Getting in the “zone” for work can be hard. Especially when we are working from home. Sometimes we’re distracted. Sometimes we’re stressed. And let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t want to be doing the task in front of us.
We have to learn how to take the reigns of our brain and steer it exactly where we want it to go. That might sound like a challenging process, but in fact, there are a few things we can do to put those “brain reigns” well within reach.
Move your body.
You don’t have to run a marathon. Nor do you have to do hours of intense cardio. (Unless you want to.) But the simple truth is that exercise gets the blood flowing to your brain. If you are sitting at a desk all day, moving your body changes your state. If you take a walk outside, you are changing the scenery. Exercise reduces stress and anxiety, and it improves your mood. All of these things can help your brain kick into the focus gear.
And there are different approaches you can take. Moving your body in the morning can instill a sense of routine that flips your “on” switch for the day. It can be a positive jump-start that can benefit you in many ways. But you can also simply move your body at intervals during the day. When you hit a slump and you’re struggling with focus, stop trying to will your brain into submission. Instead, get up and stretch, walk in place, do some squats. Or maybe you want to make it a practice to get your exercise in during the afternoon — that time of day when everyone is typically the most lethargic.
Know what your top 3 priorities are for the day.
You should always start your workday knowing what it is you need to accomplish. Which means getting it squared away the day before. Sometimes our focus wavers because we aren’t sure where it should be in the first place. You may have more than 3 tasks you’ll do in a day, but set the top 3 “must do” items in stone.
Eat healthy (and don’t go hungry).
Focus has a lot to do with both our mental and physical states, and paying attention to what goes into our bodies plays a critical role. Skipping meals will starve your brain, too, so don’t do it. Choose fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day. And get plenty of good protein.
Get your Zzz’s.
I’m sure you know that you need between 7-9 hours of quality sleep at night for ultimate health. Maybe you even know what your personal minimum amount is. (Example: I thrive with 7.5 hours and feel irritable with anything less, while my husband feels great with just 7.) But are you doing what you can to accommodate your sleep needs? Or do you stay up too late and get up too early? Sleep is something we often think we can sacrifice in order to squeeze in a little more productivity, but the effects on our focus are direct. If you have the capability to choose sleep, do it. Your brain will thank you.
Get serious about blocking distractions.
It’s hard to stick to your guns and say no to distractions. Some of us feel compelled to check our email constantly. A study done in late 2019 showed that Americans pick up their smartphones 96 times a day! But imagine the feeling you’ll have when you finish the tasks you have to get done. If you flowed through and completed them without distraction, wouldn’t that be amazing? Put your phone in another room. Yes, in another room. Ask to not be disturbed, or even put a sign on the door. Close out all browser tabs except the one you are working in. Resist the urge to do anything else except the task at hand. And this flows directly into the next tip.
Make the decision of where to put your attention.
You are in charge of you. Ultimately, you are making a decision not just to do something — but also to not do other things. You are making a commitment to the choice. You might feel silly doing this, but try it anyway. Say out loud: “I am going to do ____ right now so that I can finish the task and cross it off my list.” And perhaps take it one step further and announce: “I will not check email or social media during the next hour as I finish this task.”
Do focus tasks at peak focus times.
Your brain can’t always be in focus mode. I imagine that might make a person go crazy! And not every task requires a lot of focus. So make sure you do the focus tasks when your brain is at its best. Usually, that’s first thing in the morning. But it may also be right after that exercise session in the afternoon. Or you might be a night owl who does their best focus work at night. Make sure to identify your own flow and align with it as best as you can. And speaking of alignment…
Do your best to align yourself with the kinds of tasks you want to be doing.
This takes some bigger picture planning. And it might take a reassessment of everything in your life. But ask yourself: Am I constantly having trouble focusing on the tasks I’m supposed to be doing? Is the reason I can’t focus that I would rather be doing anything else but this? Can you make adjustments to your current job so that you are doing more of the work you want to be doing? Or do you need to make bigger changes?
Focus isn’t always easy, but there are plenty of techniques to try in order to make it better. My suggestion: Try them all!
“Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.” –Dale Carnegie