If you struggle with focusing on your tasks and thinking clearly, you aren’t alone. In fact, during the year 2020, even the most focused and ambitious individuals struggled with cognition and productivity. Many people are experiencing a whole new dynamic in how they work and interact with the world.

It takes time and dedication to build focus and cognition. You need to strengthen your brain like it’s a muscle. Here are some proven ways to help boost your brainpower and improve your focus and cognition.

Do a Self-Assessment

When a business looks for improvement opportunities, they start with an internal review to identify challenges and pitfalls. Before you can begin to improve your focus, you should follow the same approach to self-management.

Set aside time to conduct an honest self-assessment. Consider your biggest challenges surrounding focus and cognition. What kind of things distract you? Why do you lose focus? What time of day is your brain at its best? You can also use apps to determine how much time you’re spending in email, social media, etc.

There are a lot of reasons why someone might struggle with staying in the moment and being productive. You may find that it’s a combination of issues, like poor sleep and getting distracted by your phone. When you identify your sticking points, you can start to hone in on correcting specific problems.

Remove Distractions

If there are things that distract you, or continuously draw your attention away, put them out of sight and out of mind.

Smartphones are a common cause of distractions in the modern world. With the entire universe at your fingertips, who can blame you for getting sucked in? Remove this distraction by putting your phone in a different room or on airplane mode while you’re working. You can also get a blocker app that prevents you from scrolling.

Other distractions come in many forms. If you’re working from home, it might be a messy house that captures your attention. Conversely, it could be roommates, children, or coworkers that pull you from your work. Take time to set boundaries and limits and schedule time for tidying and eliminating other distractions in your space.

Create a Healthy Sleep Routine

Another common reason people lack cognitive function and the ability to focus is inadequate sleep. Sleep deprivation destroys cognitive function and makes completing tasks a struggle.

If sleep is a continuous challenge for you, create a healthy sleep routine to get the rest and restoration your brain needs to succeed.

Start by creating a great sleep environment with temperature control, white noise, blackout curtains, and whatever else you need to rest well. Be sure to check that there are no underlying issues, like sleep apnea.

Build on your sleep routine by cutting off screen time at least an hour before bed and setting your phone across the room on silent. This action will help remove the temptation for late-night scrolling, which can impact your circadian rhythms. Additionally, having the phone placed across the room makes it easier to stop hitting that snooze button.

Finally, alter your dietary habits to ensure you’re not eating within the two hours before bedtime. While it’s a myth that eating before bed causes weight gain, it does trigger your digestive system and can be disruptive. Refrain from consuming caffeine after lunchtime if sleep is an issue for you. If you think caffeine doesn’t affect you, go without it for a few days, and you’ll learn all about denial.

Get Your Brain Food

Did you know that your dietary choices impact your cognitive function? Certain foods promote boosted cognition and brain health, such as leafy greens, seafood, nuts, and seeds. There are also supplements like krill oil to introduce Omega-3 fatty acids— the ultimate brain food.

There are also dietary habits to avoid when trying to improve focus and cognition. Don’t let yourself get hungry or engage in restrictive dieting— your brain needs fuel to function. Work to get back in touch with your hunger cues and practice portion control, as overeating can leave you feeling sluggish and foggy.

Dedicate Yourself to a Single Task

While it may seem like handling more than one task at once is a great way to save time, it derails your focus and cognitive function. Dedicating yourself to one task at a time and following through until it’s complete will help you develop your focus as a skill. It also creates a positive association with your work, as you experience a sense of accomplishment each time you check a task off your list.

Start your day by identifying an MIT—your Most Important Task. This task is the thing that must be done before anything else. Then, prioritize the other items on a to-do list and work through them one at a time.

Use the Pomodoro Technique

The secret to staying focused is giving your brain breaks to recuperate. The Pomodoro technique is a productivity tool that helps people stay focused and accomplish tasks by optimizing their attention span. You can use an app for the Pomodoro technique or try the original method of using a kitchen timer.

To do the Pomodoro technique, start by setting a timer for 25 minutes. Commit to focusing on a single task during those 25 minutes and working as efficiently as possible. When the timer goes off, set it for five minutes, and use that as a break. When the timer goes off again, reset it for 25 minutes, and repeat.

Repeat this process three or four times, then take a 25-45 minute break. When your longer break is over, get back into the 25:5 ratio. You’ll be amazed at how well you focus and get through the day.

Create Actionable Habits and Goals

Finally, improve your focus by creating actionable habits and goals. Instead of saying, “I’m going to complete this item,” consider what steps you must take to accomplish that goal. For example, “I’m going to use the Pomodoro technique to work on this,” or “I’m not going to check my email until noon.”

By using a combination of these techniques and strategies, you can improve your focus and cognition. If you’ve made it to the end, congratulations— you’re well on your way.