Tips for boosting focus when working from home
Finding it hard to focus? Google searches for “low concentration” and “focus tips” have peaked repeatedly throughout the year, and are steadily on the rise again.
Nearly a year into working from home, maintaining focus outside of an office environment hasn’t gotten any easier.
While you might not be able to say goodbye to your current set-up just yet, help is at hand. From the supplements that can support focus to making your immediate surroundings work better for you, we’ve rounded up the best quick fixes to get your concentration back.
Keep an eye on your general wellbeing
It goes without saying that how well you attend to your body’s basic needs massively impacts the brain’s ability to maintain focus.
Get enough shut-eye
First up, sleep! The link between sleep and cognitive function is well-established, with numerous studies confirming that lack of sleep causes poor attention and cognition.
Want to be sharper? Follow the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended sleep duration guidelines, and make sure the hours you’re getting are of sufficient quality too. Learn more about sleep and how to improve yours here.
Fuel your body
Eating right is also key. Research shows that not eating enough can negatively impact your cognitive performance, especially if you have a job with high physical demands. You’ll likely have experienced this if you’ve ever unintentionally skipped a meal and found it impossible to focus.
Keeping on top of mealtimes feels especially difficult during lockdown – anyone else feel like they’re spending their lives cooking? But prioritising nutritious meals where possible will help ensure you’re fueling your body well.
Meals that can easily be batch-cooked ahead of time will make your life easier. The king of easy-yet-nutritious weekday meals, soup is always a great choice. See our favourites here!
A balanced diet will go a long way too. You can further hone yours by incorporating focus-boosting supplements like fish oil, vitamin D3, ashwagandha and ginkgo.
We love these supplements from Newson Health, which contain sustainably sourced omega-3 oils and an NHS-recommended dose of vitamin D3. Plus, Enjoy 10% off Newson Health supplements with the code LIZLOVES.
Find out the best time to take your supplements here.
Remember to move
We all know that exercise keeps our bodies strong, but did you know it can improve your concentration too? It turns out that movement supports focus in both the long and short term.
Physical exercise boosts the brain’s levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which has an immediate effect on concentration. That’s because each of these chemicals function as hormones or neurotransmitters, telling us how to feel – which is important when it comes to focus.
Dopamine, for example, is thought to influence how the brain decides whether a task is worth it. Essentially, more dopamine means more motivation, and more tasks ticked off.
Regular aerobic exercise also has benefits. Research reveals that the hippocampus, a complex brain structure that plays an important role in learning and memory, grows as a result of such workouts.
Even better, exercise also improves attention span and executive control – your ability to prioritise information, ignore distractions and multitask.
Refine your working from home set-up
Given your at-home ‘office’ is where you spend most of your week, it’s important that it’s not cramping your style. Here’s how to improve it to boost concentration.
Find the right light
As we’ve explained in more detail here, lighting can have a big impact on productivity. In particular, poor lighting makes it harder for the brain to gather data – and focus as a result.
Optimise your workspace by moving your table or desk as close to the window as possible, so you get exposed to natural light throughout the day.
Installing a light box is another great option if you’re not able to get out much or feel affected by the limited number of daylight hours in winter, since it simulates sunlight.
Ventilation is a must
Want an easy fix? Crack open a window! Working in a well-ventilated room is well-known to improve cognitive performance. In fact, research by window automation company Pratley & Partners suggests better air quality can improve productivity by up to 8%.
More fresh air means higher oxygen levels and ultimately more energy for the brain to run off, so the science checks out.
Add some greenery
Kill two birds with one stone by buying an air-purifying plant or two for your desk.
From boosting mood to reducing stress, houseplants have countless benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. Turns out they’re great at aiding concentration too!
Most of us will remember from biology classes that plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, making them pros at improving air quality. In fact, this NASA study reveals that plants can remove up to 87% of toxins within 24 hours too.
If that’s not enough reason, having a plant on your desk is also thought to improve employee satisfaction. Missing your work colleagues? They may reduce loneliness as well.
