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Grade-A Focus Tips Straight From an Accomplished Chess Player

When it comes to razor-sharp focus, Jennifer Shahade knows a thing or two. The two-time U.S. women’s chess champion is the women’s program director at the U.S. Chess Federation and also a competitive poker player, meaning that staying focused is a crucial component of her career. In fact, it’s “deep focus and deep concentration” that Shahade considers the most important skills for new chess players to develop. Here are 3 tips that help Shahade get the most out of every match.

Know when you perform best.

While you may not always be able to structure your days around your personal preferences – after all, most workdays run along with a set schedule, no matter what – you can optimize your performance by working on your most challenging tasks at a time when your brain feels the sharpest. Shahade calls this timeframe your “peak hours,” and recommends that you do your most taxing work at that time. That way, you’ll be at your mental best when it matters most.

Remove distractions completely.

Sure, you may have heard that, in order to perform your best, you must eliminate distractions. But, many of us heavily rely upon our devices all day long, for both work and play. This can make it difficult to completely detach ourselves from them. Yet, it’s a crucial thing to do, if you want to keep your attention on the task-at-hand. Take a cue from Shahade and keep your favorite devices at home, in your handbag, or tucked into a drawer, where they can’t distract you.

Clear your mind and strengthen your focus with exercise.

Did you know that aerobic exercise can strengthen your concentration? According to one study by the University of British Columbia, regular aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus or the part of the brain involved in memory and learning. Shahad has experienced these effects first-hand and now swears by exercising as a way to stay at the top of her game. The chess player also believes that physical exercise complements mental exercise and helps her wind down after a challenging game.

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