It’s coming to that time of year again - vacations are wrapping up, everything from shoes to stickers is on sale.
As the end of August nears, and everyone is getting ready for the new school year, we here at doppel thought we’d share some ideas which we’ve found to help you concentrate and stay focused in class or at work.
At doppel everything we design is science-led, and the approach we take to our work is always grounded in research. So, when thinking about how to concentrate best, we’re not prepared to take ‘This works’ as a given, until we’ve seen the science behind it. Here are some proven actions you can take, to help you regain focus for when you need it.
Anyone who’s spent a whole day on one project, or even a day stuck at their desk will know that after a while you lose focus. Recent research from the University of Illinois dispels the previously upheld theory that your attention span is finite and decreases over time. Commenting on his work, Professor of Psychology Alejandro Lleras agrees that “you start performing poorly on a task because you've stopped paying attention to it" but he goes on to say that "you are always paying attention to something. Attention is not the problem."
In previous work Lleras had noticed that a similar phenomenon occurs in sensory perception: The brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant over time. For example, most people are not aware of the sensation of clothing touching their skin. The body becomes "habituated" to the feeling and the stimulus no longer registers in any meaningful way in the brain.
Find New Inspiration
This may seem like common sense but a quick conversation with a friend or reading an interesting article can give us new ideas. It can be hard to see things from a new perspective or find new insights when you’re working on your own.
What to Drink?
Sometimes you feel tired simply because you're mildly dehydrated. A glass of water will help, especially after exercise. A recent study published in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise found that mild dehydration can also impair cognitive performance, particularly when completing tasks that require concentration.
Tea and coffee is a popular choice when it comes to giving yourself a boost because it contains caffeine, a chemical which makes us feel more awake. It also should be said that the process of making and drinking a cup of tea or coffee forces us to get up from our desks (unless you’ve taken the positioning of your coffee machine to new extremes).
What to Eat?
Being overweight or underweight can affect your energy levels and leave you feeling sleepy. So it's important to make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet. If it’s cold or dark there is a temptation to give up salads and fill up on comfort food. However, you'll have more energy if you include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your meals.
You may also find that your sweet tooth goes into overdrive in the winter months, but try to avoid foods containing lots of sugar. They may give you a rush of energy, but it's one that wears off quickly. Caffeine can help to mask the dip in energy in the short term but will only delay the crash.
Exercise may be the last thing you want to do when you're feeling tired - but you might be surprised by how energetic you feel after working out. Exercise in the late afternoon may help to reduce early-evening fatigue and also improve your sleep.
You could also check out our blog on how going for a walk in a green space has been found to restore the brain.
Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have recently published an exciting new study which shows for the first time how breathing exercises, one of the most important parts of meditation and mindfulness practices, can increase focus.
Breathing exercises are well known to reduce stress, but this research sheds light on exactly how they can also help to improve focus.
In their paper, the team conclude that breathing directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. Noradrenaline is a chemical messenger that is released when we are challenged, curious, focused or emotionally aroused. If it’s produced at the right level then it can also help the brain grow new connections.
You can find some breathing exercises to try out here.
This might seem obvious, but according to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America® Poll, while 65% of Americans think sleep contributes to next day effectiveness, 90% think that their day starts when they get up, rather than with their sleep the night before - and 60% don’t take into account how much sleep they’ll need the night before when planning their day.
Different schedules work for different people but try to aim for eight hours a night and try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
We’ve all heard a lot of these ideas before in some way, shape or form, but integrating them into your life can be a challenge. Try one or two of the ideas out the next time you feel stuck or can’t focus, and hopefully one will help you get back in the zone!
We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Tell us if you’ve tried anything from this post, or if you think we’ve missed anything.
Photography credits: @thoughtcatalog, @javiermolina, @tonny.tran, @christinhume, @mattseymour, @brookelark, @curtismacnewton, @jareddrice, @sekibaku