1. Listen to Instrumental Music

Photo of girl listening to music

This is most effective when the task is well defined and repetitive, which happens to be the type of task that is most likely to cause us to zone out. I know that when I am doing something that I find boring, such as paperwork or cleaning, I find that fast-paced instrumental music energizes me and makes the task more enjoyable, which increases my motivation and consequently my time on task. But don’t just take my word for it. Research has been performed that bears this out.

The type of music that I find most beneficial has been trailer music, but your mileage may vary. You’ll find no shortage of this on YouTube. I especially recommend the work of Audiomachine and Two Steps From Hell.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Here are a few playlists: * Best of Audiomachine | 3-Hour Epic Music Mix * 5-Hour Music Mix | World’s Most Epic Music Mega Mix Vol. 2 * 2-Hours Epic Music Mix | THE POWER OF EPIC MUSIC - Full Mix Vol. 2

2. Hydrate Yourself!

Photo of man and woman drinking water

Even mild dehydration can negatively affect your productivity, causing such symptoms as: fatigue, headache, and difficulty concentrating. Worse still, we reach this point before we begin to feel thirst. According to Dr. Lawrence E. Armstrong, professor of physiology at UConn, “Our thirst sensation doesn’t really appear until we are 1% or 2% dehydrated. By then dehydration is already setting in and starting to impact how our mind and body perform.”

In the study conducted, the young women perceived the tasks as being more difficult when dehydrated, but their cognitive abilities were not affected (though their mood and physical comfort was). The men, however, were impaired on tasks that required working memory and vigilance.

Odds are you are slightly dehydrated, even if you’re not feeling thirsty at the moment. So grab a quick drink. It’ll lift your mood and perhaps give a boost to your focus.

3. List Your Goals for the Day and Break Them Down

Photo of Bullet Journal

When we have many tasks to accomplish during the day, we can feel overwhelmed. Where to start may be unclear, and it can feel like we must get them all done at once. This is very rarely the case. Having a list of goals and a plan to achieve them can add focus simply by returning a sense of control. It also frees the cognitive resources that would otherwise be spent figuring out what to do next while you’re already in the middle of something.

There are a things to keep in mind if you want to do this well, and they are as follows:

Let’s go over these points.

State Your Goals Clearly and in Concrete Terms

By doing this, you are making your goals more actionable. Clear, concrete goals are type of goals that brain is most comfortable with and lend themselves well to measures of progress. The question is: How do I do this? What I find works for me is iterative refinement. What I do is I type up all of my abstract goals. The under each abstract goal, I write a few more concrete subgoals I feel I’ll need to achieve that goal as bullet points. Then under each of those I write a few even more concrete subgoals as bullet points. And the process continues until I feel that I have sufficiently actionable goals under each abstract goal. I call this my “goal outline.”

Note that you don’t have to do it the way I described. If, say, mindmaps work for you, then by all means use them. The keys are to break down the goals into smaller components and to give them serious thought. That is where the lion’s share of the benefit comes from.

For Each Goal, Set Milestones

If you don’t have anything to measure your progress on your way to accomplishing your goals, then it’s easy to become discouraged and give up–especially if those goals are quite long term. If you followed the last point, at least some of those subgoals are excellent milestones. Let them help you to realize how far you have come and how far you have left to go while you are on your journey.

Create a Timeline with Deadlines

With your list of milestones at the ready, go through them, estimate how long each will take, whether you can work on more than one at the same time, and then set deadlines for each one. If you leave them dateless, then it can become easy to procrastinate and not get anywhere. Set hard, but realistic dates.

Set Up a System of Accountability

There’s nothing wrong with a little external motivation. Whether it is telling your friends what your goals are and when the deadlines for those goals are, or making them public in some other way, you want there to be at least some light external pressure to give you that push to get you moving. Most of us are fine once we’ve built up some momentum; it’s getting started that’s the issue. Making your plan public also opens it up to criticism and suggestions, which may be beneficial.

All of this will help you to build the natural focus you need to accomplish your goals with a plan of action.

4. Practice Meditation

I’m not saying that you must become a monk and meditate all of your free time away. In fact, I’d say that meditating even for 5-15 minutes per day can benefit your focus.