We all want to take our focus to the next level.
The core 5 ingredients for focus in our Focuspedia are core because they directly improve our ability to focus. In case you forgot, they are: #1 Good organisation, #2 Eliminating distractions, #3 Self-motivation, #4 Self-awareness and #5 Accountability.
It turns out that mastering each of these is quite a handful, and if you want to master your ability to focus you should definitely start with the core ingredients.
Saying that, there are many less direct ways to improve one’s focus too. There are things to seek out and things to avoid… Think of what we’re going to go over as supplemental strategies. The following are ranked in a rough order taking into account importance, risk of side-effects and efficacy.
10 hacks to maximise your focus and productivity
1. Sleeping for 8 hours
Numerous studies have found there is a strong correlation between poor sleep and a decline in the ability to focus. To make matters worse, chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of brain disorders.
Maybe you need more than 8 hours, maybe you need less. You should figure out how many hours of sleep you need, often 7+ hours per night, and plan your routine to ensure you get it every night.
2. Keep your brain hydrated
Not only is water essential for human homeostasis (balancing of systems) and survival, it also appears to be key to maintaining healthy brain function too.
It turns out many of us do not drink enough, despite having good access to drinking water, with some reports suggesting up to 75% of US adults are chronically dehydrated. How much water to keep your brain hydrated? The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that the ideal daily fluid intake is 2.7L for women and 3.7L for men, which includes the water you get from your food. However everyone's needs vary a lot, even day to day, so a better idea is to watch for signs of dehydration such often feeling thirsty. Another practical way to tell if you’re dehydrated if your urine is a dark yellow or orange, although it shouldn’t necessarily always be completely clear either.
Get in the habit of drinking more water by placing a glass and a jug of water on your desk that you can fill up during breaks. It's also easy to get closer to your water targets if you have a glass of water with every meal.
3. Focus diet
Which foods increase focus? The most important parts of the diet for better focus would have to be Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fats. The body can’t produce them so you must get them through the foods you eat.
Omega 3 in particular is essential for many functions of the body, including memory and cognition. The three most important types are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The best sources of Omega 3’s are fatty fish like Mackerel, Salmon, Sardines, grass-fed animal products and algae. ALA’s are more common in plant products however unfortunately our bodies must convert ALA into EPA and DHA, which is an incredibly inefficient process.
Many of us already consume many Omega 6 fats through our normal diets and there is evidence that a high Omega 6 to 3 ratio is unhealthy. The ratio has also been found to impact aspects of neurotransmission. Rather than looking to increase your consumption of Omega 6 you should probably look to reduce it. One of the major culprits rich in Omega 6 are refined vegetable oils, so avoid them where possible.
The good news is supplementation of Omega 3, especially with EPA, has been shown to improve cognitive performance. We’re no nutritionists so we can’t recommend a specific dosage but if you don’t regularly eat a lot of fatty fish, simply find a high-quality Omega 3 supplement and integrate it into your daily routine.
If you’re willing to take your diet to the extreme for this purpose, there is even something called a ‘Mind Diet’ which can be rather motivating for some, considering it’s a diet that benefits the most important part of your body — not just the way you look and feel.
Yes, we all know exercise is good for your health but did you know it helps you to focus too?
Some studies have found that children who perform best on fitness tests are also most likely to score well on concentration tests. These effects are also found in adults, along with the formation of new neurons and more diverse, denser interconnections between them.
Solo forms of exercise can be meditative too, potentially giving the benefits of which we explored in Ingredient #4.
There seems to be a clear benefit to concentration on the days you exercise compared to days when you do not exercise. So if possible try to integrate exercise, even just a brief amount, into your daily routine.
5. Care for your mental health
Clinical depression changes your ability to think — your attention, memory and other essential cognitive functions.
If you think you might be suffering from depression, there is a never-ending list of reasons why you should get help from a psychiatrist or if you’re not comfortable with that at least tell a trusted friend or family member (they will want to help, and don’t be scared to let them help).
6. You can do focus training
There are different types of ways to get help to train your focus, grounded in neuroscience, often used for those with attentional difficulties such as ADHD.
