7 Science-Backed Actionable Tips to Improve Your Focus (And Get More Done)


“I wish I could focus less,” said no one ever. Concentration is the one thing everyone could use a lot more of. The reason is simple: staying focused helps get stuff done, faster.

And yet, it’s more difficult than ever to maintain concentration when there’s a ping of notifications and a stream of information a click away.

All’s not lost, though: staying focused, although hard to come by, isn’t a pipe dream. If you need help staying focused, use one — or all seven — of these tips.

Why can’t you stay focused: 5 factors contributing to a chaotic mind

You aren’t unfocused by accident. There are several problems at play that might cause a lack of concentration. Here are the most common ones:

Problem #1: You struggle with underlying conditions

Struggling with things like sleeping disorders, ADHD, or depression can cause a deep dent in your ability to concentrate. Even sleep deprivation and chronic stress can hamper your focus.

Read more: How to focus with ADHD

The best way to get your mojo back when you’re struggling with similar underlying conditions is to seek professional help. A therapist or psychiatrist can help you solve the root cause of the problem and give you the support you need.

Problem #2: You live an unhealthy lifestyle

Poor sleep quality isn’t the only thing affecting our collective inability to concentrate. Other bad lifestyle choices like sitting on your bum all day, eating insane amounts of processed food, barely exercising, and consuming excessive alcohol — all pump the brakes on your focus.

Eating nutrient-rich foods, getting enough oxygen to the brain through exercise, and putting a cap on alcohol consumption can make a drastic difference in your energy levels — increasing your ability to stay focused for longer periods in a jiffy.

Problem #3: You waste time on unimportant things

Minimalists get one thing right: they intentionally shrink how many decisions they have to make in a day.

“Eggs or cereal for breakfast?”

“Which shirt goes well with these pants?”

“What shoes should I buy since these have worn out?”

All these trivial decisions might not seem like they take up a ton, but they take up a large chunk of your brainpower every day.

In the end, you don’t have the decision-making stamina left to make more crucial choices, and your focus waves goodbye since it’s already used up.

Problem #4: You don't set up your environment to stay focused

A noisy neighbor decided to get new furniture installed. A crying toddler demanding attention. A chatty coworker who doesn’t seem to stop talking.

All these environmental factors disable you from staying focused for hours at a stretch. What’s worse: working from home has only made these environmental hiccups more frequent.

Problem #5: You have too much to do and can’t prioritize

Few of us today have the luxury of working on only one project at a time. Young workers are increasingly overwhelmed at work — with 61% sharing concerns about finances, job security, and meeting career goals.

If not by external bosses, the hustle culture mindset of doing more, more, and more clouds your brain — when in reality, a morning routine might work against you, and hustle habits can pave the way for job burnout.

How to improve your focus: 7 tips, according to science

Technology taketh away, and technology provides. Thanks to the innumerable data and science articles Google has, the solutions to stay focused are a click away. Here are seven tips that can help you maintain concentration — not according to Twitter bros, but according to science.

#1: Do one thing at a time for intense concentration

It’s tempting to respond to emails, then go back to your project management tool to update a card, and then come back to the LinkedIn tab to comment on someone’s post. So much done in a minute — super efficient, right?

Turns out: not so much. This task switching can cause you 40% of your focus time. And yet, workers switch between different apps and websites more than 300 times a day. Yikes.

The solution? Simple, but not easy: do one thing at a time. Monotasking over multitasking.

Why does it work:

  • Your brain is just not built for doing two things at once (and here you are, trying to do five simultaneously). Studies after studies have only confirmed it. Monotasking works better because 100% of your concentration is getting the one thing done well.
  • Sure, you can listen to your favorite podcast while doing the dishes — multitasking doesn’t apply to tasks where one task has minimal to no cognitive load.
  • But you can’t concentrate on what Brenda, the manager, is saying and write an email to your work bestie — you might think you can, but you’re either not listening to what was said or typing that gossip about Brenda to Brenda. Oopsie!

How to put it into action:

  • Work on full-screen mode
  • Block all social media and email tabs until you finish the task at hand
  • Use tools like Sunsama’s focus mode to have a timer backing you to monotask

#2: Set a timer and instantly arrive at deep work mode

Everyone tells you about deep work's magical (borderline voodoo) powers. They flaunt the likes of Cal Newport publishing four books, earning a PhD., and working as a professor — all attributing it to three to four hours of intense focus daily.

But how do you arrive in this other-worldly place where you aren’t tempted to open Instagram, scroll TikTok, and check your email?

Meet: the timer, a tool that can transport you to deep-work-land in a pinch.

Why does it work:

  • Saying a timer can fly you into deep work mode sounds too good to be true. But sometimes, the simplest solution works best.
  • A timer works because it contains your workload in units — instead of worrying about when you should start, what you should tackle first, and getting overwhelmed by a big project, a ticking timer forces you to just begin. When the clock hits play, you go. Simple.
  • Another reason timers work is they combat distractions. As long as the timer is running, you know you need to stay focused. No email, no TikTok, no calls. There’s a break to look forward to when the timer goes off — a potential reward also makes it easy to hold your concentration.

How to put it into action:

  • When it comes to what timer you should use, don’t complicate it. Use something simple that doesn’t require legwork or crossing hoops: something as uncomplicated as the stopwatch on your phone does the trick. But you can also use Sunsama’s focus mode to track how much time each task takes you and pause it when you take a break.
  • Set a timer for a fixed duration, so you have a break to look forward to. No one works well under a timer that never stops ticking. Use the Pomodoro technique — work in 25-minute chunks with 5-minute breaks — or 90-minute cycles with 10-minute breaks. Different tasks might require different timer durations, so do what works best for you.
  • Block distracting websites like social media and turn your phone on airplane mode when the timer is running — this way, you aren’t interrupted by notifications.

