The internet is bursting with advice on how to concentrate amid a sea of distractions. But many of them are either wildly unrealistic or leave you out of the office loop and distracted by thoughts of what you might be missing. How many of us can “always find what you do inspiring and fun” or would be comfortable turning off social media, spending the day wearing headphones, or working offline?
Many tips bear little relation to what psychologists are discovering about the way the human mind works
Perhaps more importantly, however, many of these tips bear little relation to what psychologists are discovering about the way the human mind works.
Many of the things we think we should be doing to help us concentrate actually work against the way that our brain naturally operates. So what can we learn from the science of focus to get more done, and do any of common tips actually work?
It might seem counter-intuitive, but allowing your mind to wander may be one of the best approaches if you are struggling to focus. There is a growing realisation among psychologists that we spend an awful lot of time daydreaming – almost 50% of the time by some measures. This has led some psychologists to suggest that mind wandering is not so much a glitch, but rather a key part of the system itself that can help our brains function.
Looking at the brain itself can help to reveal that our focus wanes for a good reason. Concentration requires a network of brain regions including the frontal cortex, which is responsible for resisting distractions and controlling our natural impulse to do something more fun. Keeping this network functioning requires more energy than the group of brain regions that are active when we are thinking about nothing in particular. Inevitably, at some point during the day, we run out of steam and that’s when mind wandering kicks in.
People who are better at staying on task tend to do their daydreaming at times when it…