7 Ways to Master Concentration

White-Background-Hand-87578-lOne morning last week I worked on social media: answering blog comments, and scheduling tweets.  (I collect quotes and love to tweet them–if you have any to share, let me know.)

But I was feeling, to put it mildly, unfocused.  I couldn't concentrate on one thing for long.  I'd check Twitter, then answer a blog comment, then click onto my home page to see what was up on the news, stare off into space, check Twitter again, answer an email, look at my blog stats.

Felt to me like I was totally and completely lacking any kind of concentration.

I beat myself up over this, kept talking to myself about how unfocused I was that morning.  And then I thought to check what I'd done: answered numerous blog comments and scheduled a day's worth of tweets.


This experience made me realize that sometimes I'm my own worst enemy.   I'd accomplished much more than I'd thought, all while berating myself that I wasn't concentrating.  And all this got me thinking a lot more about concentration, mostly because being intently focused on work (like a piece of writing) is more pleasant than the distracted state I describe above.  There's nothing I love more than being in flow while writing, and yet this can be an elusive place.  So I thought about and tracked what allows me to concentrate and here I share the results with you:

1.  Feelings Lie.  Emotions are tricky buggers.  We think they are always telling us the truth when sometimes they are overwhelming us for a completely unrelated reason–like that something triggered a long ago subconscious memory.  If your feelings, like mine, are telling you that you're unfocused, look deeper.  Maybe you've gotten more done than you think.  Give yourself a break already.

2. Set a Timer.  I proselytize about this all the time, because it works so well.  Seriously, try it.  This is how I get most of my writing done these days.  I set the timer on my phone for 30 minutes and dive in, doing nothing but writing for those 30 minutes.  Then I take a brief break.  Only usually I'm so absorbed I hit the timer off and keep going.

3.  Keep a Success Journal.  I've been doing this lately in relation to my writing non-negotiables.  At the end of every work day, I pull out my Moleskine and ponder what I've accomplished, and then I write it down.  It's very pleasing to review and it also helps with #1 on this list.

4.  Change Your Venue.  If you're distracted at home, pack up and go to a coffee shop and vice versa.  Try a different room in your house, or go outside on your deck.  Even though I have a laptop, I get rooted in place in my office and once in awhile I need to remind myself to change things up.

5.  Keep At It.  True confession: my concentration was initially all over the place as I started this article.  But I kept returning to the work, and eventually concentration kicked in.

6.  Nap.  Sometimes there's just no substitute for some shut-eye.  I actually hate to even admit this, coming from a family that abhorred inactivity and napping, but sometimes it is exactly what you need.  Doesn't have to be a long nap, close your eyes and doze for 5 or 10 minutes.  It can be incredibly mentally renewing.

7.  Learn What Works For You.  Napping may make you sleepy all day and changing your venue may destroy any concentration you could muster.  What works for me may not work for you, so pay attention and figure out what does.

And speaking of which….please share.  I'd love to hear your tricks and tips for concentration and focus.  I'd love it if you left a comment!

Photo by Batreh.


16 Responses to 7 Ways to Master Concentration

  1. CB Soulsby 06/21/2012 at 02:00 #

    Hi Charlotte,

    Thanks for the tips. I’d be tempted to switch napping with lying down. I feel very groggy after naps whereas I feel very cleansed after a rest. It’s basically the same but without the sleeping part 😉 It feels alien at first, just lying there doing nothing but once you get used to doing it, it can be a very handy way to shut down and refocus.

  2. Carole Jane Treggett 06/21/2012 at 05:43 #

    I’m having a lot of success with # 2 most days. I set it for 45 minutes for each work session, and it really works. Sometimes I’m in the groove and even continue working after the beeper goes off! I used to keep a success journal several months ago but need to pick it up again as I know it’s a great motivator.

    I especially like your #5, Charlotte. I’ve found no matter what distraction has kept me from my concentrating on my writing and making the progress I was planning on a given day, I can re-focus and go at it again the next day. Like Dory in Finding Nemo, I’m going to just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Thanks for another handful of great reminders.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 06/21/2012 at 06:39 #

    No, I know what you mean–there's sort of that twilight state where you're not sleeping and you're not awake either.  I think people get there by meditating, too.  I meditate but rarely get results like that.  :-)  The state you describe also reminds me of resting during acupuncture.  I don't really sleep but my mind goes elsewhere.  It is great for the old brain.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 06/21/2012 at 06:43 #

    Yeah, I'm thinking #5 is probably the most important of all.  I know sometimes I throw up my hands in despair and walk away, when if I'd just stuck to it I'd probably have gotten some work done.

