How to Improve Focus

Tips to Stay Focused

How to improve focus

Focusing is a skill that can be trained. With the right techniques, you can learn to improve focus and concentration. We show you how to improve focus and increase your attention span. From that of a goldfish to that of a Zen monk.

Mental techniques and methods to improve focus

Focus Timer

Focus timers are a simple tool to support your ability to concentrate. They are simple timers that bring structure to your focus phases. The principle works as follows:

  • Decide for how long you want to concentrate.
  • Set the timer to that duration and start it.
  • As long as the timer is running, concentrate. No breaks, no "quickly checking something out".
  • Only when the timer rings, you may turn your attention to other things.
  • If you do get distracted, you must reset the timer and start over.

This focus technique works mainly because the "decision" whether to allow the distraction or not has already been made: Only when time is up are distractions allowed. It sounds simple, but in many situations, it's this little thing that makes all the difference. The motivation provided by the self-set (and easily achievable) goal also helps to improve focus.

The key to success with this technique is choosing the right time interval. You can't take on too much, or you won't make it through the entire time. And if this happens too often, the method loses its effect. You get used to missing your target and effectively train yourself to don't take focus seriously. Interruptions become normal despite using a focus timer. So be careful not to overdo it. This is not the place for stretch goals.

The ideal amount of time depends on the individual person. Some people can concentrate intensively for an hour at a time. Others lose focus after just 10 minutes.

Focus Trainer helps you to find your perfect concentration span by increasing it bit by bit. Start with short periods of time that you can definitely master. As soon as you have mastered them, Focus Trainer will suggest the next longer interval. This is how to improve focus: effortlessly step by step.

The Pomodoro Technique

One of the best-known focus methods is the Pomodoro technique. Behind it is a special application of focus timers.

And this is how it works:

  1. Decide on a task that you want to work on.
  2. Set the timer to 25 minutes and work on the task. No distractions are allowed.
  3. When the timer rings, you finish the task and make a cross on a piece of paper. You have to stop, even if you are still working on the task.
  4. if you have less than four crosses, you take a break for 5 minutes. If you already have four crosses, you take a longer break (15-30 minutes). Then discard all crosses and start again from the beginning.

It might seem contradictory to stop working after 25 minutes, even if you are still able to focus. But there's a reason for it: you can then easily pick up right where you left off after the break. You don't have to think about what to do next and jump right back into your task. You also don't run the risk of overstraining your ability to focus.

The Pomodoro Technique was invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. At the time, he used a kitchen clock in the shape of a tomato as a focus timer. This is also the origin of the name: Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.

Take breaks and use them properly

The Pomodoro Technique includes breaks as an integral part. And Focus Trainer also provides for a constant alternation between concentration and relaxation. However, pauses are not specific to any one technique. No one can focus forever. If you want to improve focus, you have to break frequently to give your brain a chance to recover.

However, just taking breaks at all is not enough. How you use them is key. Many people reach for their smartphone during their break to scroll through news or social media channels. However, Facebook, Instagram, and the like are highly optimized to capture attention. That's the exact opposite of what you want in a constructive break. If you've ever had a nice Netflix binge, you know the feeling: it's a lot of fun, but you're not exactly mentally well-rested afterward.

To ensure that breaks have the desired effect and improve focus and concentration, you should do something relaxing. Nothing stimulating. For example, get up briefly and walk a few steps or look out the window. Just let your thoughts wander.


Various exercises have been invented and recommended over time that supposedly improve focus. Unfortunately, most of them have not withstood closer scientific scrutiny. Either they don't do anything, or you only get better at focusing on the specific exercise - but not on other tasks in life. Only the centuries-old method of meditation seems to have a reliable effect.

Many studies have shown that meditation actually improves the ability to concentrate - and not only during the meditation itself. In addition to focus, meditation also has positive influences on short-term memory, sleep, and much more.

By now, there are beautifully simple ways to give meditation a try. For example, the app Headspace offers guided meditations on various topics including improving focus and concentration. Just a few minutes a day are enough to try it for the first time.

Avoid distractions

What's the easiest way to avoid getting distracted? Make sure distractions don't happen in the first place.

Distractions are ubiquitous in the modern world. Billboards on every street corner prey upon our attention, apps bombard us with notifications, and the email inbox is an ever-present source of continuous distraction.

Fortunately, you are not helplessly at the mercy of every distraction. Many sources of distraction are under your own control. And you should use this control to avoid distractions as much as possible. Don't waste valuable willpower to resist distractions that can be avoided. Save your willpower for those that you can not avoid.

Here are a few approaches to avoid distractions:

  • Turn off notifications on your smartphone.
  • Forward calls directly to voicemail and call back later.
  • Turn off notifications on desktop/laptop (e.g., via "Notification Assistant" in Windows).
  • Install tools that block distracting websites and apps, e.g. Freedom.

Dump distractions

Not all distractions can be avoided. Some you can't switch off, or they arise from within you, for example when you remember that you urgently need to make a bank transfer. So what do you do with the remaining distractions?

For one, you can try to resist them. The inner monologue then sounds something like "not now, I'll have to deal with that later". But that costs energy and willpower. And at worst, a "I'll have to think about it later" continues to subtly gnaw away at your attention.

It's often easier to dump the distraction. Get it out of your mind and onto a notepad, to-do list, or similar. A place to write down everything you want to pick up after your focus period. Writing things down is quick and doesn't take much energy. You also feel like you've taken care of it and can mentally check it off instead of keeping it in the back of your mind.

