Whether your company has you working from home indefinitely, you are in an area of local lockdown, you are back to work on a part-time basis, or you are working full time amid the ongoing pandemic, many will find that their concentration levels are at an all-time low or a consistent struggle. When working from home, disrupting elements may be at play – whether deriving from the adaption of new routines within your workflow or general distractions from the home. If you are back in the office part time, moving from one workstation to the other can cause disruption or perhaps being back in the office with social distancing guidelines and the trepidation that comes with it can disrupt work flow. If you are not at work at all, finding your attention span wavering during this unprecedented time is pretty common. So why is our focus awry? How can we improve it?
Sarah Romotsky, director of healthcare partnerships at mindfulness company, Headspace, stated in Stylist: “As we try to tackle the ‘new normal’ during this unprecedented time, it can be hard to understand the many new feelings we might be facing. And with that, understanding where to focus our attention – or simply how.” From the start of the coronavirus, we have been bombarded with information, death tolls and ever-changing rules and regulations. We have had to adapt to new working environments, new socialization approaches and have mourned the loss of our normal or desired lives. We are in a consistent state of change and adaptation and it is pretty normal to feel emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted whilst we digest this brave new world. It is no wonder therefore, that we are finding it generally hard to focus on anything from menial tasks to our job at large.
According to Wired, a person’s ability to focus has definitely been affected by the pandemic, ‘an ongoing UCL study found that anxiety and stress have fluctuated above normal averages. This could be having a severe effect on your concentration. “Some level of anxiety can mean you don’t sleep well,” says Marco Sandrini, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Roehampton. “Then there can also be financial worries, or the mind may wander and you’re not able to focus.”’ According to an article from the New Statesman earlier in the year, Dr Amy Arnsten, Professor of Neuroscience and a Professor of Psychology at Yale University, explained that the brains response to stress can inhibit the parts of your brain, i.e. in this case, the prefrontal cortex, that process higher functions such as critical thinking and the ability to focus. Currently, we are coming towards the latter part of a year almost fully concentrated with a global health crisis and the panic and stress that it imbues.
Speaking to Wired, Alan Redman, an organisational psychologist at Birkbeck, indicates that this stress is both an active distraction in addition to inhibiting our cognitive resources. He suggests to avoid multitasking and try to focus on one task at a time.
Try also to break tasks down into manageable and achievable chunks that you can undoubtedly handle. Sometimes, it may even be more productive to set your goals lower than normal or break down tasks to even smaller chunks than you usually would.
Another very well-known method, is the Pomodoro technique where you chop up large tasks into timed intervals. Whereby, you work for 25 minutes, setting a timer for that duration, challenging yourself to avoid all distractions for that period and work consistently. After 25 minutes you may take a break for five minutes and often it is best to move away from your workspace for that time. After four “Pomodoros” extend your break to 15 -30 minutes, then reset and start again.
In light of the pandemic’s inherent stresses, improving our ability to focus may not simply depend on a series of concentration techniques. Instead, we may need to address our well-being at large, in response to the pandemic as a whole. Mindfulness techniques can be hugely beneficial to begin the process of improving concentration levels and minimizing distractions. Being mindful can be sourced via activities such as meditation and there are plenty of highly recommended apps in this area, such as Headspace and Calm. Yet this state of mindfulness may extend past the 20 or so minutes of meditation. Consider your mental health levels in light of the pandemic and adjust accordingly. Ensure that you are taking time to check in with yourself, giving yourself breaks when needed. Taking time to focus on your breathing and maybe even participating in calming activities such as yoga or whatever else works for you.
It may also be important to establish a healthy routine within the upheaval of the current situation. Take charge of the things that you can control and prioritize your own well-being. Eat healthy, exercise, and take mindful breaks for yourself. Be understanding of your own frustration and lack of concentration, knowing that this stress and lack of focus is understandable at this time.