Learn how to stay focused when studying, reading, or working by following some simple tips.
Do you need to get stuff done, but feel overwhelmed? Do you want to be more efficient? Is there a task you keep putting off?
Being able to concentrate for long periods of time is key when it comes to being productive. Most people have no problem focusing on a task for a few minutes, however staying focused can be really hard.
It doesn’t matter how smart, talented, or disciplined you are — you won’t be able to do much if you’re not able to concentrate for at least thirty minutes in a row.
As the average attention span gets lower and lower (think social media and being bombarded with ads and notifications way too often), you want to make sure that you optimize the way you think and the way you work, so you are able to focus on whatever goal or task you want to accomplish.
Today I am going to share ten of my top tips to concentrate for long hours. At the end of this article you will also find a free downloadable summary of everything I’ve explained here.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
1. Prepare in advance and make it easy for yourself
Planning your day in advance is one of the most important steps. If you want to be productive, ideally you want to plan how, when, and where you will work, as well as what tasks you will need to accomplish.
The easiest and quickest way to do this is by writing a to-do list. You can write one in the morning, or the night before (I prefer the latter as it doesn’t create additional stress when you wake up). If you want, you can check out my article explaining all the benefits of creating to-do lists.
When you are not crystal clear on what you need or want to do, it’s going to be easy to lose focus and get distracted — even if you are disciplined. Planning your tasks in advance gives you more clarity: your mind will perform better as it will have a goal, and a roadmap to achieve it.
It’s also important that you make it easy for yourself.
For example, if you are working on the computer, consider getting the fastest possible connection, a good laptop and/or laptop stand, the best software, gear etc. (you need to think of how long you will be doing this — if it’s a long term thing, I think it would be sensible to invest a little bit more money on this).
If you need to take notes or write down something as you are studying or working, then have some sheets of paper right in front of you. Even when working on the computer, pen and paper will work best for most people.
Sit on a good chair, or at least make sure your posture is optimal. Wear comfortable clothes, and ensure you have optimal lighting (it will also help you get better sleep at night). It’s hard enough to concentrate, so do whatever you can to make it easy for yourself.
2. Take your time
If you expect it’ll take you about an hour to do something, do not set aside just one hour — the longer, the better. There’s three main reasons you want to do this.
First, as human beings, we are usually bad at estimating the time required to accomplish a task. Sometimes we overestimate it, but more often than not we are a bit too optimistic, and end up having a workload that’s a lot heavier than we thought.
When we plan something we want to do, it’s easy to feel motivated and think we can accomplish everything in the shortest possible amount of time. We think we’ll always be sharp and focused, and we don’t take into account what may go wrong — this could be something as simple as having to wait for an update.
The second reason is that no matter how thoroughly you plan your day, you cannot predict everything (thankfully: can you imagine how boring life would be if you could know everything in advance?). You may need to help someone, go out and buy food, get a phone call you are supposed to answer, or charge your computer.
The third and most important reason is that by taking your time, and eliminating unnecessary deadlines, you also eliminate unnecessary stress and anxiety. Your mindset plays a huge role here. Don’t think you are some kind of robot: if you are under pressure, or think you are, then it’s going to be a lot harder to concentrate.
Your mind can’t possibly concentrate and be anxious at the same time, so you need to remove anything that causes anxiety. This includes coffee and stimulants (more on this later).
3. Eat less…
…or don’t eat at all. This is usually referred to as intermittent fasting (fasting during the first part of the day, then having a large meal in the evening).
To digest food, your body needs energy. This is why you feel sleepy after eating a meal. Now, while something like fruit or green juice is very easy to digest and won’t make much of a difference, a high calorie or high fat meal can reduce your concentration levels for literally hours.
If you want to concentrate for long periods of time, then you want to avoid all meals that are high in calories and all foods that are particularly difficult to digest, such as dairy. If you usually eat too much during the first part of the day, you’ll be amazed at how much more focus you’ll get if you eat less, or don’t eat at all.
Now, this totally depends on the kind of work you’re supposed to do (I wouldn’t recommend fasting if it’s physical work), any particular condition you may have, and your life in general.
For example, some athletes need to eat a lot of calories every day, and there’s no way they can cram those calories in just one meal. Those who suffer from severe anxiety or panic attacks shouldn’t skip meals or eat hypocaloric diets as usually that would make them more vulnerable to the attacks.
Use common sense, but remember: whether you notice it or not, when you digest food it’s a lot harder to concentrate, especially if for long hours.
4. Pretend your task is the coolest thing ever
Perhaps when you are working on your goal/project/task you are doing something boring and repetitive. You may be alone in front of a computer screen instead of being out there enjoying life with the people you love.
If that’s the case, then there’s always going to be a part of your mind telling you you should stop, because what you are doing isn’t exciting or rewarding in the short term (that’s basically how our brain works: it focuses on things that are immediate).
So, how do you fix this?
Well, you need to turn your current task into the coolest thing ever, at least mentally. If you are working on a goal, have visual reminders of what you will achieve if you stick to your plan. This tells your mind why you are doing all this work.
