8 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Concentration at Work

How to concentrate when you’re super distracted

When was the last time you felt great about your productivity at the end of the day? You completed all your projects (and even got ahead on some for next week), your inbox says 0, and you finally managed to clean out that one desk drawer you’ve been avoiding.

That’s what I thought.

If you’re anything like me, it’s been a while since you had one of these days–the days that make you feel like all of the stress and chaos is worth it because you contributed something that really matters.

Sure, there are days that are better than others, days when you’re not drowning in the work you haven’t been able to finish. But those flow-state-productivity-magic days are few and far between.

What if they don’t have to be? Your ability to concentrate is not something you’re born with that you have no control over. Rather, it’s a skill you can hone just like rock climbing, tap dancing, and playing the didgeridoo.

The tips I’m about to give you are all scientifically proven to help you concentrate at work. It’s time to get in touch with your productive side.

1. Sleep more

If you’ve been struggling to concentrate recently, I’m guessing you haven’t been getting enough sleep. Proper sleep is the foundation of being able to focus. In fact, research suggests that people with sleep disturbances have worse productivity and performance.

Remember, being in bed for 8-9 hours doesn’t always guarantee you’re sleeping well. Getting enough deep sleep is what really matters. Check out these tips for how to improve deep sleep.

2. Get organized

There’s nothing more counterproductive to concentration than being distracted by a messy environment. One Princeton University study found that clutter decreases your brain’s ability to focus and process information. Whether you work at home or in the office, take a few extra minutes to declutter your workspace. Oh, and if you have a million tiny computer tabs on your screen, it’s probably time to close some of them.

Speaking of distractions, make sure to make a plan for putting away your phone while working…I mean actually putting it in a place where you can’t reach it. Trust me, those constant notifications aren’t going to do you any favors.

3. Take breaks

It may seem counterintuitive to take a break when you can’t concentrate, but it might be exactly what your mind needs in order to fully focus on the task at hand. Surprisingly, research shows that your brain is actually quite active in the areas associated with complex problem-solving when you daydream. That’s why you occasionally have those light bulb moments in the shower.

How often should you take a break? You could try the Pomodoro Technique, which consists of working on one task for 25 minutes, taking a 5-minute break, and then repeating the cycle. Sometimes you’ll set a goal of focusing for 25 minutes but then get into flow state and end up working for a whole hour before needing a break.

4. Meditate

Meditation is more than just a spiritual practice. It’s also a way to clear your mind when you feel overwhelmed. Studies have found that even brief meditation sessions can enhance concentration. That’s not to say that you should only meditate when you can’t focus at work, however. Building a habit of daily meditation gives you a solid foundation that holds even when the pressure gets intense. 

Do you feel like you get distracted every time you try to meditate? Don’t miss this guide to meditating even when you’re stressed.

5. Embrace lists

Are you one of those people who creates a to-do list for absolutely everything? You might be on the right track. Research shows that making a plan for unfinished tasks makes you feel less distracted and frees up your mind to focus on the task at hand. Writing a to-do list also allows you to prioritize the most important tasks for the day or week ahead so you don’t have to spend valuable time trying to prioritize as you work.

When it comes to to-do lists, less is more. Don’t write down every single thing you want to accomplish. It’s better to limit yourself to tasks you’re actually likely to get done during the day. That way, you’ll feel great when you’ve accomplished most of them instead of stressed out that you’ve only completed 40% of your to-do list. Don’t forget to include time estimates for each task.

6. Play brain games

Do you have that one family member who always brings a crossword puzzle to family gatherings? It might be time to join them. One study found that those who regularly do brain training activities improve their memory, processing speed, concentration, and problem-solving skills.

Here are some of the brain games you can try:

  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Word searches
  • Sudoku
  • Memory games
  • Chess
  • Crossword puzzles

7. Exercise

It’s no surprise that exercise benefits your ability to focus. It’s basically the key to becoming more healthy in every aspect of life. This study suggests that exercising just one time has a small positive effect on cognition. Of course, consistent exercise has an even greater impact on concentration.

If you can get outside to exercise, that’s even better. Fresh air can have additional benefits for your mind, enabling you to refocus when you get back to work. If working out at the gym is best for your schedule, try to find another opportunity to get outside daily.

8. Stay caffeinated

Good news for coffee addicts. Science actually supports the idea of using caffeine to enhance your concentration. Research shows that caffeine improves performance and productivity. So don’t feel bad about that morning cup of coffee that kickstarts your day.

That being said, too much caffeine can have negative side effects, such as jitters and insomnia.