#3: Slow down to speed up

It sounds counterintuitive, but aiming to get more done fast can actually slow down your efficiency. Concentrating when you’re in a rush can be a recipe for disaster — a hurried mind can rarely get in the flow.

Slowing down, on the contrary, works far better to help you stay focused.

Why does it work:

  • Slowing down helps you get in the flow because you aren’t trying to cross off items in your to-do list hastily. Your focus is on the present task, making it easier to switch on the deep-work-mode lightbulb.
  • It’s easy to stay focused when you enjoy the process. But it isn’t easy to be present with the workflow when you’re dashing away to get stuff done. Slowing down requires you to savor the journey and get things done intentionally — rather than simply bustling through them.
  • And lastly, slowing down helps you make room for self-reflection in the workplace. When you aren’t trying to do more, more, more quick, quick, quick, you have the space to ponder how things are going and what you’d like to change.

How to put it into action:

  • Take breaks often to disconnect and pause
  • Rewire the hustle culture mindset of being busy = being productive
  • Focus on one thing at a time instead of trying to rush through multiple tasks at once
Read more: How Slowing Down Can Speed up Productivity (And 4 Ways to Slow Down)

#4: Trim your to-do list to get important stuff done

The biggest barrier to staying focused isn’t the inability to concentrate; it’s the handicap of not knowing what to focus on. If your to-do list runs with over 10-20 items for a day, no wonder you feel paralyzed and unable to concentrate.

“Where do you begin?”

“How will you get this all done?”

“Do you have the time to cross off every item on this list?”

The answer: prioritizing and eliminating.

Why does it work:

  • Setting realistic goals ensures you aren’t daunted by your to-do list every morning when you sit to work. Few have the privilege of trimming down their to-do list, but almost everyone can afford to prioritize.
  • When you prioritize, you know what you should tackle — not only does this make it easier to stay focused, but it also ensures you get the important stuff done instead of finishing trivial tasks that barely add any value.
  • Trimming your to-do list is also a humbling exercise. It can quieten your ego wanting to do more and more by forcing you to focus on the essentials and delegate (or eliminate) the rest.

How to put it into action:

  • Create a manageable workload. If you use Sunsama, you don’t have to do this heavy lifting yourself: its daily planning feature issues you a warning each time your workload exceeds your designated working hours.
  • Run a fine-toothed comb through your to-do list and ask: what things can I eliminate? What are some tasks here that my teammates can do better? What’s the number one priority?
  • Assign a priority to each task on your to-do list and aim to complete it in order rather than attacking random tasks
Read more: The solution to work-life imbalance — A realistic daily routine

#5: Incorporate play into your everyday to give your mind a rest

Your focus isn’t an on-and-off switch that can work whenever, wherever, endlessly. There’s a time concentration dwindles, and you feel stuck, even if you had been in the flow state for hours at a stretch.

The solution? Taking intentional breaks.

Why does it work:

  • Staying focused is just as much about giving yourself breaks as it is about forcing your arse to sit on your desk and work. Why? Focus requires energy, and you don’t have an endless supply of energy if you don’t rejuvenate it with play.
  • Multiple pieces of research have proved taking breaks and incorporating play improves your focus, overall well-being, and productivity.

How to put it into action:

  • Block time for leisure like you block time for work
  • Use a timer to ensure you take breaks in frequent intervals
  • Adopt healthy work-life balance boundaries to imbibe play into your workday

#6: Stay organized and set deadlines to be purpose-driven

Maintaining focus is a no-brainer when you’re organized and on a tight deadline. Think about when you had to turn over an assignment in a week — what did you do? You just sat and did it without requiring strategies to stay focused, right?

Why does it work:

  • When you have an organization system in place — even if it’s something as simple as a pen-paper to-do list — you know what you should do in a day. Figuring that out is half the puzzle.
  • With deadlines in place, setting priorities comes easy. The most urgent tasks become glaringly visible, and you understand exactly the next step you need to take.
  • Organizing things also forces you to look at the big-picture and evaluate how much more you can take on.

How to put it into action:

  • Use a project management tool like Sunsama to organize your tasks
  • Break each item on your to-do list into small, manageable chunks
  • Set deadlines for each sub-task

#7: Use time-blocking to avoid piling up small tasks

There are those pesky tasks on everyone’s to-do list: an email put off for a week, a dreaded but important project to finish, and a daunting item staring back.

They might not take more than half an hour, yet they’re put off for ‘tomorrow, for sure!’ until perpetuity.

Time-blocking comes to the rescue for such tasks.

Why does it work:

  • Having time set aside to finish these vexing tasks ensures you actually get to them.
  • It also puts things in perspective and helps you focus on the task at hand when you know exactly when you have to start the little, but annoying to-do list items.

How to put it into action:

  • Follow the 2-minute rule: if you can do a task in under two minutes, do it right away
  • Block time for email, updating project management tools, and other tasks that aren’t important, but necessary
  • Use the Eisenhower Matrix to recognize pesky tasks, so you don’t miss them and finish them

Read more
: Why Task Management Doesn’t Work for You and What You Can Do About It

Focus is a muscle: Strengthen it by exercising

Learning how to stay focused for a long time isn’t something you can master overnight. Luckily, concentration is like a muscle. The more you practice it, the stronger it gets.

But you don’t have to do it all alone. Technology can assist you with tiny nudges in staying focused. Sunsama is a tool for wholesome productivity — aiming to make your everyday calm and focused. Try it for free and see for yourself.

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