7 Smart Strategies to Improve Your Focus and Finally Get in the Zone

Teach yourself how to concentrate once and for all.

Tuning out distractions and really getting yourself to focus is often easier said than done—but it is doable. If you constantly wish you could improve your concentration and focus, the good news for you is that it’s actually not a million-dollar question. There are effective, actionable, and caffeine-free steps you can take to boost your focus.

“Getting focused can be ‘trained’ like other habits and is strengthened by continuing to find your focus on a regular basis,” says Mahmud Kara, M.D., founder and CEO of KaraMD and former physician at the Cleveland Clinic. “Improving focus is a balance between limiting external distractions and building internal motivation. You may have a different level of each at any given time, but if there is balance between the two, you can still find the focus you’re looking for.”

Looking to limit distractions, increase motivation, center your mind, and improve concentration? These expert-recommended tips can help you train yourself to get into that “flow” headspace and stay there so you can finally get stuff done. Here’s what to do—and what to avoid—for better focus.


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Why can’t you focus?

Difficulty concentrating can stem from a number of internal issues, the most common of which is stress. But certain medications, eating habits, lack of sleep, procrastination struggles, and physical and mental health conditions (like depression) can also impact your ability to focus. Of course, it can also be a byproduct of external interruptions and attention-stealers too: tempting internet tabs, message pings, phone calls, noisy neighbors, and simply too many to-dos and the expectation to multitask. And many times, we struggle to focus due to a complex combination of both.

A classic sign of decreased focus is what’s known as “brain fog,” or a feeling of mental cloudiness. When you have brain fog, it can be tough to reel in your brain to focus on anything, whether it’s completing a string of chores at home or crafting an email. Other signs of being unable to concentrate are problems with performing daily tasks like driving or doing dishes, feelings of restlessness, forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, remembering recent events, lack of energy, and making mistakes.

Smart Strategies to Improve Focus

Focus matters in all aspects of life: work, relationships, day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. Here are some strategies from experts to help you improve your focus and establish a successful cycle of motivation, concentration, and productivity.

Set a routine and stick to it.

While doing the same thing over and over might sound counterintuitive, it can actually help you develop focus and improve your concentration. “Create a routine that works best for your lifestyle,” Dr. Kara says. Think about when you’re typically able to get down to business, and when you’re typically less likely to feel centered and efficient. “For example, if you know that you’re a morning person and focus best within the first few hours after you wake up, use that time to focus on the tasks that take priority for the day.” Once you develop a routine that’s right for you, he says, sticking to it day after day can help it become a regular habit.  

Curate and control your environment. 

Whether you’re working, writing music, or simply diving into a good book, having the right surroundings for you is essential to keeping your focus in check. Counterintuitively, some thrive with a little ambient noise and activity, so a local coffee shop may be their perfect spot for some quality focus time. Others need complete silence and lack of stimulation, so a designated room at home—door closed and headphones on—is ideal. Your brain will also become accustomed to switching over into focus mode when you enter that space. “For me, the right place looks like a small office with dim lighting, some soft music, and often a closed door, depending on the task,” Dr. Kara says. “Finding a place that you work best in is just as essential [for your focus] as is developing a routine that works for you.”

Try the Pomodoro Technique.

Dr. Kara explains that there are a variety of time management techniques, or focus methods, that can help you learn how to limit distractions and stay on-task for stretches at a time. His favorite is known as the “Pomodoro Technique.” 

“This is where you pick a task to focus on, set a 25-minute timer, and work on that task—and only that task—until time is up,” he says. “Once the timer goes off, take a five-minute mental break. Every four cycles, take a longer 15- to 30-minute mental break where you can stretch your legs, check your phone, get a snack or take a quick walk.” 

The Pomodoro Technique helps train you to focus on completing one specific thing for very reasonable chunks of time, just 25 minutes (or start with less time at first), and rewards you with a break that you must take in order to come back to another 25-minute focus stretch refreshed. 

Write your tasks down.

It may sound obvious, but a planner or even a handy organizational phone app or calendar can be key to helping you stay focused, especially if you have a lot on your plate or to-do list. “For some people, writing tasks down is necessary to stay focused,” Dr. Kara says. “Whether you literally write things down or keep digital records, having a to-do list, calendar or other form of organization can help significantly when it comes to keeping track of your day and limiting unnecessary distractions.”

Eat energizing foods. 

Fuel your brain and body with bites and sips that support balanced energy and mental clarity. As often as you can, choose unrefined, healthy carbohydrates (whole grains, oats, legumes, potatoes, bananas), lots of protein, and fiber-packed fruits and veggies. This combo of nutrients will help give you sustained energy, reduce blood sugar spikes (and subsequent crashes that make you foggy, fatigued, and unfocused), and feed and fortify your gut microbiome. Steep yourself a cup of green or black tea, which not only has caffeine for a perk-up, but also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that's been shown to help boost concentration and attention.

Minimize sugar.

Although energy from a bit of sugar is important for optimal brain function, too much sugar—often consumed via processed foods and drinks with added sugars and sweeteners—can actually wreak havoc on your focus. “You’ll often end up with the opposite effect,” says Jessica Beachkofsky, M.D., board-certified psychiatrist and former psychiatrist in the Air Force. “Being hungry is also a distracting state, so have a balanced snack with protein and complex carbs readily available if you need something to eat.” Still, if you’re truly craving something sugary, it’s best to eat a natural sugar source, such as a fruit or by drinking a cup of tea with honey.

Don’t multitask.

The single most important thing you can do for better focus and concentration, Dr. Kara says, is to monotask, or “single task.” “Choose one task and tell yourself that this is your priority right now,” he explains. “When other important things pop into your brain, just jot them down and get back to what you’re doing.”

While multitasking can ultimately help you get things done, Dr. Kara says that it puts your brain (and your productivity) at a disadvantage by dividing and/or diverting its attentional capacity. “It takes a lot of mental energy to switch between multiple activities that require your brain to hold bits and pieces of different tasks readily available,” he says, adding that you can more likely expect mistakes when attempting to multitask.

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