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February 16, 2015

Focus: Tips to help you concentrate and get stuff done

Easily distracted? Use these tips and tactics on focus and your Lumia to stay on-task.

Call it 21st-century cultural ADHD. We have so many things vying for our attention these days–the daily barrage of email and texts, the 24-hour news cycle, the minute-by-minute nature of social media–that we feel as if we have attention-deficit disorder.

Some neuroscientists and other experts have said that tech devices such as mobile phones contribute to our distraction. While this may be true for some people, it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

If you use common sense and a bit of self-discipline, your Lumia can help you get things done. Earlier on Conversations, we gave you some time-management tips. Today, let’s drill down on focus and provide tips on how to better concentrate.

Streamline your workspace. Research from the Princeton Neuroscience Institute found that clutter–especially visual clutter–bombards us with too much stimuli and restricts our ability to focus. So if your desk and office are cluttered, do yourself a favor and put away anything extraneous to your workflow.


The only objects on my desk are my laptop computer, a lamp, my Lumia and a cup of coffee (yes, I consider that an essential part of my workspace). Using the Lumia is an essential part of my job, but if I’m working on a project that doesn’t involve the smartphone, I stash it out of sight in a desk drawer (but still within easy reach so I can hear scheduled reminders).

Turn on white noise. When I worked in a busy, loud newsroom and was on deadline on a particularly big story, I donned headphones and turned on a soundtrack of white noise (defined as “a sound that contains every frequency within the range of human hearing”).

That muffled the sounds of ringing telephones, blaring television sets and colleagues’ animated conversations, giving me the mental room I needed to concentrate.

Why not try this method with your Lumia? The free Windows Phone apps for Spotify (check out our recent story on the recent Spotify update) and Pandora (specific to the U.S., Australia and New Zealand) have playlists for white noise as well as nature sounds, water sounds, and ambient noise.

If you need suggestions on headsets, check out our story on the new Comfort Headset. If you prefer over-the-ear headphones, the Coloud Boom Nokia headphones will do the trick.

Use the carrot-and-stick approach. Reward yourself when you meet a deadline. Depending on the difficulty of the project, that treat could be playing a game on your Lumia for 10 minutes (I like Spell It), calling a friend for a quick chat, or a weekend beach getaway.

Get a breath of fresh air. Loads of research says that sitting still for long periods of time not only lowers productivity, it may also shorten your life.

So, if your job entails sitting at a computer for much of the day, take a five-minute break every hour or so. Stand up and walk around your building. Better yet, go through the front door to take a stroll and literally get lungfuls of fresh air.

Use a timer app such as PowerNapp or a reminder app such as Reminders to nudge you out of your chair.


Have an accountability partner. I trained for my first marathon in the dead of winter and it was hard to get up early on chilly Saturday mornings to pound out the miles.

The only thing that got me up was a running buddy. This friend and I agreed to meet at 8 a.m. every Saturday to run–no matter what. This tactic worked spectacularly well even if we did freeze our butts off: We ran our personal bests in the race.

Try something similar to help you meet your next big deadline. Get a work colleague or a friend to be your accountability partner. Make a deal that you will email or text him (or her) your tasks every day to meet that goal. Then that partner can email or text you at the end of the day to check if you completed them.

Get enough sleep and exercise. If you don’t get enough sleep, you can’t function at your best. Everyone knows that if you’re well rested, you’re more productive, not to mention happier. Be good to yourself and make it a priority to bed down at a decent hour (check out our story about apps to help you sleep).

In addition, research from the neuroscience and physiology fields has proven a direct connection between exercise and brainpower. Researchers have found that exercise appears to build a stronger and more cognitively flexible brain.

So if you want to strengthen your brain and be more creative, forget word puzzles. Instead, go for the cardio burn. Check out our previous stories (here and here) on exercise apps that help you exercise your body–and mind.

Do you find these tips on focus helpful? Do you have any tactics that weren’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comment section below.