How many times today have you caught yourself rereading the same paragraph? You finish it, but you still can't tell someone what the gist of it is.
When you consistently can't finish tasks at work or school because you can't focus, it's time to explore why it's so hard to pay attention. In this article, we'll explore medical and nonmedical reasons for poor focus, effects on work, and tips for tethering a wandering mind.
Why am I having trouble focusing?
The phrase "trouble focusing" includes difficulty paying attention to a specific task, idea, or activity.
Sometimes, lack of focus is due to your environment, stemming from factors such as:
- Distracting family members, roommates, or coworkers
- Stress- or work-induced burnout
- Information overload
- Sleep problems
- Jet lag
If your persistent lack of focus isn't a result of those, it may be due to a neurodivergent trait or a medical concern.
Is trouble focusing always ADHD?
While Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) does make focusing difficult, it's not the only cause of poor concentration. Here are some indicators of ADHD:
- Lack of focus and impulsivity are evident.
- Many aspects of life are consistently affected by symptoms.
- Symptoms often appear in childhood and persist for at least six months.
- Daily academic or career productivity and relationships are significantly impaired.
If you notice symptoms of ADHD, seeking a professional evaluation is the best course of action to receive a proper diagnosis and tailored treatment.
Are there other medical reasons why I can't focus?
Sometimes, it's not external factors that prevent us from focusing. Consider how much is happening within the body—all parts and functions are interconnected.
Many medical conditions impact focus. For example, your brain's makeup changes as you age, and you lose some receptors and neurons, which results in problems with focus. Even aches and pains that come with age can make concentrating tough, and some medicines used to treat pain can also affect focus.
Other medical causes might fall into the following categories:
- Hormonal imbalance
- Autoimmune disorders
- Neurological conditions
- Sleep-related conditions
- Bacterial and viral infections
A study from Harvard Medical School and the University of Queensland indicates that half of the world’s population will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives. Symptoms of common mental health conditions like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, and OCD make productivity a challenge.
One common side effect of many of these medical conditions is “brain fog,” which involves feeling mentally fuzzy, unable to think clearly, spacing out, and forgetting. But it’s not the only medical explanation for lack of focus. That’s why it’s a smart practice to pay attention to all the paperwork that your pharmacists send with you. Concentration loss is often a side effect of medications used to treat other conditions (so stay away from heavy machinery).
What could happen to productivity if I can't focus?
Focus plays a vital role in everyday life. It helps us complete tasks, make good decisions, and be more productive. When you lack the mental energy to focus, it's like trying to solve a puzzle with missing pieces, making everything more challenging.
For example, imagine you're chosen to deliver an influential presentation to your work team and senior management. In the days leading up to the presentation, you struggle to prepare the deck and skip rehearsing because you can't focus.
During the presentation, you're off-topic, forget critical points, and lose your audience. As a result, your project isn't a huge success. No one asks you to lead meetings anymore, and you feel like your goals are floating away.
Here are a few other ways you might experience symptoms that impact your work:
- Decreased short-term memory: Prepare for awkward conversations if you forget things that just happened or lose time searching for lost items.
- Careless mistakes: Errors take time and effort to correct and are a safety risk in careers that demand precision.
- Reduced efficiency: You take longer to finish projects, assignments, or daily chores due to constant interruptions or distractions.
- Lower quality work: Your work often suffers when it lacks attention to detail, thoroughness, and the critical thinking required for high-quality outcomes.
- Missed deadlines: This symptom has the potential to damage your professional reputation.
- Mental Exhaustion: Constantly struggling to focus leaves you drained and less able to tackle tasks.
As a result, you may miss out on meaningful professional growth and personal development opportunities. Instead, improving your focus is essential to your professional success and work-life balance.
What can I do to improve my concentration?
When you’re having trouble focusing, you can lean into different options, tactics, and work styles to improve your ability to focus. Moreover, these solutions will help you get things done sustainably—while still caring for yourself.
Enhancing focus is about rewiring your brain for better results. By forming new habits, you tap into your brain's remarkable ability to change (neuroplasticity). This change boosts productivity, reduces stress, and helps you reach your goals efficiently. So, improving focus isn't just a skill; it's a transformation that can reshape your life for the better.
Even though self-care is a common buzzword, change starts with you. With Sunsama’s guided daily planning, you can design a calm and focused schedule that includes breaks for self-care throughout your day.
