and late-night workouts. If you are interested in other tips for falling asleep faster and a better quality sleep, see our article How to Fall Asleep Quickly? Try These Simple Tips for a Better Sleep.

7. Diet

Remember how you feel when you eat some heavy meal at noon. Are you able to concentrate properly, or are you more likely to be drawn to go to bed for a post-lunch nap? I suppose the latter option is correct. Overly fatty meals, large portions, high-carb foods, or fast food can be productivity killers. [16]

To avoid post meal fatigue, make sure your meals do not contain too much fat. Focus more on lean protein sources (such as less fatty fish, chicken and turkey meat), complex carbohydrates (such as whole grain pasta, couscous, quinoa) and do not forget fruit and vegetables. Rather than stuffing yourself till you burst three times a day, try to divide your meals into (5-8) smaller portions. Your body will digest them more easily and you will be able to concentrate better. [16] 

For maximum concentration, you can try including blueberries in your diet. They are rich in beneficial anthocyanins that promote brain activity. The optimum portion is approximately 60 –120g of blueberries. [17]

Drinking enough water is also a matter of course. You should drink approximately 30-45ml of fluids per kilogram of body weight each day. In frequent training sessions or in the heat, the need may be even higher.

For more tips on healthy eating, see our article What Is a Healthy Diet and How to Learn to Eat Healthily?

Diet for better concentration

8. Exercise

You don’t do any sports because you’re always busy at work? It may surprise you that these two distinct activities are quite closely related. In fact, it is scientifically confirmed that athletes have a more developed part of the brain that is responsible for, for example, concentration, memory, thinking and decision-making. In addition, it can also help reduce stress and anxiety. This will please students before an exam and everyone else who is facing some important event requiring maximum concentration. [18]

Just 150 minutes of walking per week may be enough to improve concentration. That’s an activity that almost anyone can undertake. How about a weekend trip to the mountains? If you don’t enjoy hiking, consider strength training, running or cycling. You’ll clear your head, get the blood flowing in your body, and then maybe other activities will work out better.

9. Improve your concentration and focus

Cognitive training is a great way to try and improve your concentration, memory or ability to solve problems and make decisions. It’s often fun, too. In fact, you can train your mind through sudoku, crosswords, chess, puzzles or computer games focused on memory and strategy. The results of one study show that a fifteen-minute workout five days a week can significantly improve cognitive skills. However, it should be mentioned that the study was performed with people who engaged in some cognitive training programmes. [19-22]

Some researchers disagree with these conclusions, and so there is not a complete consensus in this area. Different opinions may also be related to the fact that each research uses a different method of cognitive training. Moreover, each person has different needs and abilities, meaning they also respond differently to cognitive training itself. This may have been reflected in the research results. [19-22]

In addition to affecting your current abilities, cognitive training could help delay the decline in cognitive skills caused by ageing. This could allow older people to make better choices, react more quickly, and also retain information for longer. In addition, it could also reduce the risk of developing dementia. [23]

In addition to the above activities for developing cognitive skills, you can also try mindfulness training. Its great advantage is that it can be done practically anywhere and anytime. You don’t even need things to do it. How does it work? The principle is quite simple. Your goal will be to focus as much as possible on the given activity you are engaged in, whatever that may be.

If you are washing dishes, feel the flow of water, material and weight of the saucer. Focus on every item you wash. Similarly, try to pay maximum attention to other activities such as eating, sports and the like. No multitasking, just maximum concentration per activity. You may find it challenging at first. I’m sure there are times when your head just runs off to other thoughts. It’s normal. Once you are aware of this, start to refocus fully on your current activity. You will see that over time, it will be much easier for you to pay all your attention to one activity.

