5 Fast Hacks to Improve Focus And Concentration
By: Dave Asprey
August 11, 2017
When concentration wavers, it’s a sign that your brain – and more specifically your mitochondrial function – need help. Mitochondria power every process in your body, so if you improve mitochondrial performance, pretty soon your brain will function like a well-oiled machine.
Read on for quick tips you can use right now to get laser focused.
5 things you can do now to improve concentration
The best way to improve cognitive function is to clean the crap out of your diet and focus on nutrient-dense foods that feed your brain. The long-term way to banish brain fog and get your brain working on point is to dial in your diet and movement.
You can learn all about nutrition for a better brain here. But for concentration and focus hacks that act fast, read on. Here are five tips on how to get your next project done in one sitting.
1. Set up your environment
Your environment has a lot to do with your concentration and focus. There’s no formula, though. Your ideal productivity setup differs from your neighbor’s. Ambient noise can spark some people’s creativity and focus, while others may need noise-cancelling headphones.
Some people thrive in the chaos of a messy desk, some may need an advanced filing system and a perfectly clean work environment. Figure out your ideal work space and you’ll not only get more done, you’ll be happier while you’re doing it.
Figure out your auditory sweet spot
Total silence. If you find that your focus is on point when you’re in complete silence, you may want to invest in some noise-canceling headphones.
If the total restriction of sound freaks you out, but you still thrive in a quieter environment, or if you need the option of hearing your kids playing in the next room, there’s a new wave of noise-canceling systems.
QuietOn earbuds absorb much of the ambient noise, allowing some sound through. These soften external input and increase productivity for people who like quiet.
Another option is adjustable noise-canceling headphones that allow you to block all sound, or adjust for voices or ambient noise. This lets you listen to music in a quiet environment while letting in enough noise so you’re aware of your surroundings. Check out Bose for their in-ear noise canceling headphones and their newest adjustable noise-cancelling headphones.
A noisy cafe. Turns out there are more reasons than the coffee to work from a cafe. There’s some evidence that ambient sounds like dishes crashing and coffee machines whirring can enhance creativity and productivity. The key is to aim for a moderate 70-decibel coffee shop hum; 85 decibels, the volume of a blender, distracts you.
Another reason that a busy cafe might be better for your productivity is that mental effort is contagious, so surrounding yourself with other people hard at work tapping away at their laptops will inspire you to crank out a little more before your next break.
For those of you who can’t make it to a cafe, this site streams ambient sounds recorded from coffee shops to boost creativity and focus. This concept is similar to the audience effect – that having a small audience improves performance.
The right music. If the sound of crashing coffee mugs isn’t music to your ears you could try, well … music. There’s a wealth of research that certain kinds of music can improve cognitive tasks and reduce distraction.
There’s a sound sweet spot for everyone that can wake your creativity without being distracting. Apps like Focus @ Will and brain.fm help you zero in on the type of music that works with your brain. When you play that on top of the noise cancellation, you are in a virtual cone of focused seclusion. Spotify and Pandora offer custom curated soundtracks for focus, so try these first if you’re not ready to pay.
Clean off your desk. Or not.
Like your auditory environment, your visual environment and perception of order can make or break your productivity. Research highlights ways in which both order and disorder boost productivity, and like sound preferences, your work environment is highly individualized.
Intuitively, you might think that order increases productivity and workplaces encourage order in their office space designs and workspace policies. After all, organized spaces mean you’re not wasting time looking for things.
Clutter and disarray cause your brain to want to restore order. Instead of putting that motivation toward clearing your desk, you can direct that energy toward other goals with the same psychological effect. The idea here is that you’re feeling scattered, so you exert control, and it doesn’t matter if that effort goes toward the mess or your latest project. The motivation is there for you to use however you want to.
To tidy or not to tidy? Try it both ways and pay attention to how much you get done and how drained you feel afterward.
2. Hack your vision for better concentration
Your world is flooded with blue-light emitting fluorescent lights and electronic devices. Blue wavelengths fatigue your eyes and accelerate eye aging. But don’t worry! There are hacks for that.
Lutein, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin defend against eye aging while sharpening vision. Over time, these compounds reduce glare and blur, while reducing oxidative stress to the cells in your eyes. The combination of short-term vision improvement along with long-term reduction of oxidative damage gives you the visual stamina to stick with tasks.
Take it a step further by protecting your eyes from junk light from the outside in. Blue blocking lenses effectively filter out blue light from overhead lights and screens. TrueDark Daywalkers block the most harmful spectra of artificial blue light, and they’re much more stylish than brands that look like they’re meant for target shooting.
About half the population has Irlen syndrome, which is a sensitivity to a certain wavelength range of light that stresses and fatigues the brain. Read this guest post by Helen Irlen or check out the Bulletproof Radio episode with Helen for more on light and brain fatigue. If you have Irlen syndrome, custom Irlen lenses will block those eye stressors and ramp up your productivity. You’d be shocked at the amount of energy you’re expending just being under crap light all day.
