How to improve your focus and concentration

by Anita Naik

Whether you are back in school or university or at home online learning, one skill to master this year is improving your concentration levels. The benefits of better concentration are multiple, from less stress over workloads to better retention and faster comprehension. Here's what you need to know.

We all know we need to concentrate on the work at hand, but it's all too easy to get distracted whether you are revising, working from home or even sitting in class. Breaking focus happens when your brain starts noticing things that might need your attention, especially if those things are more rewarding than the work you are doing now.

According to a study from Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, the problem is once your focus is broken, it can take up to 25 minutes to return to the original task. If you're keen to fine-tune your concentration skills, here's how to improve your focus.

Stop multitasking

The good news is the human mind can focus on any given task for up to two hours. However, the more you multitask in general, the less you will focus on a job. This is because multitasking trains the brain to jump from one thing to another.

If you want to improve your concentration, practise doing one thing at a time, whatever that task might be and avoid multitasking in general. So don't scroll through your phone as you watch TV, or text while you work or allow notifications on devices to distract you while you are revising. Switch things off and make sure you work on focusing on one thing at a time.

Take up mindfulness/meditation

Just 10 minutes of daily mindfulness or meditation training can help to improve your concentration levels by teaching you to focus on the present. Meditation and mindfulness practice teaches you to let go of distracting thoughts and feelings by always returning to the breath. This leads the brain to focus on the present without becoming distracted by 'mind traffic'.

Scientists believe meditation works in boosting concentration levels because it is a form of brain network training helping the brain to become more efficient. Try Headspace and Calm apps for daily 10-minute mindfulness and meditation courses geared towards your needs.

Train your brain to focus

Another way to improve your concentration is to work on it and train your brain to focus without distraction. Results from a study by Lumos Labs of 4,715 adults found that spending 15 minutes a day, five days a week, on brain training activities could significantly impact concentration. Try crosswords, jigsaws, chess or Scrabble online.

Or take up a new sport like martial arts, tennis, or dance where you also need to focus on technique as this will also help your concentration levels to improve overall. Certain hobbies can also positively impact your concentration as anything you do for enjoyment tends to make you focus for a set period, whether it's reading, learning an instrument, cooking or painting.

Listen to music as you work

Listening to music as you work can help increase your concentration. This is because music relies on structure, rhythm and timing, so helps you to relax and focus. However, it all depends on the music you choose, so avoid distracting music and choose something classical or ambient that helps you stay focused on what you are doing.

You could also try one of the many apps that play nature sounds, rainfall, or ambient sounds, or Spotify, which has playlists for nature sounds and music to help you concentrate and study.