Since stress feeds fatigue, illness, and pain, creating a wellness routine with habits like these that reduce stress and its impact on your body:
- Reduce screen time and social media use to lower exposure to blue light and other stimuli
- Plan activities according to your circadian rhythm
- Consume less caffeine and other stimulants
- Sleep for 7-8 hours each day
- Practice breathing exercises
- Eat a balanced diet
- Drink more water
- Find hobbies
In the meantime, you still have to function at work. Consider these six solutions to improve your focus and stay productive:
- Plan your day with intention
Being intentional with your time means paying attention to everything you do daily. You’re mindful of how you fill your days, from work tasks to spending time with loved ones. Maybe you can be more intentional by writing out your goals and tracking them or using checklists.
Another way to plan with intention is timeboxing. When timeboxing, you use a digital calendar like Sunsama’s to block out time in your calendar to focus on a specific task and nothing else. This is your “timebox.” The amount of time you set aside is the estimated time needed to complete the entire task. Once the timebox is over, so is the task. You mark it complete and move on.
- Employ the Pomodoro method
If you’re easily distracted or overwhelmed during big tasks, consider trying the Pomodoro technique.
It's a time management method where you break your work into 25-minute blocks split by 5-minute breaks. These blocks of 25-minute focused work are Pomodoros. After 4-5 Pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.
This strategy has proved especially effective for neurodivergent individuals and, generally, anyone who finds themselves struggling to focus in their workspace.
- Focus on one task at a time
As it turns out, multitasking is a myth.
Instead, experts recommend monotasking. When monotasking, you focus on one task at a time to expand your attention. To avoid the distractions of all of the items, use Sunsama’s focus mode. When you enter the focus mode, all the other tasks on your to-do list get blocked out, and you only see the title of the task you’re currently doing.
- Let the music guide you
Want to reduce stress and be more productive? Consider playing upbeat, instrumental music designed for increased focus and adding some ambiance to your workday.
*Music used in video games is designed to help you focus on the task at hand, and many listeners claim it helps them get into a “flow” mode while boosting output.
- Breathe your way through it
When you begin to feel the effects of stress, intentional breathing can have powerful effects.
Rely on the meditation or breathing that you’ve practiced while not stressed to kick into muscle-memory mode when you are. When your fight or flight response kicks in, try to find a quiet place and take a few moments for mindfulness and breathing.
- Remove distractions
Your atmosphere plays an essential role in your ability to focus, and a cluttered, loud, and spontaneous environment makes it more difficult to redirect your mind when you notice it starting to wander.
While a temporary fix, clearing your workspace of distractions like papers, to-do lists, decor, and clutter will help you focus on your work. If your distractions are your family, friends, or pets, consider going into a room where you can lock the door and wear some noise-canceling headphones.
Finally, if the impulse to check into each notification ding is too great, consider muting your phone, computer, and other device notifications to get some peace and focus.
With consistency, you will start working your way toward every focused-wannabe’s dream—a calmer, more productive daily flow state. But what if you're still having focus issues?
When it's time to seek professional help for your lack of concentration
At a certain point, it's time to seek medical advice to help you cope with distraction—especially if it's negatively impacting everyday life. A medical professional will know which of these options to steer you toward:
- Prescribe medication for common symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other illnesses
- Adjust current medications' dosage if side effects make it hard to focus
- Recommend psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a mental health professional
- Test for underlying conditions for sudden onset of or worsening of brain fog since it is a common symptom that might signal several health conditions
Reaching out to a medical professional is pivotal in regaining your focus. They can offer personalized solutions to address your concentration challenges.
Reclaim your focus with Sunsama's Focus Mode
Feeling like you're constantly losing the battle with distraction? You're not alone. But here's the good news: understanding the factors behind your lack of focus is the first step to regaining control. Don't let concentration challenges hold you back from your goals and aspirations.
Whether you adopt wellness habits, seek professional help, or use focus-boosting tech, you're on a path to better concentration. On your trek toward better focus and a more balanced life, consider tools like Sunsama's Focus Mode. It can help you craft a daily schedule that works for you and channel your attention toward your most important tasks.
Sunsama is a practical way to put some of these focus-boosting strategies into action. Try out Focus Mode with Sunsama today.