If your TrueDark or Irlen glasses are on their way, but you need solutions now, try moving your computer away from junk artificial light and toward a window. Better yet, if the weather is nice, work outside. Soak up that vitamin D and expose your eyes to natural sunlight for a double hack that will have you feeling energized in minutes.
Changing your lighting means controlling your screen exposure, too. Make it a policy that you turn your phone to airplane mode after a certain time of day. Blue light from screens before bed messes with your body’s ability to regulate melatonin, your primary sleep hormone. Disabling your phone’s wifi keeps it from emitting EMFs, which also disturbs sleep. It goes without saying that better sleep tonight means more energy and focus tomorrow.
3. Use brain-friendly work habits
Time your concentration blocks
Instead of opening your laptop and hitting it hard until your lunch hour, block your time to work in shorter sprints with frequent breaks. The Pomodoro method times out short 20-30-minute bursts of focused energy followed by a short 5-minute break. Every four blocks, plan a longer break. The idea is that if you can focus at 90-100% for 20-30 minutes at a time, you’ll get more done than you would if you worked for hours and hours at 50% power.
To increase your focus, get out of your seat! Standing desks aren’t just some hip Silicon Valley tech trend. They actually make you over 20% more productive in the first month, increasing to over 50% better productivity within six months of use.
If standing desks aren’t practical for your workplace, use your Pomodoro breaks to take a walk or do some stretching right where you are. Movement and blood flow wake up your brain.
Have a notepad next to you
Good old pencil and paper within reach gets tasks out of your brain and onto paper so you can circle back to them later. Distracting thoughts pop up without warning, and jotting them down prevents them from clanking around in your head and taking attention away from the things you need to finish.
4. Take control of your email
If you use email as a pseudo task manager, you’re not alone. Remember, email is a communication tool. Here are some ways to keep your email from eating you alive:
Triage your messages
When you get a new message, decide ASAP whether it’s urgent or whether it can wait. Instead of immediately giving new tasks mental energy, see where they fit in the flow of the rest of your working projects. That way, messages are less an interruption and more an actionable step in your work day.
Get tasks out of email
Email isn’t meant to keep you on task, but plenty of apps do just that. Build the habit of getting tasks out of your inbox and into a task manager like Evernote or Asana, then delete the conversations. The conversations don’t mean anything.
To keep everyone happy, set up an automatic reply that assures people that you’re working on issues even if a reply doesn’t come back right away.
5. Supplements for focus that work fast
Brain Octane Oil
Brain Octane Oil is a ketone generating fat that bypasses liver processing and goes straight to energy production, and as a fuel source, the brain will choose ketones over sugar any day. That’s why Bulletproof Coffee works so well and why it turns on your brain and keeps you productive for hours.
Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ)
The Krebs cycle is where sugar and ketones convert to energy our cells (and brain!) can use, and this happens in our mitochondria. If you can boost the efficiency of your mitochondria, you feel the energy surge. PQQ works by:
- Increasing the number of mitochondria you have
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing cognitive deficits due to oxidative stress
PQQ is hard to get past your stomach acid. That’s why Bulletproof created Unfair Advantage, a colloidal acid form of PQQ. Stomach acid doesn’t alter it and you reap the benefits within minutes.
You can geek out on how PQQ works itself into the Krebs cycle here.
First things first: cigarettes will kill you. You should treat nicotine as separate from tobacco products. Nicotine is a compound that’s found in tobacco and in other plants including vegetables we eat. Using patches and gum (NOT cigarettes), nicotine sharpens your brain function, improving short-term memoryand increasing endurance with mentally tiring tasks.
Real vanilla from vanilla pods is an anti-inflammatory and stress reducer. Stress fatigues the brain quickly and inflammation slows neuroprocessing, so adding vanilla to your Bulletproof Coffee or whipping up a bowl of Get Some Ice Cream is just as much for the brain as it is for your taste buds.
Modafinil is a smart drug, a legitimate nootropic that turns the lights on in your brain within minutes. Developed as a prescription drug to help people with sleep disorders stay awake, modafinil ramps up your energy, focus, and cognitive power without the jitters.
Racetams are a drug family that includes all sorts of medical actions, a few of which are nootropics. Racetams effective for focus and concentration include aniracetam and phenylpiracetam.
Here’s what the research says:
- Stroke patients who took phenylpiracetam daily for a year improved cognition
- Just a month of phenylpiracetam improved brain function in people with brain damage and epilepsy
- Animal studies show that aniracetam improves memory and relieves depression
I use aniracetam daily to keep stress low and for more fluid public speaking, and I use phenylpiracetam to improve learning, memory, and energy.
Choline, found in egg yolks, has a neurotrophic (new neuron producing) effect. Choline improved mental performance in Alzheimer’s patients, which could translate to cognitive enhancements in people without mental deficits. On the younger end of the spectrum, choline intake during pregnancy improved the child’s memory at age seven. It’s in prenatal vitamins, but check with your prenatal care provider before supplementing.
Better focus means more efficient work, which translates to less stress and a better life. For a more detailed plan to increase your concentration and brain function in as little as two weeks, follow the easy changes laid out in my book, Head Strong. You’ll be amazed at what your true brain can do.
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