can't focus

3 Potential Reasons Why You Can’t Focus

By: Matt Russell, Psy.D. 


Do you often feel like you can’t focus on anything? Problems focusing at work can hinder your job performance, and ultimately, your career. Keeping up with demands can make it hard to stay attentive to the world around you. This can compound things, making it even harder to focus and perform like you’re used to. When other people don’t understand how difficult it is for you to concentrate, it can make you feel frustrated, misunderstood, or depressed. Many things can cause trouble with focus and concentration. Here are three potential reasons why you could be having trouble concentrating. 


Underlying ADHD 



You may have had a tough time concentrating since you were a kid — but was never checked out for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One of the myths about ADHD is that it goes away in adulthood. Researchers are now finding out that this is not true. ADHD is a lifelong problem. If you had trouble sitting still in your seat as a child or often daydreamed when in class, then it might be those same biological processes keeping you from concentrating today. 




If you have intense demands at work, you may feel anxious or on-edge.  Your anxiety may send you straight into a tailspin, causing you to feel completely overwhelmed and exhausted. It can also interfere with your focus. One of the symptoms of an anxiety disorder is difficulty concentrating. 


Boredom Or Depression 



As an adult, you may find yourself getting up to go to the break room too often because sitting at your desk is too boring. Or, you spend hours shopping on the internet when your boss expects you to be diligently working. Perhaps you are bored. Ironically, boredom can lead to problems with focusing. Maybe you thought you were heading down the right career path only to find yourself miserable in a “job” with no growth in sight. That feeling of demoralization can make things like a dead-end job seem pointless and boring, taking away the gusto you once had. Consequently, this can cause you to feel burned out or depressed — both of which can also cause trouble concentrating. 


These are just three possible explanations for why you’re having trouble focusing but there are many more. The important thing is to talk with a therapist. Being distracted or losing focus too often is not normal.


What Can Help Improve Focus?



The great thing is that there are a lot of things that you can do to improve focus, such as:  


  • Avoid distractions. Things like loud music or television can make it hard to concentrate. Therefore, avoid these things while you are trying to work or study. If you’re in a meeting, sit close to the front. Silence your phone and remove anything else that is a distraction.
  • Stay organized. Use a planner and make checklists to help you keep track of things.  Divide your tasks into smaller steps. There’s only one way to eat an elephant – one bite at a time.
  • Take regular breaks. This will help keep you from feeling tired.  So, avoid overstimulating your brain with large amounts of caffeine or energy drinks.
  • Minimize multitasking. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. “Multitasking” is task switching and doing two tasks in less effectively.
  • Engage in mindfulness activities. Research studies have found that mindfulness is effective in reducing stress, depression, anxiety, and distress and improving the overall quality of life. Therefore, try this guided mindfulness activity from Headspace. This app is available on both the App Store and Google Play. 


Final Thoughts


If you are having trouble focusing, the most important step to take to talk to a therapist. Together, you and your therapist can figure out why you’re struggling to concentrate and come up with ways to help you perform at your best. A therapist can suggest tests, such as a psychological assessment, that can help identify underlying issues that could be contributing to your issues and help you improve things. Want to talk more about your troubles? Give me a call or drop a note in the contact form and I’ll be in touch.




Khoury, B., Sharma, M., Rush, S. E., & Fournier, C. (2015). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. Journal of psychosomatic research, 78(6), 519-528.