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6 Top Concentration Killers

Straying from the task at hand? Here's how to regain your focus.

3. Mental Distractions continued...

Those types of distractions -- the ones that are in your head -- “have a lot of power over us,” says Michael J. Baime, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness.

One way to let go of these nagging thoughts is to quickly write them down. Add items to your to-do list, for instance, or vent your frustrations in a journal entry.

If you’re stressed about a certain problem, find a time to talk about it with someone you trust. "If you have a supportive, active listener, it can help drain away some of the tension that is bouncing around in your head," says Daniel Kegan, PhD, JD, an organizational psychologist.

Meditation can also help.

"When you’re meditating, you learn to manage distracting thoughts so they don’t compel your attention so strongly. You discover how to refocus the attention and take it back and place it where you want it," Baime tells WebMD.

In a 2007 study, Baime's team found that people who took an eight-week meditation course improved their ability to focus their attention.

To learn the basic techniques of meditation -- such as focusing on the sensation of breathing and then transferring that focus to other sensations in the body -- Baime recommends taking an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction class, either in person or online.

4. Electronic Interruptions

"It’s easy to fall into aiding and abetting in your own distraction by checking your email all the time," Kegan says. "If you’re trying to concentrate, you can lose your train of thought every time you hear 'You’ve got mail'."

We often feel like we need to respond to an email, text, instant message, or voice mail as soon as it’s received. But Palladino suggests drawing some lines so you’re not letting technology control you.

Carve out blocks of time when you can focus on your work without electronic interruptions. Try checking your email at set times each day (rather than constantly), and close your email program the rest of the time.

It may also help to change location. Take your laptop to a spot where you know you won’t have wireless access to the Web for a few hours, for example.

5. Fatigue

Many studies show that loss of sleep impairs attention, short-term memory, and other mental functions. "Your attention falls apart when you’re sleep deprived," Baime says. Sleep needs vary, but most adults do best with seven to nine hours of nightly sleep. Getting at least seven hours of sleep will go a long way toward improving your focus during the day.

Also, try scheduling tasks that need more concentration during the times of day when you’re feeling the most alert. "Pay attention to your own biorhythms," Kegan says, "and learn which times of day you work best."

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