Strategies to improve attention

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

“A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power.”
Brian Tracy, author Focal Point.

With increased time spent on remote and hybrid work/school environments many people are increasingly experiencing more difficulties with attention/focus.

In the book Answers to Distraction, Dr Edward Hallowell and Dr John Ratey discuss several strategies to improve focus.  Some of them include the following, with my comments in “[italics]”:

  1. Establish a structure, and routine. [Consider incorporating breaks, and a variety of tasks periodically throughout the work period].
  2. Make use of frequent lists [To do, and NOT to do lists can be helpful].
  3. Color code your physical environment, files, text, schedules etc. this can help make things more memorable.
  4. Rituals [Or routines around work/studying can be helpful for some people].
  5. Reminders [Using calendars, sticky notes, timers etc].
  6. Develop a filing system [This can help minimize clutter in your work space, as clutter can be distracting].
  7. When possible, only handle it once (OHIO), this can be helpful with small tasks because an ever expanding to do list can increase guilt, anxiety, resentment in some people.
  8. Build in some buffer time for projects and obligations to account for the unexpected.
  9. Embrace challenges. [If the work you are doing is not interesting enough, identify an activity, task, or project of your own choosing to spend some time on each day. This pre planned time can help reduce excessive social media usage, web browsing, email/message checking etc].
  10. Make deadlines. [In some instances, make them ahead of external deadlines, in other instances create them, this can help focus. I often suggest to students to ask themselves, “what is one thing (outside of daily routine/obligations) that you choose to do today that will help you  feel accomplished?”].
  11. Break down large tasks into smaller ones WITH deadlines attached to them.  Larger tasks can feel overwhelming, which can lead to anxiety  and procrastination. [For a student struggling to work on a paper due next week, a smaller goal of writing a paragraph each morning may be more doable].
  12. Prioritize rather than procrastinate. [When you get the feeling that you have a lot to do, identify the most important activity you need to do today or most pressing deadline, can help you channel your focus].
  13. Identify the physical environment, and conditions where you do your work best. [For some this may be a noisy café, or while listening to background music, for others, it may be a decluttered, quiet, space with little background noise].
  14. Identify tasks or activities that you are good at doing, and those you enjoy. [This could help you identify roles in team projects, type of job you choose, types of classes to take, selecting an appropriate major, etc].
  15. Take breaks. [Taking frequent breaks during the day to look at your schedule, and re-organize for the next time block can be helpful.  One such strategy is the POMODORO technique].
  16. Having a notepad [or a note taking app readily available whenever possible] taking notes on a fleeting thought or idea that comes to mind can help clear the mind to improve focus.
  17. Taking notes when reading can help improve focus but also reduce the “cascade of “other” thoughts”.

Other strategies to improve attention/focus:

Additional resources:

  • Answers to distraction Dr Edward Hallowell and Dr John Ratey
  • Focal point, by Brian Tracy
  • The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey
  • Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
  • Taking charge of adult adhd by Dr Russell Barkley

Campus resources:

  • Consider improving study skills through the OSU Dennis Learning center.
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Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

 

Do Energy drinks help or hurt your attention?

By R. “Ryan” S Patel DO, FAPA, OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

energy drinks

About 16% of young adults and teenagers consumed at least one energy drink in the past 7 days (1). Some students consume energy drinks for many perceived benefits. But what if energy drinks could actually hurt your attention?

What does this study show?
A recent study (2) of 1649 middle school students found that energy drink consumption was associated with 66% greater risk for hyperactivity and inattention. In other words, energy drinks may be impacting inattention and hyperactivity, which could also hurt your ability to concentrate. This might be important if you are trying to study for classes, be organized so that you can meet deadlines, conduct research, etc.

Do the results account for individual differences?
The effect remained even after accounting for differences in multiple variables.
It is important to consider that energy drinks contain both caffeine and sugar.

Are caffeine or sugar causing difficulties with your attention or hyperactivity?
How do you know? Have you tried reducing or eliminating your caffeine/sugar intake and looked at the impact on your attention or hyperactivity?
Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.
References:
1. Emod, JA, et al. Energy Drink Consumption and the Risk of Alcohol Use Disorder among a National Sample of Adolescents and Young Adults. J Pediatr 2014;165:1194-200
2. Schwartz DL et al. Academic Pediatrics 2015 Feb 8. Energy Drinks and Youth Self-Reported Hyperactivity/Inattention Symptoms. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acap.2014.11.006