How to Prioritize Goals and Stay Focused

Boost your ability to focus and gain control of your own agenda.


Staying focused at work.

(Savanevich Viktar /

The world is filled with a million and one distractions that sap our focus and break our concentration. While there is a tendency to shrug it off or call it a senior moment, it is very easy to lose focus. That’s because the average attention span of a human is only 8.25 seconds, according to Supportive Care ABA. That's less than the goldfish's nine-second attention span! 

People commonly experience moments of drifting attention, such as a temporary lapse in concentration during routine tasks, explains Harvard Health. “Your brain's executive function plays a crucial role in planning, decision-making, and, perhaps most importantly, attention. It functions much like the captain of the ship, ” Dr. Joel Salinas, a neurologist associated with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital told Harvard Health.

The pinnacle of executive function aligns with other cognitive functions in a person's early 20s and gradually diminishes over time. But, Salinas promises that this process unfolds quite slowly. 

What’s the difference between focus and concentration?
Focus is the act of setting an intention, while concentration is the application of that intention, according to a blog on Better Up. It involves choosing where to direct your focus, such as deciding to concentrate on a spreadsheet rather than responding to emails. Concentration entails delving deeply into a task, like immersing yourself in the intricacies of computer code. 

Focusing extends to prioritizing both small and large goals, like striving to complete an undergraduate degree with excellence. Concentration, however, is specifically about channeling your energy towards particular tasks aligned with those goals. Whether it's studying for a test or excelling in a task, focus provides the motivation, and concentration ensures success.

In the realm of attention, focus determines what to prioritize, filtering out distractions and honing in on the focal point. For instance, in a restaurant, you focus on your friend rather than the ambient music or crowd noise. On the other hand, concentration filters out extraneous stimuli, allowing you to process a specific source more deeply than others. You might concentrate on your friend's words amidst the various stimuli in the restaurant. 

It's possible to focus on a task without truly concentrating, or vice versa. For example, you may focus on weight-lifting at the gym by choosing to exercise. However, if a lingering work problem occupies your mind, it can divert your concentration from the immediate task at hand.

What causes lack of focus?
There are five primary contributors to concentration issues, according to a Brightside Health blog, all of which can have a major impact in your life.

Fatigue plays a significant role. Whether it's the burden of stress, late-night TV binging, or difficulty unwinding before sleep, inadequate rest directly affects focus. Sleep deprivation correlates with diminished cognitive function, impacting working memory and cognitive speed.

Balancing everyday life proves challenging. The intersection of home and work demands can disrupt focus. Emotional states influence concentration, with excitement triggering increased adrenaline. Excessive excitement can lead to anxiety, hinder concentration, and reduce overall daily productivity. 

Over-commitment also poses a hurdle. While multitasking isn't inherently negative, juggling too many responsibilities impedes the ability to concentrate on a singular task. Multitasking often yields lower-quality work, accompanied by heightened frustration and stress.

Task aversion hampers concentration. Unpleasant tasks frequently trigger excuses and diversions, leading to a lack of focus primarily driven by procrastination rather than an inherent inability to concentrate. 

Underlying medical conditions may contribute. Unrecognized mental or physical health issues could be at the root of concentration difficulties. In older people, there are frequent moments of forgetfulness, according to Harvard Health. These instances might be linked to a delicate brain process known as executive function, and a doctor should be consulted.

How do you maintain focus?
Getting enough sleep is crucial for maintaining focus and productivity, explains Better Up. To improve your sleep quality, consider quitting caffeine after 2 pm, putting away electronics an hour before bedtime, and using relaxation techniques to de-stress before sleep.

Focusing on one task at a time is a key strategy for enhancing productivity. People who concentrate on completing one task before moving on tend to finish tasks more efficiently, freeing up time for other priorities. To achieve this, create a to-do list for the next day before signing off, set clear deadlines for each task, and block time in your calendar for each list item. 

Taking care of your body through regular physical activity contributes to increased energy, motivation, and concentration. To incorporate exercise into your routine, find an activity you enjoy, try beginner workouts on platforms like YouTube, start gradually, and set goals. 

Engaging in mental activities such as word games, puzzles, and other brain exercises can serve as concentration exercises and enhance your mental state. Challenges like expanding your vocabulary, practicing a foreign language, learning to play music, or incorporating meditation into your routine can contribute to improved focus and cognitive function. 

In essence, your ability to concentrate is squarely rooted in the way you live your life. Try something new today to enhance your focus. You are your own best friend.

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