Imagine this: You wake up early on a Saturday morning so you can accomplish those really important tasks you’ve been putting off for months. You zip through your morning routine like a champ, and you’re feeling optimistic — today is the day you conquer the world.
You’re clothed, fed, and ready to squash those projects that have been nagging at the back of your brain when suddenly you get broadsided by the unexpected, and before you know it your plan is unraveling like a cheap rug.
First you’re interrupted by your youngest child who’s up early demanding an order of your world-famous Dino Pancake Special™. While mixing up her favorite flapjacks, you look out the window and notice the sprinkler head has exploded. Before you can rush outside, your nose guides you to the sloppy surprise that little Fluffy has left for you on the couch. In a matter of minutes your plans have been obliterated and your productivity has been decimated. If you’re a human, you can probably relate.
Daily distractions, workplace stress, lack of sleep; there are countless things that can dull our focus. Sure, there are pharmaceuticals or even natural remedies you can purchase to help you focus, and it can seem daunting when trying to find an effective method to increase daily focus. But there’s good news: the science shows that the simplest, most natural, and most accessible options are best. Keep reading for some quick tips to maximize your effectiveness on a daily basis.
MEDITATE, OR JUST TAKE A QUIET BREAK
Before you start a new project (or if you are struggling to focus on the current task) stop what you are doing and take a 5-minute break. It may seem counter-productive to stop working when you’re in a hurry, but a short “reset period” has actually been shown to improve focus and increase productivity.
This is an ideal time to clear your mind, meditate, and regain your focus. Meditation can seem like a daunting or complex concept, but as Eckhart Tolle said, “One conscious breath in and out is a meditation”. You don’t have to wear a monastic robe or go by the name of Gandhi to enjoy the tremendous benefits mediation has to offer. Concentrate on your body and mind. Simply controlling your breathing and listening as you slowly inhale and exhale can help you remove mental distractions and bring your focus back.
GET MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY COMFORTABLE
Get organized. If you are like me, it can take more than a few moments to get back to my same thoughts after I do something small like taking a call or answering an email or text. Our brains struggle when they don’t have a clear idea what we need to work on. Consciously deciding to postpone many of these smaller, common tasks may be difficult at first, but you can experience massive productivity gains by momentarily saying no to the outside distractions.
Notice anything that is calling your attention, mentally or physically, and clear these distractions out of your way. Put the loudly-ticking clock in a drawer or an adjacent room. Remove the restrictive suit coat. Power off your phone (the world won’t end if you’re off the grid for a few minutes). Listen to your body and remove things that are distracting to you.
Many beginner and veteran meditators alike report that listening to music, nature sounds, or white noise is a helpful meditation tool. I’ve even learned that these audio tools not only improve my personal meditation, but they help me stay focused and reduce outside distractions while I’m working as well.
Even the simplest meditations offer tremendous benefits to your daily focus, but you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you were perfect at controlling your attention. Soon you’ll be a master at shutting out distractions and commanding immersive focus at-will, but in the meantime you may find yourself yearning to empty your proverbial plate before feeling like you can sit quietly long enough to meditate. If you have some papers to shuffle, a pending phone call, or a few odds & ends that will bring big relief and can be done quickly, do those first.
Getting as those pesky little distractions off your to do list is a great way to clear your mind and focus on what is in front of you — just be sure you don’t forget what you’re working toward. Set a time limit if you have to, and be sure to follow through on your quiet time.
EXERCISE MIND AND BODY
Exercise and nature can drastically improve your focus. If you can go for a quick walk outside or just do some stretches in your office it will help to wake up your body and brain and get them working together.
Don’t let your mind or body be idle. Sometimes just going dormant can seem like a good idea when you are under a lot of stress but that is like feeding your body junk food to prepare to run a marathon. Instead of brainlessly surfing social media in-between projects or letting your mind and body sit idle while waiting for a meeting, try instead using that time to do some light exercise or even a crossword puzzle to keep your body and mind ready and engaged.
VIEWS OF EARTH
FROM THE COMFORT
OF YOUR COUCH.
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MY PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS
Getting focused and staying there can be a challenge for any of us. There are many ways that you can keep distractions from derailing your plans, but the area where I can get the most gains right now is taking a couple extra minutes to focus on me. In the long run, taking time out to re-center myself saves me from time I would have spent stressed or distracted, and I’m always more productive in the end.
What do you do to stay focused and sharp? Leave your thoughts in the comments!