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11 easy ways to boost your

willpower and concentration


Aug. 17, 2015, 5:24 PM



Avoid the siren call of email and Facebook.

Few things are more frustrating than knowing you need to finish a
project and absolutely not being able to focus on it. In these moments,
everything email, Facebook, tying your shoe seems more exciting
than the task at hand.
Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

Fortunately, there are dozens of ways to filter out distractions and

improve your ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. To find
out what some of these strategies are, we sifted through the Quora
thread, "How do I improve my concentration and willpower?" and
highlighted the most practical techniques.
Some of them involve small tweaks (think changing the way you write
your to-do list), while others involve a bigger commitment (like a daily
meditation practice). All of them will make you more productive in both
your professional and personal lives.

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1. Create a quick-hit agenda.


Keep your to-do list short.

If you've got 30 items on your to-do list and half of those are things that need to happen
sometime this week, it's no wonder you feel stuck.
A better bet is to give yourself some super-short-term goals. Quora user Ravi
Mandliya suggests creating a list of things you'd like to finish in the next 45 minutes.
That forces you to be realistic in thinking about how much you can actually accomplish in a
limited time frame, so you don't end up with something vague and intimidating like "write
three project reports."

2. Work on your most pressing projects first thing in the

Each day is chock-full of experiences that can sap your willpower, from turning down a
coworker's freshly-baked brownies to ignoring the siren call of your overflowing inbox. By

the time 3 p.m. hits, it may be hard to muster up the cognitive resources to focus on
anything work-related.
That's why Vince Favilla says, "You need to work on your most important tasks early in the
day, while you still have the focus and willpower to complete them."
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal offers another reason why willpower may be highest in the
morning: The brain is refreshed by sleep. (That's also why an afternoon nap may work to
boost your willpower and productivity.)

3. Practice concentrating for long stretches.

REUTERS/Gil Montano

Learning to play chess can improve your concentration and memory.

Steve Denton recommends playing chess (or a similarly complex game) with challenging
opponents to develop your ability to concentrate for extended periods of time.
In fact, educational organizations across the globe advocate adding chess instruction to
school curricula. That's because it helps increase concentration and memory skills that
can improve performance in other areas of life.

4. Start an exercise routine.

Physical activity has myriad benefits but one of the less obvious is that it helps sharpen
That's because, according to one study mentioned by Mukul Shukla, regular aerobic exercise
may spark development in parts of the brain related to attention and memory.
Other research suggests it might not take too long to reap the cognitive benefits of exercise.
Kids who engaged in 10- to 40-minute bursts of exercise showed an immediate increase in
concentration and mental focus, probably because of improved blood flow to the brain.

5. Figure out why you're distracted.


Don't beat yourself up for getting distracted.

It's tempting to beat yourself up when you find yourself scrolling through your Facebook
news feed instead of answering client emails. A better bet is simply to accept that you're
having trouble focusing and move on to figuring out why.
"I think the biggest thing is just acknowledging that you're distracted and facing it head-on
rather than trying to suppress it," says Vinny Inverso.
Inverso says it's important to understand whether it's a physical or mental distraction that's
getting you sidetracked. If it's mental, try putting away your phone or using a plug-in that
blocks certain websites. If it's physical, consider taking a walk or having a snack.

The point is not to waste time getting upset because you're struggling, but to get to the root
of the problem and eliminate it.

6. Take regular breaks.

A growing body of research highlights the importance of incorporating regular break times
into your work schedule.
That's possibly because prolonged attention to a single task hurts performance.
One study found that people who took two breaks during a 50-minute cognitive task
performed much better than those who worked straight through.
The question is: How long do you have to toil away before you can take a respite?
Some research suggests the perfect formula involves working for 52 minutes and then
taking a 17-minute break.
Eric Pepke recommends more frequent pauses: "Take a five-minute break at least every 20
minutes, get up, walk around, and reset your brain. It not only makes it possible to do [the
task] for a longer time, but it makes every 20-minute chunk much more effective."

7. Check emails in bulk.


Wait until you have ten messages to check your email.

Jan Kulisek says he only checks his email and Facebook when he's got at least ten new
messages. That way, he's able to resist the urge to continually refresh his inboxes instead of
buckling down on whatever project he's supposed to be working on.
Of course, you should probably tell your coworkers that you've instituted this rule, so they
know to instant-message you or stop by your desk if something's urgent.

8. Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the general term for cultivating greater awareness of your experiences in the
present moment, and it can help you stay focused on the task at hand.
One simple mindfulness practice is to "do what you are doing with full focus," says Paras
Trehan. For example, Trehan says, pay attention to every bite of food you take, including the
taste, the temperature, and the texture. Eventually, you'll get accustomed to zeroing in on
single tasks, while minimizing external distractions.

9. Learn to meditate.


Find a quiet place to sit and concentrate on your breath.

As meditation gains a foothold in Western societies, more people are starting to appreciate
its psychological benefits. One study found that people were better able to concentrate after
they spent several months at a meditation retreat.

For those who aren't interested in dedicating that much time to their meditation practice, an
anonymous user outlines an exercise you can do for a few minutes every day.
Find a quiet space, sit in a comfortable position, and start breathing. Count to six as you
breathe in and six again as you breathe out. Keep doing this for as long as you can. The key
is to notice when your mind is wandering instead of focusing on the task at hand. (There are
variations on this technique, but counting your breaths is a basic meditation practice.)

10. Take an interest in the task.

Deepak Dev has a clever strategy for getting better at focusing: Find out why the task is
"If it's a 'dry' subject, get to know the applications of what you're studying or the history of
how the concepts of the subject [have] evolved," he writes. "Think about what you could
contribute/achieve in your field after you acquire deep knowledge in the subject."
So if your current assignment involves inputting numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, remind
yourself how this task fits into your company's work as a whole. How is your work on this
project helping to advance the organization's mission?

11. Be patient.

Albert Gea/Reuters

It takes time to develop a new cognitive skill.

Abhisek Rai Arrant says that when he started playing chess, he would lose some games
simply because he couldn't concentrate for hours at a time. Eventually, through meditation
and simply more practice playing chess, he was able to increase his ability to focus.
From this experience he learned that developing any new cognitive skill takes time and
you can't be too hard on yourself.
"While you're busy increasing your concentration span, you shouldn't give up on yourself,"
he writes. "Be optimistic and enthusiastic about the progress."

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