It so happens that the visual system can regulate focus, and different rates of blinking and/or dilating your gaze can be used to train focus. These training sessions include learning at what rate to blink and also focusing on visual targets. This type of training, 1 minute per day as well as a series of physical movements, has been shown to be successful.
To illustrate the power of the visual system, if you can consciously override the urge to blink (until the feeling that your eyes will dry out) that can increase your focus even further.
7. Caffeine for focus
Caffeine is a stimulant that speeds up the body’s central nervous system and among other things releases dopamine in the brain. Some studies show there are clear cognitive performance improvements immediately following caffeine consumption, however, these are more significant for people who do not regularly consume caffeine.
Care should be taken not to take too much caffeine that the jitteriness outweighs the positive effects that the increased energy produce for your focus.
While we’re on the topic, Tea also contains a unique amino acid, L-theanine that may modulate aspects of brain function in humans. It is known to relax the mind without inducing drowsiness (thereby reducing jitters). Studies have also found the amino acid significantly improves attention on its own right. This means if you’re solely looking to improve focus, Tea may be the better caffeine option.
Matcha tea could be the best caffeine option out of them all, given it supposedly contains up to five times as much L-theanine as regular green tea (up to 20mg vs 4mg). It is also very high in antioxidants.
NOTE: Caffeine can be addictive, so take serious care not to get too reliant on caffeine
CAUTION: We have included some extra strategies for completeness of our Focuspedia and to promote careful consideration of your options. There is no point pretending these alternatives do not exist given how common they are. To make it clear we do not believe they are good strategies to improve focus, and should certainly not be used to habitually replace the essential ingredients for focus, which is unfortunately all too common.
In light of all the easy, effective and incredibly safe strategies whose benefits stretch beyond just improving focus, the following strategies are not rational choices for most people. If you have mastered Ingredients #1–5 there is likely no need for any of these.
Disclaimer: We are not doctors. If you do decide to dive deeper into the below options please first consult your doctor. Also consider that there may or may not be legal consequences for each of these in your jurisdiction, and each have different safety profiles that you should be very cautious of.
We’ll leave you with one further caution from the great psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi.
“While psychotropic drugs do provide a wider variety of mental experiences than one would encounter under normal sensory conditions, they do so without adding to our ability to order them effectively… The danger is that in becoming dependent on chemicals for patterning the mind, he risks losing the ability to control it by himself.”
Nootropics are drugs, supplements, and other substances that are claimed to improve cognitive function, particularly memory, creativity, or motivation.
One of the more popular ones often used to improve focus is Alpha-GPC, which seems to promise significant but only slight improvements to mental performance.
NOTE: Not recommended
9. ADHD drugs
A commonly used drug used to treat ADHD, some people also use Adderall without a prescription.
Adderall is an amphetamine, a very serious type of stimulant. One effect is it increases the amount of certain neurochemicals such as dopamine that people with ADHD are lacking in, helping them get up to baseline levels and meaning people with ADHD are better able to focus.
This is a serious drug with a specific purpose, and the benefits are not so clear for those without ADHD. One analysis concludes that:
“The rumored effects of ‘smart drugs’ may be a false promise, as research suggests that stimulants are more effective at correcting deficits than ‘enhancing performance.’ ”
NOTE: Not recommended unless you are diagnosed with ADHD, exercise great caution
10. Micro-dosing psychedelic drugs
Well known for being widely used in Silicon Valley and by famous figures such as Steve Jobs to improve creativity, some also claim that it improves focus.
There is currently a lot of interest and research being undertaken on the concept of using psychedelics to treat depression and provide other benefits, however much more research is still needed to determine safe dosages and use cases. A recent systematic study concluded:
“Promising avenues for future investigation are the impacts of microdosing on improved mental health, attentional capabilities, and neuroticism.”
NOTE: Not recommended, exercise great caution
That’s quite a comprehensive list of strategies, and it’s a lot of information to take in. If you’ve made it this far, well done! Put a note in your calendar to come back here in 2 days from now to check how well you’re implementing these strategies.