Improving Concentration and Focus

This instructive guide from Harvard Medical School offers practical, proven, commonsense strategies to recapture your concentration and maintain your brain’s alertness and fitness. Improving Concentration and Focus addresses four focus-hindering factors you can control. You’ll discover why multi-tasking can actually erode memory skills and learn ways to give your brain essential “downtime.”  You’ll also learn what you can do to improve cognitive function and speed.

 

Improving Concentration and Focus Cover

The dog barks. Someone turns on the TV. Your neighbor starts his lawnmower. Your cellphone buzzes. Your computer beeps. And you lose your concentration—again. 

Focus is disrupted. Thoughts interrupted. Distractions hijack our attention and scuttle our best intentions. You don’t have to let them!  

This Harvard Medical School guide will show you how to sideline distractions and sustain your focus, enhance your memory and cement attention.

 Keep your train of thought securely on track!

When your mind wanders, you know how hard it can often be to remember where you left off and what you were thinking. 

This  guide exposes the barriers to focus. You’ll find how to keep distractions at arm’s length and bolster your brain’s agility, resiliency, and ability to recall information and retain thought. 

In this instructive guide, Harvard Medical School doctors share the keys to fortifying your brain’s good health and fostering its facility for concentration. 

The report addresses four focus-hindering factors you can control. You’ll discover why multi-tasking can actually erode memory skills. You’ll find how to give your brain essential “downtime.”   And you’ll learn the one thing you can do right now to improve cognitive function and speed.

You can keep your mind on what matters. The guide offers practical, proven, commonsense strategies to recapture your concentration and maintain your brain’s alertness and fitness.

You’ll tune up your ability to tune out distractions. You’ll discover the ingredients of a brain-healthy diet.  You’ll learn how to assure a restorative night’s sleep…two surprisingly easy ways to offset age-related brain changes…and much more.

Don’t wait. Send for your copy of this informative and empowering report today!

Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publishing in consultation with Albert M. Galaburda, MD, Emily Fisher Landau Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School, Co-director, Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, Harvard University, Senior Neurologist, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. (2019)

About Harvard Medical School Guides

Harvard Medical School Guides delivers compact, practical information on important health concerns. These publications are smaller in scope than our Special Health Reports, but they are written in the same clear, easy-to-understand language, and they provide the authoritative health advice you expect from Harvard Health Publishing.

  • All about attention
  • Your brain: The inside story
    • Attention, focus, and concentration
    • Cognitive control and the prefrontal cortex
    • The six cognitive domains
    • Information highway
    • The role of neurotransmitters in attention
  • Barriers to focus
    • Poor-quality sleep
    • Digital distractions
    • The truth about multitasking
    • Obesity
    • Traumatic brain injury
    • Alcohol and drug use
    • Medications that undermine focus
    • Stress
    • Depression and anxiety
    • Adult ADHD
    • How aging affects focus
    • Heart disease, stroke, and blood vessel problems
    • Cancer and cancer treatment
    • Dementia
  • Tips for better focus
    • Good-quality sleep
    • Caffeine and attention
    • Aerobic exercise
    • Mindfulness practice
    • Find your phone-life balance
    • Healthy diet
    • Cognitive training
    • Medications
  • Conquering distractions and finding focus
  • All about attention
  • Your brain: The inside story
    • Attention, focus, and concentration
    • Cognitive control and the prefrontal cortex
    • The six cognitive domains
    • Information highway
    • The role of neurotransmitters in attention
  • Barriers to focus
    • Poor-quality sleep
    • Digital distractions
    • The truth about multitasking
    • Obesity
    • Traumatic brain injury
    • Alcohol and drug use
    • Medications that undermine focus
    • Stress
    • Depression and anxiety
    • Adult ADHD
    • How aging affects focus
    • Heart disease, stroke, and blood vessel problems
    • Cancer and cancer treatment
    • Dementia
  • Tips for better focus
    • Good-quality sleep
    • Caffeine and attention
    • Aerobic exercise
    • Mindfulness practice
    • Find your phone-life balance
    • Healthy diet
    • Cognitive training
    • Medications
  • Conquering distractions and finding focus

The truth about multitasking

“I’m an excellent multitasker.” This familiar boast can be heard from people who pride themselves on their productivity. Indeed, developing an aptitude for doing several things at the same time seems like an ideal solution for managing the endless flow of electronic information that comes our way daily. But this strategy may not be as successful as it appears.

Media multitaskers claim they can engage in numerous mental processes at the same time—such as talking on the phone, reading emails, sending text messages, and shopping online—all without missing a beat. Neuroscientists, however, are not so sure. The prevailing understanding of human cognition holds that the brain can process only one string of information at a time.

In 2009, a group of researchers at Stanford University decided to find out whether multitaskers really can focus on everything. They recruited two groups of study subjects: those who routinely consumed multiple media streams simultaneously and those who did so only infrequently.

Each group was given a series of attention tasks. For example, they had to remember the configuration of two red rectangles in a series of flashing images, in which they were surrounded by varying numbers of blue rectangles. The routine multitaskers performed worse than infrequent multitaskers, apparently because they were continually distracted by the irrelevant shapes.

The scientists surmised that high multitaskers are inclined to spread their attention over a large scope of information instead of focusing on a particular piece. This habit of treating all incoming information with nearly equal amounts of attention makes multitaskers less selective in filtering out extraneous input. Study results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The researchers also investigated the premise that high multitaskers would be able to retain more information in working memory than most people. However, the high multitaskers also performed worse on tests of memory capacity, the ability to switch attention between tasks. Subsequent research has also shown that heavy media multitaskers perform worse on tests of working memory even in the absence of external distractions. In turn, these deficits in working memory lead to problems encoding information into long-term memory.

Another avenue of research has looked at ramifications of media multitasking during social interactions. Scientists found that both teenagers and adults had a harder time understanding another person’s point of view if they tried to multitask during the interaction (such as checking a phone during a conversation). The journal Royal Society Open Science published the study results in 2015.

Ultimately, habitual multitaskers appear to have trouble navigating among multiple threads of information. Therefore, they are less able to screen out distractions to focus on the material that’s relevant to their goal.

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