7 ways to improve concentration

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The average computer takes almost four minutes to switch on and off again- more than enough time to do the same with your overworked cerebral cortex. In under 8 minutes you can hit the reset switch and clean up your mental hard drive with these tricks. 

Ditch the neural see-saw 

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Your brain has two main modes of operation: ‘task-positive’, where your attention’s focused, and ‘task-negative’, where you’re daydreaming but more creative. Both are valuable, but see-sawing between them is mentally exhausting. To ease the process, switch off alerts. ‘Knowing you have an unread email saps attentional resources because your brain keeps thinking about it,’ says neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. ‘To be more productive and creative, do your social networking during a designated time, not as a constant interruption.’

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Take in a movie

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TED conferences – those idea-spreading meet-ups popular on YouTube – can feature up to 90 talks over five days. ‘It burns a muscle,’ says curator Chris Anderson. ‘A lot of conferences just keep pounding your analytical left brain.’ To help attendees recharge, the organisers screen films between talks. The best is Shake, which you can see here.

Green eyes

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Even if your office is mid-industrial wasteland, there’s hope. An Australian study published in the journal Environmental Psychology found that interrupting a tedious, attention-demanding task with a 40-second ‘microbreak’ — in which one simply looks at a computerised image of something natural – improved focus as well as performance on the task. Head to reddit for your daily fix.

Get nuts

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The biscuit tin is your enemy. Instead, refuel with trail mix – the phosphorus in dried fruits provides healthy sugars for a rapid boost, while seeds and nuts prevent insulin levels dropping, maintaining energy. Make your own using cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries.

Sit better

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It’s virtually impossible to sit for any length of time with good posture – and marathon desk sessions promote bad habits. Set a timer for regular intervals through the day and when it goes off, employ the Gokhale Method. Sit with your glutes ‘behind’ you, then roll your shoulders one at a time forward, up, back, and then down, keeping your torso upright but relaxed. You’ll aid circulation and switch your glutes back on.

Carry a tune

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Music stimulates the brain’s circuitry and enhances mental performance, while research also shows background music can help us at work by increasing our ability to think and solve creative problems. Baroque string quartets not your thing? Videogame music is designed to stimulate without ruining concentration, so start with the Legend Of Zelda theme and go from there.

Trick your brain

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If all else fails, just remember a time when you felt happy and energetic, and focus on why you felt that way. It’s a neuro-linguistic programming shortcut to more focus and better productivity.

Stressed? Read our 6 ways to relax

Joel Snape

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.