How to Focus Better

When summer hits, it’s like everyone has one foot out the door starting Wednesday afternoon…maybe sooner. Our focus definitely decreases when it’s warm out. All those thoughts about rosé outside, window shopping, Hamptons share houses, long hikes (just take your pick) begin to take over and soon enough you’ve been staring at your computer for three hours. We checked in with Dr. Holly Phillips, who showed us how to naturally and healthily become more focused…

Holly Phillips, MD, on how to boost your alertness, focus, and mental energy…

It’s hard to feel like you’re at the top of your game when you’re running on empty and it always seems like you have too much to do in too little time. Don’t despair! Just because you have a busy, demanding life doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your mental acuity or focus. You can reclaim it, nurture it, and even sharpen your mental clarity, acuity, and energy with some simple lifestyle adjustments. Here’s how:

Make sleep a priority. If you don’t snooze enough, you will lose mental sharpness. So figure out how much sleep you need to feel and function at your best and carve out enough time for those precious zzz’s on a nightly basis. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to keep your sleep cycles running smoothly.

Get moving. Exercise is one of the best energy and focus-boosters on the planet. Even a ten-minute brisk walk can clear the cobwebs from your head, enhancing alertness, attention, and mental clarity.

Harness omega power. Consuming omega-3 essential fatty acids—which are plentiful in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil, and fortified foods—helps fine-tune brain function. Research suggests that regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids boosts mood, memory, and other aspects of cognitive function.

Make a “To Don’t” list. If your to-do list is constantly overwhelming and unrealistic, it can be hard to stay focused and function at your best. The antidote: Learn to say “no” to nonessential requests, delegate responsibilities to others, and set limits. This way, you can fully devote your attention and mental energy to what’s really important.

Expose yourself to bright light. Exposing yourself to natural sunlight—by sitting in a sunny window or using a light box—can boost your mood and alertness. If possible, try to step outside for some light therapy for five minutes every hour.

Have a well-timed cup of java. It’s a mistake to rely on it exclusively but drinking a cup of coffee thirty to sixty minutes before you need to tackle a challenging task can help you kick your brainpower into high gear. Simply put, caffeine can increase levels of neurotransmitters that stimulate alertness, attention, concentration, and memory.

Ditch the multitasking habit. There’s something to be said for focusing on doing one thing at a time and doing it well. Rather than splitting your brainpower between tasks, devoting your attention to one thing before moving on to another allows you to operate with full concentration and work more efficiently.

Use good scents. Research shows that taking a whiff of peppermint, rosemary, cinnamon, or jasmine when you feel foggy and tired can have a stimulating effect on your mind, increasing alertness, memory, and other aspects of brain function.

Clear your mind. Taking a break to meditate—by sitting quietly, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breathing without paying attention to passing thoughts—can increase alertness, focus, and concentration. In other words, meditating can help you establish a state of internal calm that allows you to become more present-minded and focused on the here and now.

Read about how to get a better night’s sleep, here.

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