One of the first books I read this year was Deep Work by Cal Newport, which I started of curiosity thanks to the topics covered on his podcast, Deep Questions. It made me think about how to improve my concentration in a world full of distractions.

In this three-part article series, I share some of the techniques I have found in related books, podcasts, blogs, and videos, that I have managed to put into practice.

A Setting for Focus

The first challenge to being able to focus is to start, recognize the signs, and learn to replicate them more or less consistently, allowing you to choose the moments when you will be able to work on tasks that require more mental energy.

Choose the Right Time

Since school, we have been identifying different types of people, the night owls or morning people. This is something that varies throughout our lives, but the important thing is to know when you normally, and naturally, have more energy.

Each of these periods has its pros and cons, and some are highly limited to each person's working hours.

Personally, the best time for me to do my work is in the mornings. First thing in the morning, I feel like my mind is clear, I can solve problems and think clearly. I usually spend this time doing the most demanding tasks of my day; those tasks that require more concentration.

For now, between 7 and 8 in the morning has been my ideal time because many of my colleagues have not yet started work and I avoid distractions. By starting at this time, I can usually concentrate “intensely” until 10 or 11 in the morning, depending on the task.

Once you have practiced creating a “ritual” with a specific time of day, it will be easier to do it at any time, or simply recognize when you have the energy you need.

Make Your Space Inspiring

I admit that my desk is not very tidy, it is often quite messy. However, there are a few details that allow me to work in a focused way.

It will not be the same for everyone, it is about having a space dedicated to focusing and with the conditions that allow it. A good-sized table that allows me to have my cup, keyboard, mouse, and wrist pad, and still allows me to put up a notebook or book occasionally without any problems.

You may also like to have all the lights on, work in complete darkness, or have a desk lamp; lighting is one of these important factors. Turning on my monitor's light bar (yes, I usually only use one) is now one of the “signals” I take to concentrate. As many would say, “Overhead lights are only for looking for things.”

In some cases, it may not even have to do with the place or the tools, for some it is small conditions such as having the door closed, lighting a candle, or being in socks.

The essential thing in this section is to be aware of these conditions that help us enter that state of “flow”, which several authors refer to.

"The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile." Csikszentmihalyi calls this mental state flow - Cal Newport in Deep Work

Meet Your Basic Needs

Can you concentrate when you're hungry? Hot? Overly sleepy?

While work is important, it is almost impossible to focus if your mind is wrapped up in other distractions, and the hardest distractions to avoid come from the signals your body sends you.

Very similar to the conditions in the previous section, having your body in the best possible condition in terms of its basic needs will help you to concentrate more easily. You should try to meet both the psychological and physical conditions that allow for your best performance.

This implies taking care of your body's health, not just eating for the sake of eating, but also maintaining a diet that allows your body to have energy. The same goes for rest, looking forward to good quality sleep at night.

Although it may not seem like it, mental activity can also be very exhausting for the body, especially if you want to be able to sustain it for hours.

Use Caffeine Smartly

Everyone knows the effects that caffeine has on the body, especially that energy boost that is felt temporarily a few minutes after drinking coffee, or even during. But what do we do with that energy?

If you are one of those people who drink coffee because you simply like it (my case) or to stay awake, why not take advantage of it? Use those bursts of energy to do the work that demands the most from us.

Following up on the previous section, just like athletes eat carbohydrates and/or some kind of pre-workout to get the most out of their training, activities that require your attention can also benefit from this technique.

For example, many people drink coffee to start the day until mid-morning, generally making these hours the most productive. Imagine being able to power through the first 30 minutes or 1 hour without needing coffee. When you start to lose your rhythm, take a short break to make coffee and get back to work, now with the extra boost it gives you.

Compared to the first scenario, you would be extending your concentration just by changing the time you ingest caffeine.

Just remember to know your limits and schedule; in my case, I try not to drink coffee after 6 pm, although an afternoon break after the usual work hours for a coffee and some reading, writing, or whatever you like to do, isn't a bad idea.

That being said, don't worry, nothing is stopping you from having a cup of coffee and just relaxing and enjoying it.

A large part of the blogs and videos I watched mentioned Deep Work in some way or another, so if you haven't read the book, I recommend you do; I'll also be writing an article with the main ideas from it later on.

If you have any related books you'd like to share, feel free to leave a comment below!