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Can’t Concentrate? Try These Tricks to Refocus

Distraction is an issue for many of us. But you can train yourself to focus better. Here’s how.

Focus Habits

Does it often take you an hour to finish something that should take twenty minutes? You are not alone. Nearly half of Americans get distracted after working just fifteen minutes, according to Time. Even more sobering: The average human has an eight-second attention span—less than that of a goldfish, a study from Microsoft found. No matter the reason—general burnout, constant interruption or lack of attention—failure to focus results in decreased productivity. And none of us have time for that. But here’s the good news: Small tweaks to your daily routine can help you stay on task.

Your choice of outfit, for example, can be the difference between tight concentration and being a bit scattered. When you need to stay laser focused, formal, uncomplicated, conforming clothes can help your performance (or at least not get in the way). While it is not a magic bullet, don’t let your wardrobe become a distraction when you have a busy day ahead.

Planned breaks can also help you remain on point. Make yourself work for a set period of time—say, half an hour—and then watch cute cat videos (they help with inattention!), meditate or stroll around the office. Also, try going to bed an hour earlier (poor concentration is one of the symptoms of chronic sleep loss). Or gaze at a faraway object. Staring at a screen for too long can strain your eyes and make it difficult to focus on and process work. One solution is to follow the "20-20-20 rule": Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look at an object 20 feet away.

Staying on task for longer periods may also require you to banish unnecessary technology. Sixty percent of disruptions at work come from email, social networks and cell phones, one survey found. Seeing or hearing pings and rings prompts your brain to switch focus. Place your phone upside down on your desk after you silence it, and close out, rather than minimize, unnecessary web pages. If you’re too uncomfortable logging out of your work email, at least turn off notifications and screen pop ups.

If all else fails, you can always try to train your brain. Some studies show that people who are easily distracted can benefit from mental exercises, such as those promoted by cognitive "fitness" sites like Cogmed. And hey, even if they don’t work, at least they’re fun.