If you’re asking what good this will do you, of course I have an answer for you. The results of studies show that this skill you practice during normal everyday activities can then be transferred to more demanding areas. For example, during study or more complex work, it will be much easier for you to concentrate and keep your attention for longer. [24-26]

Improve your concetration

10. Nootropics

Nootropics are substances capable of activating higher integrative brain mechanisms. They can improve mood, brain function, the conceptual process and also increase alertness. Some nootropics are also able to increase the amount of energy felt and reduce fatigue, which is useful when studying for an important test, or during demanding work days. This can ultimately have a positive effect on all activities of your daily life. Let’s get a closer picture of the most famous nootropics. [27]

1. Caffeine

Caffeine is one of the world’s most popular stimulants. It blocks the adenosine receptors in the brain, delaying sleep. In addition, it can help increase alertness, attention spans and also speed up responses. A single dose should not exceed 200 mg. At the same time, a person should not take more than 3 to 6 mg/kg per day. According to EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), a long-term safe dose of 400 mg of caffeine per day is safe for a 70 kg adult. [28]

2. L-theanine

L-theanine is effective with caffeine, as they act synergistically. It can dampen rapid onset of caffeine effects, which can be unpleasant for sensitive people. In addition, it has a calming and relaxing effect, so it can help reduce stress and anxiety. L-theanine is usually taken together with caffeine at a dose of 100–200 mg. The ideal ratio is 1:1.

3. Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen. It is a plant known for its ability to reduce fatigue. Thanks to this, you will have a feeling of elevated mood. In addition, it can also be expected to improve cognitive function. Choose supplements that contain 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside. The studies usually work with doses of 50-600 mg per day. You should not exceed 680 mg per day. [29–32] 

4. Ginseng (Panax ginseng)

Ginseng is a plant used to improve mood, immunity and cognitive abilities. According to the results of studies, a dose of 400 mg should be optimal for promoting cognitive function such as concentration. [33] 

5. Acetyl-L-carnitine

Acetyl-L-carnitine is a form of carnitine found naturally in body cells. By being a nootropic, it has been associated with possible improvements in concentration and psychological performance. It’s not surprising. In fact, carnitine generally promotes energy production in cells. And, in the form of acetyl-L-carnitine, it penetrates more easily into the blood–brain barrier, where brain cells can use it for more efficient energy metabolism. The optimal dose of acetyl-L-carnitine ranges from 630 to 2500 mg. [34]

6. Creatine

Creatine is the “fuel” for neurons and other cells in the body. It provides energy for physical performance. However, the results of studies suggest that individuals wishing to promote cognitive function and reduce mental fatigue could also benefit from its intake. For people who are deficient in creatine, its supplementation has helped improve working memory. A recommended long-term dose is 3 – 5g per day. There is no need to have any breaks while taking it. [17] 

7. Choline

Choline is naturally found in the body and forms an essential part of cell membranes. It is important for the synthesis of acetylcholine, without which the nervous system could not function properly. Since acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter, it also affects attention, memory formation and consciousness maintenance. It is therefore suitable for people who want to support these abilities. Depending on the type of choline and the supplement, a dose of 250-500 mg once daily is usually recommended. Some studies, however, work with four times the amount. [17] [35]  

8. Bacopa

Bacopa is a plant that has long been used to improve memory and other cognitive skills. Research shows that it has a significant effect on working memory. It can help to better understand certain connections and keep them in your head. Bacopa is available in the form of supplements. If it contains 55% bacoside, take 300 mg to get 150 mg of bacosides. [17]

However, these are not the only substances that can promote cognitive function. For example, some adaptogens, such as Ashwagandha, or medicinal mushrooms may be effective. Learn more about them in our separate article What Are the Effects of Reishi, Oyster Mushrooms and Other Medicinal Mushrooms?

You can also try commonly available foods. How about having some dark chocolate? It is a great source of flavonoids, plus it can promote attention, memory and improve cognitive thinking. The FueBrain nootropic complex can also be a great choice for promoting productivity, sports and mental performance, and increasing energy and focus levels. [36–38] 

If you are interested in nootropics and want to learn more about them, you should not miss our article Nootropics to Improve Brain Function and Memory. 