  5. Heather Jenkins 06/21/2012 at 09:17 #

    I love this list, Charlotte! I wish I could master concentrating. Sometimes, the harder I try to focus, the more distracted I get. A few things help me:
    1. Soft music, ranging from Amos Lee and Joshua Radin to Pachelbel and Chopin. The music takes me out of the cramped corners and chaos of my head and puts me “in the moment”.
    2. Verbal journaling with friends. The purging is cathartic and frees the fuzzies so I can think.
    3. Working on a puzzle for five minutes (or putting five pieces in place). Something about seeing a big picture broken into its smaller parts help me get in the right mindset for writing scenes/chapters for my book.

    I LOVE your suggestion to keep a log of accomplishments. Sometimes the seemingly little things add up and prove worthy contributions to the day. Thanks, as always, for your words of encouragement and sage advice.

  6. Karen Phillips 06/21/2012 at 10:29 #

    I really agree with the fact “feelings lie.” Mine do anyway. Feelings serve a function, but when I am out of balance, they are like little gremlins crying for attention. Working on something for 30 minutes is an amazing idea for me. That gives me a chance to get up, move around. They all are great suggestions, Charlotte. I love your blog!

  7. Patty/Why Not Start Now? 06/21/2012 at 11:39 #

    Your description of your “unfocused” self actually getting a lot done is so like me! I tend not to give myself credit for what I accomplish in this state, so this is a good reminder for me. I’ve been using a timer too (for pushing past procrastination) and I like it: 25 min on then 5 min break. I’ve never been much for time management, but my big insight from this has been an increased respect for time. I feel like I value it more and I’m changing my relationship with it.

  8. Charlotte Dixon 06/21/2012 at 14:38 #

    And thank you for your loyal reading of my blog! I think the puzzle is a great idea.  Every so often I'll set one up in the family room and you're right, it is very soothing to the brain.  I'm glad you like the success journal idea!

  9. Charlotte Dixon 06/21/2012 at 14:40 #

    Aw, thanks Karen.  And yeah, I really have to stop and remind myself to look at my emotions.  Sometimes I find myself in a negative space but when I stop and question why, there's no reason.  And just the act of looking makes it dissipate. 

  10. Charlotte Dixon 06/21/2012 at 14:52 #

    Yeah, I'm not so great on time management, either.  I have massive to-do lists, with big projects and little projects all lumped together and I'm sure there's a better way to do it, but none work for me.  I've read repeatedly that one should schedule time on the calendar for projects and that doesn't work for me, either.  The one thing that really does the trick is the timer.  Don't know why it should be so, but it is, and I'm grateful!  Thanks for dropping by, Patty.

  11. Jenni Gainsborough 06/22/2012 at 10:16 #

    The change of venue makes an amazing difference to my powers of concentration. The Diamond writing retreat is an obvious example and I recently spent two days sitting writing in a hotel lobby while my husband was attending a ham radio convention. I wrote more in those two days than I had in the preceding two weeks!

  12. Charlotte Dixon 06/22/2012 at 15:00 #

    Hey Jenni, thanks for the plug for the Diamond retreat!  Not only did we all write a lot, we had a blast with each other as well (Happy Hour, anyone?)

  13. Hollymarie7 06/24/2012 at 21:35 #

    This is a timely post for me. I wanted to write on a short story today and wound up working on my blog instead. I beat myself up about it, but I did achieve a blog post. Why is our praise for ourselves so conditional? I will try the timer tomorrow. That might work for me. Thanks!

  14. Charlotte Dixon 06/25/2012 at 06:52 #

    I know, I still catch myself beating myself up.  Must be the human condition.  But yes, do try the timer and see how it works for you!

  15. Suzanne Lilly 06/26/2012 at 08:58 #

    I love this post, Catherine. These days I’m feeling terribly distracted because I’m working on book promotion, which leaves less time for writing, which leaves me unhappy. I do use the timer trick, and it’s my one gimmick that always works. Thanks for #1, giving us permission to give ourselves a break. I’m going to incorporate #3, keeping a success journal. That will give me some tangible proof I’m not just mucking about wasting time.

  16. Charlotte Dixon 06/26/2012 at 09:27 #

    Well, hooray for being distracted by book promotion!  I'm looking forward to that next year, when my novel comes out.  I keep telling myself it won't take that much time but I know I'm kidding myself.  I do think that keeping a success journal really helps because we are so hard on ourselves and keeping track makes you realize how much you've done.

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