Focus Trainer includes distraction dumping directly within the focus timer. As soon as the timer is running, you can write down disturbing thoughts and forget about them. When you finish your focus session, the notes are presented again. You can either take care of them right away or save them for later.

Focus on the task, not on the goal

A trick that seems a bit counterintuitive at first is to focus not on the goal, but on the actual activity.

At first glance, this seems counterintuitive, because goals are very important. People who set goals are more likely to achieve them. Without goals, you run the risk of spending your energy on the wrong things. To learn more on the importance of goals, see "Personal Goal Setting".

The reason for focusing on the task at hand are our emotions. A common cause of why people get distracted is dealing with negative emotions. When we feel a negative emotion, we instinctively want to avoid it. We escape to Facebook & Co for a short dopamine kick that soothes the "pain".

So what can lead to negative emotions? On the one hand, there are tasks that are actually unpleasant. Everyone knows one or two chores that they just hate. But goals can also inadvertently lead to negative emotions. After all, a good goal is challenging. The thought of it can trigger insecurity or even fear. And then there it is: the urge to escape.

To overcome this challenge, you should develop a sense of this emotional state. Notice when a negative emotion pushes you away from your focus. And if the challenging goal is the reason for this emotion, focus on the specific task instead. Don't think about the outcome, the long-term and as-of-yet unclear solution. Focus on the here and now. What you are doing right now. Nothing else.

Of course, this does not mean that one should not set goals! Goals are an important tool to direct your efforts. Just separate them from the actual doing. Frequent planning sessions help to keep you on track. Think about what you want to achieve and which steps are necessary for it. Then, when you are taking on the actual step, focus on that step only.

By the way, if you want to approach your goals with more structure, you can take a look at our goal achievement app Focality. It helps you make long-term plans with little effort and constantly optimize your approach.

How to improve focus with physical health and fitness

Knowing the right focus techniques is one thing. But if you want to improve focus, physical conditions also play an important role. Only a fit brain can concentrate for a long time.

Getting enough sleep

Our brain requires sleep. Nature does not let us spend a third of our lives in unconsciousness without reason. We need sleep in order to regenerate. This applies to the whole body, but especially to the brain.

Lack of sleep reduces mental performance across the board. Your memory weakens, your reaction time suffers and you have difficulty following complex trains of thought. However, one of the first things to go is the ability to stay focused. If you want to improve focus, sufficient sleep is therefore essential.

So how much sleep is enough sleep? One study found that students suffer from concentration problems on less than 8 hours of sleep. Adults tend to need a little less sleep, but below 7 hours it becomes an issue for most. Important: It's not the time in bed that counts, but the time you actually sleep.

Sleep quality also plays a role. Parents of newborns know this from painful experience: if you are regularly pulled out of deep sleep, there is not much left of the restorative effect of sleep. In this particular case, there's not really much you can do about it (to all new parents: it gets better!), but otherwise you should make sure you get the most out of sleep: remove or block all light sources, ensure good ventilation, and don't fall asleep with the TV/smartphone running.

Physical exercise

The fact that physical exercise is important should come as no surprise to anyone. Our body needs sufficient exercise, otherwise, there is a risk of obesity, back pain, heart disease, and much more. But sport is also important if you want to improve focus! In addition to physical problems, lack of exercise leads to reduced mental performance.

Exercise helps the brain to form new nerve cells, form new connections, and release important messenger substances.

The effects on concentration are particularly well studied and proven in school children. Adults also enjoy the cognitive improvements from exercise.

Here is some further information:

Alcohol and medication

Some people claim to be able to concentrate better with a glass of red wine. One explanation is that the inebriated brain no longer has the full capacity to process all the stimuli - and therefore the distractions are reduced as well. On a whole, however, alcohol is counterproductive.

The obvious disadvantage is that you are way less sharp when you're drunk. More insidious is the long-term effect, though. Alcohol placed an additional burden on the brain. It no longer has to recover only from its normal stress, but from the effects of alcohol as well.

Sleep also suffers. When you go to bed drunk, you may find it easy to fall asleep - unless everything is spinning... - but because your body is still busy breaking down alcohol, your brain has less opportunity to properly recover. Even if you don't wake up with a full-blown hangover, you're less refreshed the next morning than if you'd gone to sleep sober.

There is also a whole range of medications that can affect the ability to concentrate. A look at the package insert can provide clarity here.

Nutrition and supplements

In addition to sufficient rest, the brain also needs the right resources. However, caution is advised when it comes to this topic: Even if there is a lot of advertising that claims that various nutritional supplements improve focus, a clear effect is usually only felt in the case of a significant deficiency. In industrialized nations, true malnutrition is fortunately very rare though.

Among the not-so-rare deficiencies is vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is produced by the body itself with the help of the sun. How much daylight you need to fill up depends on your skin type and the time of year. Especially in the winter months - or if you are generally rather sun-shy - some people might not get enough. Symptoms of severe vitamin D deficiency include fatigue and slowed thinking. But be careful: You can overdose on vitamin D! Only take dietary supplements if a deficiency has been confirmed by a blood test.

How to improve focus: Practice, practice, practice

Practice makes perfect. This is true for any skill - including improving focus. It is one thing to know the techniques and prerequisites. It still requires practice to learn how to improve focus.

Practice pays off: the more practice you have, the more you can compensate for less than perfect circumstances. You can, for example, still concentrate, even if you couldn't switch off all distractions. Or you can stay focused even when you're overtired.

Focus Trainer helps you to practice. It will automatically adjust the duration of your focus sessions so that you can steadily improve your focus. From the attention span of a goldfish to that of a Zen monk. ;)