The Aging Brain: 4 Ways to Stay Focused As You Get Older

On November 15, 2010, in Time Management, by Deb Lee, Certified Professional Organizer®
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Have you had a senior moment recently?  I have. Last week, in fact.

I was sent a recording of call I hosted and I wanted to pass it on to the other people that were on the call.  When I was ready to e-mail the recording, I went searching for the e-mail I had gotten originally. The link to download the recording expired so I asked to have it re-sent. When I got it and saved it to my hard drive, I discovered that I had already downloaded and saved it when I first got it.

So, what should have taken me just a few minutes, took a bit longer. It wasn’t a massive amount of time, but it was still a waste of it. I don’t like senior moments, especially when I have them. It’s no secret that our brains age as we do, but I don’t have to like it.

Researchers who study brain scans find that as humans age, their processing speed may be a bit slower, and they might miss a beat while first trying to focus on something.” [NPR | 4.15.10]

Since we get more distracted with each birthday, this can mean that our efficiency and productivity can decline as well. Doesn’t sound so great, does it? The good news is while we can’t turn back the clock, there are are few things we can do keep distractions at bay as we get older.

1. Be Aware of What You’re Paying Attention to. Be more aware of where your mind takes you. This will probably take a bit of practice, but try to pay attention to your thoughts and how connected – or disconnected – they are from what you need to be working on.

Have you figured out the types of thoughts/ideas that distract you? Make note of the ones that soak up your attention and put them in their proper place. Write them down in your notebook or add them to your smart phone. Then, go back to them later. The more you are aware, the more control you have.

2. Do One Thing at a Time. The thing about distractions is that they can be sneaky and fun. They creep up on us and make us do things that we want to, especially when we’re really supposed to be doing something else.

Other times, they can be really major pains. We might remember an important thing while we’re doing another important thing, and then we try to do both at the same time…and then we add a third important thing. And, so it goes on.

Sound confusing? Well, stop it. Don’t try to multitask – just do one thing and save your brain cells while you’re at it.  Set your timer. Start working. When your time’s up, move on to the next task.


“Focus very, very hard at the beginning of things so that you can sort of get past that moment where sometimes we are more distracted.” [NPR]

3. Turn Everything Off. Not sure what to turn off so that you don’t get sucked away from what you’re really supposed to be doing? Here’s a quick list to get you started…

  • Turn off the radio, Judge Judy, your cell phone, etc.
  • Put your friends, co-workers, and your dog on pause.
  • Put away your favorite magazines and books…and the other important (but less urgent) project, too.
  • Step away from the dirty dishes and unfolded laundry (especially if you work from home).

Remember: you can take care of everything you put on hold when your timer goes off! …just not at the same time (see #2).

4. Use Technology to Control Web Surfing. Fight fire with fire. If Facebook, Twitter, Snapfish, or other websites are huge distractions for you, use technology to curb your tech habit.

Browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox offer extensions that will block you from visiting your favorite sites for a specific time frame. They can’t reverse the aging process but they’ll give you a fighting chance at staying on task.

Have you noticed that you have a harder time focusing as you’ve gotten older? What do you do to keep from getting distracted?

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