Declutter your workspace
You probably don’t need us to tell you that clutter is distracting. The popularity of shows like ‘Tidying Up With Marie Kondo’ and ‘The Home Edit’ suggests many of us prefer things to be uncluttered – that’s likely because our brains get overwhelmed by seeing too much at once.
As research by Princeton University Neuroscience Institute confirms, less clutter makes it easier to focus. The brain has to expend as much energy ignoring things as focusing on them, so the less there is for it to ignore, the better.
Plus, the act of decluttering might help too. As tidying up is a relatively mindless activity, it allows your mind to wander. This is great if you’ve been concentrating on hard cognitive work. Stuck on something? Time to tidy your desk!
Ensure your set-up is comfortable
Your choice of at-home office furniture can make a big difference to your concentration levels.
The less comfortable you are, the more likely you are to move around or get distracted by your own discomfort. Plus, a bad chair can give you muscle tension and back pain, which will make it even harder to focus.
Nip this in the bud by investing in a good chair. Not sure how to find the right fit? Posturite’s Chair Finder Tool makes it easy.
Prefer to stand? A height-adjustable desk might be just the thing for you. We love this great value one.
Use scent to your advantage
Aromatherapy has long been used as a concentration aid. Scents like lavender, lemon and bergamot are just a few of many fantastic options.
Improve your mood as well as focus by adding a few drops of one or more of these in essential oil form to a diffuser. Alternatively, we also love to use Neal’s Yard Remedies’ Focus Aromatherapy Blend.
If you don’t have space for a diffuser, try a roller ball instead. Simply apply to pressure points on wrists, temples and neck when you need it, and inhale deeply.
More focus-boosting tricks to try
Try a concentration workout
When we want to strengthen a muscle, we exercise it – so, why not try that with your brain too? Mental workouts are a great way to take charge of your concentration again.
These are exercises where you devote your full attention to an activity for a set period of time. Examples include doodling, mindfully walking and passing a ball with someone. As long as it satisfies the above conditions, you can come up with your own too!
Simply decide your task, set your timer and get going. Then, once the time is up, write a short summary of how you felt, paying attention to where you lost focus and how you refocused yourself.
Your activity can be as short as a few minutes, so this works well for a tea break!
Eliminate distracting devices
Yes, this means your phone. According to a 2016 survey by CareerBuilder, smartphones are the biggest distractor at work, with 55% of us admitting to getting absorbed scrolling. And no prizes for guessing second place: the internet (41%).
With many of us working remotely, these figures are likely to have increased. Coming up with a solution is more important than ever for helping us to boost our focus. Luckily, there are plenty of apps designed for exactly that purpose.
We love Flora, which not only blocks distracting apps like Instagram and Facebook, but also incentivises you by growing a tree. Create your to-do list and get things done! If you leave the app for social media, the tree dies – and no one wants that!
Another good option is FocusMe, which works on desktops, laptops and phones.
Put on some classical music
From encouraging creativity to helping us relax, music has lots of benefits – and one of them is assisting focus!
If you’ve ever heard of “the Mozart effect,” you might already be aware of the popular belief that classical music boosts brainpower. Well, research by Stanford University shows that listening to this genre can genuinely help your mind to absorb and process new information.
The theory is that classical music engages the brain to pay better attention to events and predict what will happen next. As a result of this – and arguably the lack of words – you’re less likely to get distracted.
Incorporate meditation into your routine
Meditation helps your focus in the long- and short-term.
According to a 2010 study conducted by two Harvard psychologists, we aren’t fully engaged with what’s in front of us 47% of the time. Mindful meditations, which encourage us to focus on the moment, can help combat this issue.
From Calm to Headspace, lots of apps offer short guided practices that can be easily slotted into any pockets of free time you have. As sessions can be as short as a few minutes, such practices pair nicely with time management techniques like the Pomodoro Method, which breaks work into 25-minute chunks followed by short breaks.
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Words: Tilly Alexander