August 15, 2023
ADHD manifests in many forms and shapes. A very common symptom though is the difficulty to remain focused on unpleasant tasks. This is primarily accounted to a lack of dopamine in certain parts of the brain, which is crucial to be able to focus on one thing while tuning out everything else. However, even people without ADHD can sometimes struggle with concentration. Here are a few tips and tricks, which can help you to stay on task, whether you have ADHD or not.
Most importantly but also kind of obviously: Sleep. You probably already made this discovery in school. When you didn’t get enough sleep, paying attention in class was even harder than it already was. It is well established that sleep affects our attention spans, which makes it all the more significant that studies suggest 60 – 80% of adults with ADHD also struggle with symptoms of sleep disorders. There is no magic number for how many hours of sleep our body needs to function because this differs between every individual. However, to prevent letting your concentration be diminished by lack of sleep, it is important to keep to a regular sleep schedule.
Even when cranking up your capacity to concentrate with the right amount of sleep, you can’t stay focused forever. This also might seem obvious, but when we are on a tight schedule, we often tend to disregard this. It is recommended that you don’t work on a task for more than 90 minutes at a time. After 1.5 hours (at the most) you need to take a 10 – 30-minute break to be able to keep being productive. During your break, you should refrain from looking at your smartphone, which impairs your ability to focus. Instead, try getting rid of a little excess energy by going for a walk or stretching.
By creating a task for going to bed and getting up, you can use Structured to keep to a regular sleep schedule. Also, use the app to remind you of taking breaks when you are working or studying.
Many people can concentrate better when they’re listening to music, as it helps to tune out everything that is going on around them. There is even a type of music that has been shown to enhance concentration: So called 40 Hz binaural beats are comprised of two beats with different frequencies that are off by 40 Hz. If you prefer to work or study in silence, you can still benefit from 40 Hz binaural beats by listening to them just before you start with your task. This way, the music will set your brain in a focused mode without overwhelming you with continuous eerie sounds. Besides 40 Hz binaural beats, white, brown, and pink noise have also been shown to have a beneficial effect on concentration.
One phenomenon that is affecting our concentration is called attentional blinks. This describes short laps of attention after a visual stimulus. For example, after finally finding “Waldo” you tend to miss a second Waldo completely that sits right next to the first one. People with ADHD experience a significantly higher number of attentional blinks than others, which is speculated to be at least partly responsible for their shortened attention spans. However, there is an exercise that has been shown to decrease the number of attentional blinks a person experiences. Simply sit down in a comfortable position and close your eyes for 15 minutes. Try to focus on yourself and your breathing, and bring your mind back whenever it starts to wander off. This practice can improve your capacity to focus after only doing it once.
Visual focus training
Visual focus directs cognitive focus. Or in easier terms: We aim our attention at what we look at. This fact can be exploited to practice the ability to concentrate. Before you start to work or study, focus your gaze on a single point in front of you. In the beginning, keep this focus up for 30 seconds and increase the timespan with every day by 5 seconds until you reach 3 minutes. The important part of this exercise is the refocus. Whenever you feel the urge to look away or your eyes begin to drift, refocus your gaze back on your original target (also, don’t forget to blink every once in a while). When you have mastered the 3-minute-stare, you can try to move on to the next stage: the covert focus. This significantly more difficult exercise requires you to keep your eyes fixed on one point in front of you, while focusing on something else inside your peripheral vision. These exercises are used in some schools to teach the students the ability to stay focused on their lessons, and have also been shown to improve concentration in adults.
Hopefully, some of these tips can help you to increase your attention span when you are dealing with tasks you don’t enjoy. Try them out to learn whether one of these methods works for you, and then use Structured to incorporate them in your day.