3 ways to refocus a wandering mind
Understanding your brain’s drifting habits and working around them can help improve your focus and increase productivity. In this article, I provide some tools to rein in your mind.
As an athlete, being able to refocus my mind quickly was not only a necessity for high performance, but it became a competitive advantage – my superpower if you will.
When you’re on course to do an aerial skiing jump at 65km/h, you can’t afford to be distracted by something in your peripheral vision or with a random thought. Building my ability to refocus quickly has allowed me to take this skill forward and maximise productivity throughout my professional career.
There are a few ways you can start to build your ability to refocus. Here are three of my tried and tested methods:
Preparing to focus is much more effective than trying to focus in the moment.
Spend some time getting to know yourself: Have a think about what distracts you and what you need around you to really focus. Ask yourself, what commonly distracts me? Is it email or phone notifications, colleagues, a noisy or messy work environment, low energy or boredom? Are you more efficient focusing in hour-long increments or something shorter? When are you at your best versus when are you at your worst?
After years of deep-diving and honing in on this skill, here’s what I know about myself:
I can focus for hours on end – I’ve been practicing for years – but what I also know of myself is that I need the energy to do so. So I eat nutritious meals and to combat an energy dip, I always keep a healthy snack within arm’s reach. I also know that my mind instantly jumps to reply to an email when I see the notification come in, so when I have to focus on a piece of work, I mute all notifications on my laptop and move my phone out of sight. I’m also at my best in the first three hours of the day, so anything important is always diarised early in the morning. A colleague of mine gets distracted by noise, so I know she is in focus mode when she has her headphones in her ears. I can also be distracted by clutter and mess, so I’ll often work in a café just so I am away from other ‘to do’ items including an urge to tidy (aka procrastinate).
Interestingly, mild dehydration can negatively impact your ability to concentrate, but it’s not enough to make you feel thirsty – so always try to have water nearby.
Preparation is about trying to clear the runway and providing yourself with the optimal environment to be your best.
Bring yourself back to task
When you do find your mind wandering or jumping between tasks, use a “trigger and response” routine to bring yourself back to focus.
You can personalise this to be anything that works for you, but some great places to start might be:
If you catch your eyes wandering around your desk, have a drink of water to bring yourself back to focus.
If you’re tempted to reach for your phone, ignore it and instead stand up, do a quick stretch and then bring yourself back to task.
When your mind wanders off, use a phrase such as “focus Alisa” along with a gesture like using your hands to block your peripheral vision like blinkers.
If you get distracted by someone when you’re in the middle of focused work, don’t feel bad about saying “I hope you don’t mind but I’m really in my zone trying to finish something important. Can I circle back round to you later today?”
If you’re working and hear a familiar voice or an unusual noise, tell yourself “don’t get distracted, don’t look, keep working” and the moment will pass. Make it feel like a personal challenge and you’ll feel strong and proud when you’ve successfully ignored the distraction.
Recharge before you lose it
Micro breaks are an excellent way to re-energise and recharge your mind, body and spirit to prevent losing your focus through boredom or fatigue.
They can be simple, two-to-five-minute interventions that you pre-plan, such as a short burst of exercise (think 10 squats), a quick stretch or looking out a window to enjoy direct sunlight. This will help boost your endorphins, release muscle tension and improve your mood. It will also help you maintain your focus before you lose it.
Other examples are practising mindfulness or meditation, taking time to enjoy a cup of tea/coffee or having a snack. My personal favourite is to relocate to a different place in the office to change up my environment.
Maintaining focus in the workplace can be difficult at times, and sometimes there are factors outside your control that affect your ability to stay on task. Don’t be afraid to let others know when you need to concentrate, though. See it as a way to teach them what you need to be at your best. The good news is – like most things – with dedicated effort and practice, your ability to focus for longer, concentrate deeper and block out distractions will improve.
I’ve found the more strategies I have in my tool kit, the better I am at quickly refocusing my mind.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on September 6, 2018.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.