If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s how to adapt to unexpected challenges. And one of the greatest challenges lately has been staying focused while working from home.
While working remotely has its advantages – dressing down, sleeping in, cuddling with our animals – it can also be problematic for productivity. Let’s be honest: Distractions are inevitable at home. Whether it’s browsing social media, constantly checking your phone or doing household chores, there are countless ways to procrastinate.
The good news? You can improve focus with a few minor lifestyle changes. Check out these five tips to boost concentration and strengthen your attention span.
Control your environment
If you’re struggling to focus, the first step is to change your surroundings, which can be as simple as moving to a different room where there are less distractions.
“Sometimes we can't make our work environment completely distraction-free, but making it difficult to engage in a distraction can be a deterrent to engaging in procrastination,” says Dr. Brooke Wachtler, psychologist and founder of BEW Consulting and Training, LLC. “For example, put your phone in a drawer, unplug the TV, or sign out of social media.”
If you create a distraction-free zone, every day will get easier and you won't feel as stimulated.
Make a to-do list
The reason it’s hard to focus on one task at a time is because we keep thinking about everything else that we need to do. Coming up with a to-do list not only helps you stay organized, it keeps you in the here and now.
So the next time you start thinking about tasks ahead, simply add them to your list and bring your attention back to the present moment. This simple trick will work wonders for your mental health.
“Trying to multi-task will only hurt our productivity because multitasking doesn't exist!” Wachtler explains. “When we try to multitask, we're actually splitting our attention, which ends up making both tasks take even longer.”
The bottom line: Multitasking hinders cognitive function. It creates the illusion of being more productive — especially in the short-term — but in reality, it's not an effective strategy.
Create a schedule (with short breaks included!)
Before diving into your work, use your to-do list to create a schedule for the day and set aside periods of time for mental breaks.
“Breaks are important because they enhance our motivation to complete tasks since we know that we have a break approaching,” says Wachtler. “This give us a chance to refocus after a long period of working.”
To prevent constant distraction, you need to give your brain time to rest. That way, when you return to work, you feel recharged and rejuvenated. It can be as simple as a 10-minute break for deep breathing. Engaging in mindfulness meditation on a regular basis will also improve your decision-making and mental focus.
Take a screen break
It’s common knowledge that technology is addictive, and as it turns out, it’s also negatively affecting your attention span and brain function.
“The ‘infinite scroll’ eliminates those brief moments when we might turn to another activity,” says Ned Presnall, LCSW, director of Plan Your Recovery and professor of Clinical Social Work and Psychiatry at Washington University. “But apart from the aesthetic evolution of technology, media content has become more and more designed to trigger primitive emotions that keep our attention fixed on the content.”
In other words, social media is designed to distract us. You'll be amazed at your mental clarity once you get rid of the background noise.
Spend more time outdoors
Did you know engaging in technology indoors can cause us to experience mental and physical fatigue? This negatively impacts our attention because if we’re looking at screen, we’re not receiving the kind of stimulation our brain is built for.
While COVID-19 has made it challenging to enjoy outdoor activities in the same way, it simply requires being more creative. For example, sitting outside a coffee shop or setting up your work station in the park nearby is a simple way to connect to nature.
“We’re social creatures, and the social stimuli that reward our brains are not fully provided when we engage online and indoors,” Presnall explains. “The great outdoors more fully stimulates our senses through the provision of a rich and highly immersive environment.”
Interacting in person enables us to gauge body language, tone of their voice, and other details that can’t be observed online or over the phone. As human beings, we have a deep-rooted need for this type of interaction, and once we satisfy it, we can concentrate on the task at hand, Presnall adds.
It’s like the feeling you get when you’re hungry and can’t think about anything but food. Until you fulfill that need, you can’t be fully present or productive.
While staying focused isn't always easy, being prepared is more than half the battle.
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