Does it feel as though your day is just one interruption after another? A never-ending stream of questions, last-minute requests and problems in need of urgent solutions? Sometimes you don’t know whether you’re coming or going... Modern life is a minefield of distractions. Everything draws us away from from our main objective – even open-plan offices conspire to divert our attention from what is really important to us. The neuroscientist Frances Jensen recently labelled this problem the ‘dementia of the preoccupied’, in reference to the way in which people’s attention constantly shifts from one thing to another throughout the day.

The frenetic nature of our day-to-day lives means that many things we want to achieve come to nothing, perhaps without us even knowing it. Breaking off from and interrupting our daily tasks weakens our ability to concentrate and we have to work harder to try and stay on top of all the things we have to get done.

It’s TIRING stuff.

To put an end to this ping pong game of being tossed from one distraction to another, you will need to make a few changes to your everyday habits. Here are a few of our tips on how to regain control of your concentration.


Organising your day

1. Make a list

Every morning, write down the most important things that you need to get done (bearing in mind that not everything is ‘important’!). Start with the most important task and cross it off your list once it’s done! (Be warned: it’s addictive).

2. Declutter

Having too many things around you can be a distraction and cause you to lose precious time. Start by sorting out your piles of old emails, folders that really don’t need to be on your desk any more, those corporate gifts from clients or suppliers (they may be a nice thought, but they’re not much use) and any out-of-date hard copy documents.

3. Establish routines

It’s a well-known fact that humans need points of reference and rituals. By setting a fixed schedule, you do things automatically, without asking yourself questions. This saves you having to make decisions, meaning that you can preserve your energy for the really big issues in your life. Establish a routine for morning activities, like having a shower and eating breakfast, and for the evening (putting the washing on, getting clothes ready for the next day, emptying the dishwasher, etc.). You’ll soon notice that ideas and solutions spring to mind more easily.

4. Focus on one task and one task only!

Since starting to read this article, you’ve probably opened another tab to google ‘How to stay focused on reading an article’, got up to have a snack and almost certainly replied to a hangout from a colleague. Get the feeling you’re multitasking? Research has shown that it takes us much longer to get through jobs when multitasking than when we focus on one thing at a time. Most people take several minutes to get back into the task they left off from, even if they stopped only briefly to check their emails or Instagram.


Taking control of your brain

5. Keep calm

Worrying is not a good use of your brainpower. Fretting about things that haven’t happened and are unlikely to ever happen prevents you from enjoying the present moment. Remember that you have control over the here and now!

You have control over the here and now!

6. Stay focused on the present

In her book “Eat, Pray, Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert pokes fun at a friend who always says ‘It’s so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!’. Whatever the moment you’re sharing – whether it’s drinking a coffee in the sun, seeing a friend or taking in a landscape – stay in the present moment and train your brain not to look ahead to future pleasures. Why? For the simple reason that while your mind is preoccupied with what could happen in the future, you’re missing out on an enjoyable moment in the present because your energy is focused on future possibilities that are beyond your control.

7. Go with the flow

Tube running late? Kids left crumbs all over your car? Getting angry when things go wrong only exacerbates the problem and takes us away from positive thoughts. ‘Going with the flow’ simply means accepting life’s little irritations without letting our emotions get the better of us.

8. Write down things that play on your mind

You’re in bed when your brain is suddenly flooded with a whole host of random thoughts that stop you from getting to sleep. It doesn’t want you to forget what you’re thinking about, so these thoughts turn over and over in your mind. The solution? Break the cycle by writing down what is playing on your mind. This will allow you to let go of those nagging thoughts and get some sleep (for the moment, at least…).

How about you? What are your recommendations for staying focused in a world of distractions?