Since a few months, I had been battling a sharp decline in concentration levels. While writing an email at work, my mind would waver to the blog I was thinking of writing. When working on the blog, I’d drift to reaching out to some prospects on LinkedIn. When on LinkedIn I was thinking of calling my boss to get his okay on a campaign. It was a constant feeling of being scatterbrained — there but not 100% there. I felt like my productivity was dropping by a mile. and that. I hated.
Usually when I'm in the flow or in my zone, I phase out of the surroundings and just do whatever I'm doing with my 200% focus for hours at a stretch. However, with a lot going on at work, moving cities, taking care of twin toddlers I found myself being constantly scatterbrained. It would take me ages to reach the flow state of mind.
I decided to take charge of the situation and started with what I know best. read and research on “How to concentrate better” and ”How to improve concentration” and spoke to a few mentors.
Quickly listing things I tried — what worked- what didn't:
Advice 1: Focus on a dot or spot on the wall in front of you and just focus on it for as long as you can until you stop hearing things.
I tried this by attempting this 3–4 times a day for two weeks.
Did it work? — Not really. While I focused on the dot I did get into a meditative feeling at one point. In general though it did not really help me increase my concentration levels. I’d give this a 3/10
Advice 2: Create a list of distractions and place it in front of your desk. Don't do those things on the list.
I made a list of eleven things I felt were very distracting and tried my best to not do them.
Did it work? — Well, I did end up not doing some obviously distracting things but couldn't stop my mind from flitting between various tasks. I’d give this method a 5/10. If there are physical distractions like checking social media, tapping your feet etc. then this method is useful but for mental distractions like thinking between tasks, not so much.
Advice 3: Hold anything in your hand and look at it for a minute without thinking of words in your mind.
I tried this with a pen, eyeglasses, an orange and a mouse (laptop’s) for over a week.
Did it work? — Nope. Nein. Nada. I mean for the times when you're focusing on the object it still might work but when you're back to doing everyday tasks, this doesn't really train the mind to not jump. I found this the lamest of all the methods I tried 😏
Advice 4: Count Backwards or in skips. eg 100,99,98 or 100, 97, 94, 91 ..
I tried this method religiously all through for about 2–3 weeks. It seemed easy to do.
Did it work ? — I doubt. Though this sequence skipping exercise does engross your mind like a game but on the whole i didn't find my overall concentration levels improving much
Advice 5: Use the Mind vs Awareness technique.
The technique popularised by Hindu guru Dandapani, talks about awareness being like a flashlight and the mind being a huge stack of different buckets/things. Illuminate your awareness on one thing at a time. The essence of this is to focus on one thing at a time but the layered meaning comes in after you've understood awareness and mind are two separate things. There may be ten things in the mind but you need to focus the awareness on just one thing from the mind.
Did it work? Oh it worked the best so far !! I’m finding myself able to better concentrate on things. It started slow with my mind flitting and hopping between thoughts of ten different things. I would drift away and then force myself to go back to the original task as soon as I was aware that I’d drifted. By the third day I was conscious of my awareness drifting sooner and its definitely helpful. Its been 3 weeks doing this now and i feel its working really well. I find myself reaching my flow faster and for longer.
Definitely try this out. I’d give this a 9/10 for the ease and value.
Advice 6: White Noise and caffeine
So a friend told me how she benefited from increased concentration by playing white noise and drinking Coffee. I tried it for a week to play the white noise and coffee is something I worship anyway.
Did it work — Well yes, post coffee I do seem to concentrate better (always have) but I want to avoid guzzling twenty cups of coffee a day to just get work done. Alternatively, the white noise trick did seem to get me to be more alert but Day 4 or 5 onward I’m also beginning to feel drowsy (Maybe thats why the coffee)
I’d give this combination a 6/10 for helping concentrate.
What worked for me best was the Awareness + Conscious Mindfulness approach. It’s helping me identify when I’m getting distracted and pull my focus back towards task at hand.
The second best approach I liked to improve concentration was the white noise + Coffee approach. Together with the first approach I think I can concentrate much better ad gradually I think I would like to move to the first way until my mind is trained and conscious mindfulness and awareness become a habit.
Making a list of distractions is also pretty useful if it comes to physical distractions.
I’m not saying the other methods arent useful. They could be for some I’m sure. They just weren't for me.
Would love to hear what works for you to improve concentration levels?