Last week, I sat down to outline a guest blog post I’m writing for someone.
I knew what I wanted to write about, I just needed to do it. I opened up a Google Doc, scanned my notes and prepared to write.
I couldn’t focus.
My eyes started wandering around the room.
All of a sudden, that weird smudge on the ceiling (how the hell did that get there?) got a lot more interesting than whatever I was working on. I spent the next 20 minutes contemplating it while I completely ignored the post.
We all struggle with focus.
There are lots of different reasons why you might be having trouble focusing — you’re tired, bored, uninterested in this particular task, whatever — but there are two proven ways to get your concentration back.
Today, I’m going to share them with you.
Improving Focus: A Study From The University of Michigan
Three researchers at the University of Michigan conducted an experiment published in Psychological Science.
First, they measured their participants’ mood and focus, followed by 35 minutes of rapid-fire tests designed to create mental fatigue.
Next, the researchers sent the participants on 50-55 minute walks. One group was sent to nature trails, while the other group walked around downtown.
When the participants returned, they were tested again.
Both groups came back with higher performance than when they started, but the group that walked in “nature” showed improvements that were 200% higher than the improvements in the downtown group.
What does that mean for you?
Instead of spending an hour “trying to focus,” go outside!
Get into nature.
If you live downtown like I do, find a park.
And the weather doesn’t have to be perfect, either: the researchers replicated the experiment in September, November, January and July, and the results didn’t change.
But wait…there’s more.
What if it’s raining, or if I don’t have an hour? A Second Strategy.
This is where the research gets really interesting.
In the same study, participants were given the initial tests, but instead of being sent outside, they were showed pictures of nature for ten minutes.
That helped too. In fact, looking at pictures of nature was more than twice as effective at improving cognition than walking downtown.
This is just one experiment where pictures of nature were more effective than urban walks at improving “directed attention” (i.e. focus).
But it’s a valuable lesson for how to regain focus and be more productive. And it’s helped me be more productive many times.
Do This Now: Bookmark this image. Next time you catch yourself staring at the wall because you can’t focus, take a ten-minute break and study the picture. You’ll return to your task refreshed and focused.