Know why you are unable to concentrate

  • Sameer Parikh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 18, 2014 12:33 IST

In today’s fast paced world, the amount of work to be done is ever increasing, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time. In such a scenario, the ability to concentrate on one’s work is essential to be able to optimally utilise the time at hand. There are various reasons why people are unable to concentrate. This could be an error in their way of working or the time spent working, problems in their lifestyle, difficulties and distractions in one’s external environment or stress and preoccupations in their personal life.

It’s very important for you to understand why some people have problems concentrating on a task at hand.

Quality counts: Spending hours on end at one’s workstation is not the key to effective studying. It’s not the number of hours of work you put in that matters, but rather the quality of the effort you’ve put in. If you’re not able to focus, take a break and deal with whatever it is that’s bothering you. Come back to work once you’re ready to concentrate again.

Take frequent breaks: The average attention span of an adult human being is about 45 minutes – working beyond that means a dip in your concentration levels. It’s a good idea, therefore, to take short, but frequent breaks. Take a five-minute break after every 45 minutes.

Chemicals don’t help: There are a lot of myths around cigarettes improving concentration and pills enhancing memory. Memory pills for students and young professionals do not work, and neither does nicotine enhance concentration.

Use multimodal approaches: Rather than only reading text, a multimodal approach can be more active and effective. Using highlighters, making notes and reading or gathering additional information regarding your current topic can increase your interest levels and create better memory cues.

Avoid mugging up: Focusing too much on the need to concentrate and memorise content in itself can be counter-productive. A better approach is to just relax and aim to understand the material rather than mugging up. Gist learning is the most effective means of learning new material.

Minimise distractions: A cluttered desk, lots of noise and a beeping cell phone all distract us from the task at hand. Make sure you clean out your workspace, keeping only the most essential materials required, try maintaining silence while you’re working and keep your mobile phone far away.

Multitasking doesn’t help: Listening to music or watching television while studying or working does not help; it in fact reduces one’s concentration levels. Try focusing on one thing at a time to optimise your concentration and get the best results

The e-exercise: An effective strategy to enhance attention and concentration is to repeat a slightly monotonous task with high accuracy. Take a newspaper, pick any article and cut out all the ‘E’s’ that you find in that one article. Attempt this as fast as possible with minimum errors.

Using art and music: There are interesting techniques using art and music that can also move to enhance concentration. One such technique is to select a piece of instrumental music which uses multiple instruments. Try to follow the sound of any one instrument for a duration of four to five minutes. Such an exercise helps you work through auditory distractions better.

Deal with stressors: A lot of times, preoccupations in your personal life can distract you and affect your ability to concentrate. If you are experiencing any kind of stress, it is a good idea to talk about the things that are bothering you with a friend or family member and deal with the situation at the earliest.

The author is director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare

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