Woman being productive on her loptop

6 Ways to Stay Focused on Your Goals

Have you ever wondered how much more you would accomplish if you could just focus? If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Many of us have a wandering mind, and while sometimes it helps with creativity, it mainly hinders our progress.

The good news is that you can train your brain to be more productive so you can accomplish more throughout your day. Here are six steps you can follow to help you improve concentration and stay focused.

1. Identify distractions

Woman struggling to avoid media distractions while working

Nothing stunts your progress more than a text or an email notification. Sure, the ping seems innocent enough, but if you allow it to break your concentration, it'll lead you down a rabbit hole of distractions (so, not ideal when you're on a deadline).

The attention you devote to a task affects your performance. That's why learning to recognize your distractions and ironing out the wrinkles in your workflow will help you stay focused.

How can I control my mind from distractions?

You can be "in the zone" as you're typing away, fully submerged in what you're doing, and then you get sidetracked. But once you're aware of what's distracting you, you can guide your attention back to what you were doing.

Distractions can be summed up in two categories: external and internal. External distractions are easier to recognize—it's anything in your environment (whether you're working from home or in your office) that takes your attention away from the task at hand.

Internal distractions may be a bit more challenging to notice, especially if you're working on a not-so-interesting project. For example, one moment you're looking at your screen, thinking of the best way to start (or continue), and suddenly, you're thinking about what to cook for dinner—the passing thought interferes with your productivity, and it can take a bit to get back on track.

Here's a list of common distractions—both external and internal:

  • Notifications
  • Meetings
  • Social media/internet
  • A cluttered workspace
  • Noisy surroundings
  • Interruptions by coworkers (or family members if you work from home)
  • Not feeling rested
  • Feeling hungry/snacking
  • Stress
  • Thoughts and emotions

We live in a digital era that makes it easy to reach out to others, and information is at our fingertips. Picking up on those distractions will help you stay focused—it's like shepherding your attention to where it needs to be.

2. Give yourself a deadline

Man setting his wrist watch to better his concentration in alloted time

A great way to help your motivation flourish is to time yourself—and commit to getting the job at hand done within a specific timeframe. Not only does a deadline help you tackle your workload in bite-size time intervals, but it also helps "reboot" your brain so that you feel refreshed and ready to continue working on your project. Plus, the rewarding feeling you get as you see your progress and the anticipation of completion helps boost your dopamine levels—it's a win-win!

Is there a "stay focused" app?

If you want to avoid using your phone's timer to minimize distractions, you can always use online timers, called pomodoro apps. The word pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and the concept of the technology is based on a traditional kitchen timer (a popular version of which looks like a tomato). Just as you'd set that ticking timer in the kitchen as you complete a cooking task, you set your pomodoro while you go through your emails, or pay your bills.

Of course, you can use the timer of your choosing; set it to what you feel is best for you (the pomodoro technique recommends 25-minute intervals) and go! Once the timer goes off, take a short 3-to 5-minute break (drink some water, stretch, take a deep breath) and then set your timer again for another round.

3. Put your goals on paper

Woman writting her goals on paper in order to help achieve them

By writing down what you intend to tackle—for the day, the week, or even the month or year—you're creating a mental road map that helps you visualize a plan of action. This is why a to-do list is a "must-do" for anyone trying to improve their focus. But you can also apply that strategy to longer-term goals, whether it's to support your health by exercising more or maintaining a healthy weight, learning a new language, or writing a novel.

The more specific you are with your goals and the steps you can take to achieve them, the more manageable they'll be, so you won't give up on them (which infamously happens to those New Year's resolutions).

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Tip: Set SMART goals

Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the task we're working on. When that happens, it's easy for the mind to start wandering off. But breaking down your goal or project into smaller, more clear steps can go a long way.

The acronym SMART means

  • Specific—Detailed steps of what exactly needs to get done
  • Measurable—Meaningful ways to track your progress
  • Achievable—Set realistic goals that you can achieve within your time or budget constrains
  • Relevant—How will it help you get closer to completing your goal?
  • Timely—Deadlines help you be disciplined and stay focused on each step

4. Start early and prioritize

Woman starting her day early and prioritizing tasks

Develop the habit of waking up early—even if it's just 15 minutes before your daily grind. Using that extra time to prioritize the day ahead can help you stay on track and not rush through what you want to get done.

Nourishing your brain is a big part of having good concentration. After all, a "hangry" mind can't stay focused for long. So, by planning your day, you can make sure you pack your lunch and eat it too!

Tip: Best foods for focus

Eating brain-friendly foods, like those in the Mediterranean or MIND diets, not only preserves cognitive function but also help keep your brain sharp.

Here are some more "foods for thought."

  • Spearmint—The phenolic compounds in this herb have been shown to promote working memory and short-term memory, as well as concentration.
  • Fish oil—Omega-3 fatty acids like the ones in fatty fish are crucial for normal brain development and overall cognitive performance at every stage of your life.
  • Ashwagandha—Research has shown that the ayurvedic herb helps promote antioxidant activity that protects nerve cells from oxidative stress, encouraging overall memory, task performance and attention. Some people do eat it, or add the powder to their food. It's also available in supplement form.

5. Don't multi-task

Woman not focused on one task using loptop, cleaning and talking on the phone

Tackle one task at a time. This will allow you to accomplish your work more efficiently and with fewer errors. While multitasking sounds like a talent or an accomplishment, in fact, what this term really means is switching our attention from one task to the next, before completing either. Trying to do too much at once isn't practical, and we end up dividing our attention to different tasks.

If you've ever been driving and weren't sure where you were, then found yourself lowering the volume on the radio because you "couldn't see" the street you were on, you have experienced a multi-tasking failure! It's like having too many tabs open on your Internet browser--you have different sources of information, but you can only read and pay attention to one at a time. As brilliant as our brains are, they can only pay attention to one thing at a time.

6. Stay positive

Woman with a calm mind in front of a loptop

How you talk to yourself throughout the day affects your overall performance. Didn't get to everything on your list (or forgot about that list altogether?) Forgive yourself! Seeing mistakes as opportunities to improve rather than failures can help you stay positive and motivated to achieve your goals.

How do I stop my mind from wandering?

Here are some more tips to help you strengthen those mental muscles to develop a positive, more focused mind.

  • Meditation—Here's another reason to jump on the meditation wagon. It helps you be mindful, have mental clarity and stay present.
  • Yoga—Getting on your mat (even if it's just for 10 minutes) has terrific cognitive and whole-body health benefits.
  • Aromatherapy—Our brains make sense of the world around us by experience and association. If citrus or lavender smells help you feel calm, aromatherapy can be a great addition to a brain-friendly lifestyle.

Cultivating a positive mentality makes staying focused easier because you learn to discard negative thoughts that distract you from your task, which will keep your progress stagnant.

Apply one or all six steps to take charge of your day and manage your time accordingly—you'll feel more productive and driven!

About the Author: Jessica Monge has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences & neuroscience and a master's degree in comparative studies and related languages from Florida Atlantic University. She worked as a tutor, freelance writer and editor before joining Life Extension, where she is currently a Digital Content Writer.