Jump to Topics

A wanderer’s guide to overcoming distraction and improving focus

A wanderer’s guide to overcoming distraction and improving focus

How to stop the mind from straying and start staying the course
Illustration of a person meditating
Representational image | Shutterstock

Melly Dutta, an IT professional from Bengaluru, zones out during meetings, or even while watching an interesting movie that she herself chose. “I often struggle to remain focused. There is always a deliberate effort to chain my thoughts back to the task at hand,” she confesses.

Like Dutta, if straying off tasks and daydreaming are your bane, here is what experts tell Happiest Health why some people get distracted and how to stay focused.

Not just a technology addiction

Technology and gadgets, often blamed these days for our shortened attention spans, are not the only trigger. A 2009 paper by Jeffrey Roelofs from Maastricht University,  the Netherlands, looked at the influence of rumination and distraction on depressed and anxious mood. The research showed how rumination and distraction are closely associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Yet, it also suggested that those who are vulnerable to depression and anxiety can engage in active or deliberate distractions as a coping strategy.

Elaborating how distraction could be a by-product of mental health issues, Dr Shradha Shejekar, consultant psychiatrist in Bengaluru, says, “It could be because of ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder where the attention span is short; or due to learning disabilities. Even with depression, the mind is usually in the past or the future, and not in the present. If you are on steroids and sedatives for a long time they can also cause distraction and loss of attention. Early stages of dementia or cognitive impairment or brain tumour can also be reasons for easy distractibility.”

Speaking about another possible reason for distraction, Chennai-based counsellor Aishwarya Ranganathan feels that distraction could also stem from low self-confidence. “With an increasing number of forums [read social media] where you get constant feedback on your performance, skill sets and face the pressure of maintaining a certain image, you could be distracted and not be able to focus on the present moment or on the given task,” says Ranganathan.

Attention and memory

Another study conducted in 2018 by Trish L. Varao-Sousa et al found a correlation between high distraction rates and poor memory retention.

Getting back on track

Depending on what distracts you, you will have to choose ways to improve focus. For example, if you are dealing with ADHD, medication is essential to help with attention span.

“In cases of low IQ or learning disability, the treatment will be to make the task more interesting. For depression and psychosis, we have to first treat the cause and then work on the attention span. But if we are dealing with early stages of dementia, then we advise [people to] develop habits like playing board games, Sudoku, or mixing coloured grains and separating them,” says Dr Shejekar.

10 ways to focus better

A March 2020 paper authored by Rutger Kappe, Professor of Psychology of Education, Inholland University of Applied Sciences, lists 10 tips for getting one’s focus back.

  1. Plan to the T: Plan a schedule well to avoid last-minute stress. Write down all your tasks, sub-tasks, actions taken and actions pending and keep a track of where you are in the plan.
  2. Time it: Take up tasks that you can do at a particular time of the day when you are most productive. Try to stick to the plan and complete it.
  3. Pause multitasking: If you have too much on your plate, then it is better to focus on one thing at a time.
  4. Take short breaks: Too much time spent on a task will create fatigue and disinterest. Take short breaks – take a brisk walk, listen to music, or do anything relaxing or motivating.
  5. Delete distractions: Reduce distractions as much as possible, such as by moving to a quiet area, turning off notifications on your phone, letting those around you know that you will be unable for a period, or closing unnecessary apps or programs on your computer.
  6. Start up your brain: You can do some work-related `rituals’ before starting work, such as clearing the desk. This will prepare the brain to focus on the task that is about to start.
  7. Train your attention muscle: A simple exercise to train your attention muscle would be to focus on the seconds hand of the wall clock or watch for five minutes. You can also write down the impulse that is distracting you. This can act as a `buzzkill’ and help you to identify and be aware of the culprit element.
  8. Make hard choices: Weigh in the positives of what you must put your mind to; and ignore what has to be missed.
  9. Charge the body: A healthy diet, timely food and sleep, and a lot of water go a long way in strengthening the will to focus.
  10. Reward yourself after you complete big tasks without distractions.


Share Your Experience/Comments

One Response

  1. I have had distraction issues for as long as I can remember, and I’ve read countless articles on the same. However this is by far the most accurate n helpful because it covered almost all the aspects and the solutions that were provided were on point

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Physical activity improves the quality as well as duration of sleep. But exercising too close to bedtime is not advisable
While what causes Bell’s palsy is unknown, use of modern medicine along with holistic approaches could offer quick relief
CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation is an emergency lifesaving procedure performed when the heart stops beating. According to American Heart Association, immediate CPR can double or triple chances of survival after cardiac arrest. Keeping the blood flow active, even partially, extends the opportunity for a successful resuscitation once trained medical staff arrive on site. It is an important lifesaving first-aid tool that can be performed by anyone.




Opt-in To Our Daily Newsletter

* Please check your Spam folder for the Opt-in confirmation mail
We use cookies to customize your user experience, view our policy here

Your feedback has been submitted successfully.

The Happiest Health team will reach out to you at the earliest