It happens to everyone. You sit down at your laptop to finish a project, but before long your mind starts to wander to something entirely new. Facebook starts calling. You begin browsing on Amazon. And somehow, you end up watching cat videos on YouTube and the sun is starting to set.
Don’t worry; you are not doomed to forever be a full blown scatterbrain. There are factors that can boost of break your focus. However, productive people know how to work around distractions. Start by checking on yourself often and asking these five questions.
1. How long has it been since you’ve taken a break?
Sometimes, you’re just really tired. You might not feel physically tired but a mental break is incredibly beneficial. Studies have shown that people function more effectively when they’ve had a brief mental break from their task. When your external stimuli – for example, what we see and rear – remain the same, our brains gradually stop registering those stimuli. We’re wired to pay more attention to things that are new. So please, don’t just stare at the same Word file for hours on end. Stand up, stretch your body, or skip over to a new task for a while.
2. What have you been eating?
Whether it may be surprising to you or not, the food you eat affects your focus.While there is nothing wrong with grabbing a burger for lunch, have you ever noticed how groggy you feel by the afternoon? High-fat foods require your body to work hard to break them down which leaves you with less energy to complete difficult tasks.
Fruits and veggies have the opposite effect as your hamburger. Fruits and veggies keep you more engaged, more creative and generally happier. Instead of ordering a fast food delivery, opt for a smoothie instead and let me know how you feel by the end of the work day.
3. Are you running on a good night’s sleep or just caffeine?
We’ve heard it a million times, I don’t need to tell you again. However, I will anyways. Adults need a solid 8 hours of sleep each night. In reality though, each persons needs may vary slightly. But, if you can only get through the day thanks to your five cups of bold coffee, you might need to consider setting an earlier bed time.
Unfortunately, planning to catch up on your sleep during the weekend doesn’t work. I was reading an article recently that a Harvard Medical School study found that even with an extra 10 hours of sleep, participants’ ability to focus was less than those who received consistent sleep throughout the week.
The solution: take sleep seriously.
4. How often do you eat?
Most people go to work each day, power through any mid-morning hunger pains and then pig out on a big lunch. It is better to graze throughout the day though. The traditional meal pattern puts your body through dramatic energy drops and spikes, which is awful for productivity and self-control. Snacking during the day fuels your body by giving it a more consistent and reliable energy source.
Keeping yourself from reaching a point where you’re starving also helps with better decision making skills. We often make unhealthy food choices because we just can’t decide what to eat until we’re hungry. When you’re mentally worn out and hungry, fast food is way too appealing.
5. Is there an issue that’s stealing away your focus?
Sometimes, taking care of your health won’t be enough to beat low productivity cycles. If there is an issue that is bothering you (personal or professional), you may need to dedicate time to dealing with that. Try setting aside a specific time to address these issues. Dedicating time can mean anything from saving an hour time-slot in your workday for a task, meeting a friend after work to get something off your chest, or even seeing a professional to work through a difficult event or transition.
If you never give your brain a chance to process challenging situations, that’s where your mind will wander off to when your defences are down.
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