Nootropics for better focus

11. Consult a doctor

In some cases, however, it may be that, despite all efforts for maximum concentration, this simply cannot be achieved. If you feel like you’ve already tried all kinds of methods but still can’t concentrate, it might be time to seek expert advice. For example, a doctor may rule out attention deficit disorder (ADD) suffered by 3-6 % of the adult population. They can also tell you what can be done about your problem, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. [39]

What should you remember?

As you can see, there are countless factors affecting our attention. But there are also many ways to improve concentration and focus. You can start by focusing on quality food, exercise and getting approximately eight hours of sleep each night. Respect your body’s needs, create an ideal place where nothing will distract you, and don’t forget to take regular breaks. If you want to exercise cognitive skills, do crossword puzzles and play games focused on memory, attention or strategy. Last but not least, try nootropics.

Do you have anyone amongst your friends who can’t concentrate? Share this article with them. Maybe you can help them solve this problem. 

Sources:

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[2] Dorothee Fischer et al. – Chronotypes in the US – Influence of age and sex – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5479630/

[3] Stephanie McMains et al. – Interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in human visual cortex – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21228167/

[4] Libby Sander – The Case for Finally Cleaning Your Desk – https://hbr.org/2019/03/the-case-for-finally-cleaning-your-desk

[5] Kate E.Lee et al. – 40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272494415000328

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[8] Multitasking: Switching costs – https://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask

[9] David L. Strayer et al. – Gender Invariance in Multitasking: A Comment on Mäntylä (2013) – https://sci-hub.se/https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797612465199

[10] Christopher A. Kearney – Premack Principle – https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/premack-principle

[11] James Clear – Atomic habit

[12] What is a typical shift length for an air traffic controller? How long do they have to work without a break, and how long are the breaks when they have them? – https://www.quora.com/What-is-a-typical-shift-length-for-an-air-traffic-controller-How-long-do-they-have-to-work-without-a-break-and-how-long-are-the-breaks-when-they-have-them

[13] Namni Goel – Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation – https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0029-1237117

[14] Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep (And How Much You Really Need a Night) – https://health.clevelandclinic.org/happens-body-dont-get-enough-sleep/

[15] Matthew Walker – Why We Sleep

[16] Annelise A Madison et al. – Afternoon distraction: a high-saturated-fat meal and endotoxemia impact postmeal attention in a randomized crossover trial – https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/111/6/1150/5835679?login=true

[17] Memory and Focus written by the Editors of examine.com

[18] Heidi Godman – Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills – https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

[19] Lauren A Yates et al. – Cognitive leisure activities and future risk of cognitive impairment and dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-psychogeriatrics/article/abs/cognitive-leisure-activities-and-future-risk-of-cognitive-impairment-and-dementia-systematic-review-and-metaanalysis/62DC1367E760A45970FE207859D69E45

[20] Joseph L Hardy et al. – Enhancing Cognitive Abilities with Comprehensive Training: A Large, Online, Randomized, Active-Controlled Trial – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26333022/

[21] Tips to improve concentration – https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/tips-to-improve-concentration

[22] Benjamin Katz et al. – How to play 20 questions with nature and lose: Reflections on 100 years of brain-training research – https://www.pnas.org/content/115/40/9897

[23] Jerri D. Edwards et al. – Speed of processing training results in lower risk of dementia – https://alz-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1016/j.trci.2017.09.002

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[28] Caffeine – https://examine.com/supplements/caffeine/

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[32] Rhodiola Rosea – https://examine.com/supplements/rhodiola-rosea/

[33] Panax ginseng – https://examine.com/supplements/panax-ginseng/

[34] L-Carnitine – https://examine.com/supplements/carnitine/

[35] Choline – https://examine.com/supplements/choline/

[36] Luis Goya et al. – Effect of Cocoa and Its Flavonoids on Biomarkers of Inflammation: Studies of Cell Culture, Animals and Humans – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848681/

[37] Dark chocolate administration improves working memory in students – https://univmed.org/ejurnal/index.php/medicina/article/view/140

[38] Giovambattista Desideri et al. – Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) study – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22892813/

[39] Nick Kates – Attention deficit disorder in adults – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1479568/