Also, try looking at some motivational videos, specifically videos of people studying or working on something. The reason this works is human beings subconsciously imitate those around them. So if you are surrounded by people who are unmotivated, or incredibly lazy, you want to think of someone who has worked hard and achieved their goals.
Again, if your brain thinks what you are doing isn’t exciting, it’s going to find a way to do something else — you may be able to concentrate for a few minutes, then shift your focus.
Pretend your task is the coolest thing in the world, think of successful people, and be crystal clear about your why.
5. Listen to white noise
If you want to concentrate for long periods of time, it’s important you block out unwanted noise.
Some people like to use earplugs, but I recommend listening to white noise — basically a sound that blocks out low, middle, and high frequencies. You can use earphones or headphones.
You may even want to invest a little bit of money on a white noise machine (you can get the cheaper ones for about twenty bucks). Some of them come with sound and volume options, and a remote.
The great thing about white noise is it can be used for sleep as well. At first, it may be a little weird to listen to a fan-like noise, but trust me, once you get used to it, you’ll keep using it over and over again.
6. Remove objects from your room
Pretend you are an extreme minimalist, and temporarily get rid of all objects around you, besides those you need to work with.
Remember what I wrote earlier? You need to make this as easy as possible. Trying to become an incredibly disciplined person takes time, and it’s probably not even sensible — who wants to be a machine all the time?
Instead, you want to have the minimalist approach, and remove anything around you that’s distracting.
The first thing you should temporarily get rid of is, of course, your phone. Or you could try turning it off, but chances are that just by looking at it you will have unnecessary subconscious thoughts about those text messages, phone calls, apps, notifications, and so on.
You should then try to put away anything that is distracting in any way. For example, food, objects with bright colors, clutter, books, anything you could fiddle with, watches or bracelets. This may seem ridiculous and unnecessary but trust me, these things do affect the way you focus.
When you have no distractions, it’s impossible to get distracted, right?
Try to have a room or a work desk that’s as empty as possible, and notice how it changes your thoughts. Sometimes all it takes to increase your level of concentration is eliminating the things that constantly grab your attention.
7. Don’t feel bad if you get distracted
When practicing certain types of meditation, you are supposed to clear your mind and detach from negative thoughts. But whenever negative thoughts come up, you shouldn’t fight them, and you shouldn’t feel bad.
The same applies to whenever you get distracted. Don’t be hard on yourself, don’t feel bad, and just go back to work. Tracking your productivity is great, but you don’t want to make it stressful.
At the end of the day, if you put in the time you should always pat yourself on the back and be proud of what you’ve done so far. Think of discipline and focus as a muscle — the more you train it, the stronger it gets. So if in the beginning it’s hard for you to concentrate, don’t stress out and just keep doing whatever you’re supposed to do.
Again, it’s all about removing unnecessary stress and anxiety, and being as positive as possible (your mood and emotions play a huge role when it comes to concentration).
8. Concentrate when you are naturally more alert
We’re all different, so don’t try to do something that works for someone else.
Some people find that they are naturally more focused and alert at 6am, shortly after they wake up. Conversely, night owls usually perform best in the afternoon, in the evening, or even at night.
Do not force yourself to wake up super early just because you saw someone else’s cool morning routine. Don’t stay up until late just because “it’s what hard working people do”. Don’t take two naps a day, or adapt to some crazy sleep patterns, just because “you’ll have a lot more time”.
Most importantly, work on your tasks during the time of the day in which you are usually more alert. It’s that simple. Learn to listen to your body: it will do wonders for your productivity, nutrition, energy levels, and overall happiness.
9. Focus on one thing at a time
Multitasking doesn’t work, simply because our brain can only focus on one thing at a time. If you find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time, it might be because you are trying to do too much.
Also, it usually takes at least thirty minutes to be able to concentrate deeply. So if you are spending ten minutes answering emails, then ten minutes writing, then ten minutes checking your phone, and so on, you automatically make it impossible for your mind to achieve a high level of concentration.
One of the great things about having a to-do list where you cross off items is it makes you focus on one item at a time. Having multiple tasks is fine, but only if you are able to spend enough time on each without being interrupted.
Accept the fact that multitasking is a myth and try to spend more time focusing on just one thing. It will be a lot easier to concentrate.
10. Avoid stimulants
Last but definitely not least, avoid all stimulants (nicotine, caffeine, most nootropic supplements, and large amounts of chocolate). Whether you are trying to concentrate for short or long periods of time, you shouldn’t use them.
Why? Because besides being bad for your health, you will become addicted to them physically and psychologically. In other words, your brain will change and you won’t be able to function properly if you stop using them, and the withdrawal symptoms could be really nasty.
If you want higher levels of energy and concentration, you need to learn how to optimize your body and your mind first, without using stimulants or drugs, because that’s how Mother Nature designed us (it sounds cliche, but it’s the truth).
So make sure you sleep a lot and sleep well, move your body more often, and take care of your health. Also, if you meditate daily, that’s going to help you immensely.
Thank you for reading this article! As I mentioned, I have created a free summary of everything I’ve explained in this post. You can download it here: