You’re busy typing away at your desk, and something comes up. You don’t think about how important the distraction is – you just give it your attention. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes. When you return to your work – you’ve no idea where you left off or what was challenging you before.
Many people complain about concentration difficulties. Be it studying for an exam, listening to a friend, or getting a task done – it is common to struggle to be in the moment and still tick off all your tasks from the daily to-do-list. Many people try to manage their time with apps, gadgets, blackboards next to the fridge, sticky notes on computer monitors – but still finish the day overrun by unaccomplished tasks and half-finished projects.
Let’s examine the common causes of concentration difficulties.
In our fast paced, time-is-money world, we are continuously pushed to do more things at once. There are two stages of multitasking that is known in the scientific world as ‘task switching’. The first stage is called ‘goal shifting’: deciding to do one thing instead of another. This is followed by ‘rule activation’: changing from the rules of the previous task to the rules of the new.
A study by Meyer, Evans and Rubinstein found that people lose significant amounts of time when switching between multiple tasks, and they lose even more time as the tasks become more complex. Furthermore, too much multitasking trains your brain to have a shorter and less efficient attention span.
2. Sleep deficiency
Insufficient sleep has been clearly linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters and workplace hazards. An estimated 50-70 million US adults have a diagnosed sleep disorder, and the most commonly reported side effect is difficulty in concentrating.
Research shows that losing just one hour of sleep at night is equivalent to the loss of the two years of cognitive maturation and development. If you rack up sleep deficiency on a regular basis, it is more likely that you will experience persistent difficulties in concentrating.
3. Boredom and lack of challenge
Doing the same task over and over again is boring. Look at a child (or an adult) with ADD/ADHD – if you ask them to repeat the same exercise for the 100th time, they won’t focus. Give them a novel, interesting, and challenging project, and all of a sudden they won’t be able to do anything else because they’re concentrating so hard.
When we experience a lack of variety or challenge, the brain works to conserve energy and time by paying less attention. In other words, when we get bored, we cannot concentrate. Mix up your tasks by making them novel – ask for new assignments at work, study with a friend rather than alone, or do your weekly shopping at a different supermarket.
As Hans Selye once said “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one” – it is all about how you handle the stress. Too little stress can leave you unmotivated, while too much can inhibit rational thought. But the right amount of stress can help optimize performance. Anyone who has approached an oncoming deadline with an increasingly long to-do-list knows exactly what is meant by this.
Become a Master of Your Own Mind
Although you have a lot to do today, and every other day, try to get enough sleep, not stress too much, work on one task at a time, and keep the brain stimulated. A balanced healthy lifestyle is the key to success – helping you to concentrate better today and tomorrow. It may be normal to experience attention difficulties, yet it will definitely not be helpful to your future success.
We also can improve our attention spans, reduce our likelihood of developing depression, relieve ourselves of pain and encourage our own happiness. Our team at NeuroNation knows that the brain can be trained to be greater, and we encourage you to take control of your brain and be the master of your own thoughts.
 Rubinstein, Joshua S.; Meyer, David E.; Evans, Jeffrey E. (2001). Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 27(4), 763-797.
 Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.
 Anckaräter, H., Stahlberg, O., Larson, T., Hakansson, C., Jutblad, S-B, Niklasson, L., Nyden, A., Wentz, E., Westergren, S, Clonginger, R., Gillberg, C. & Rastam, M. (2006). The impact of ADHD and autism spectrum disorders on temperament, character, and personality development. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163: 1239-1244.