Working from home can be pretty distracting. But when a little “Karate Kid therapy” isn’t cutting it, you still have more control over your focus than you think.
If you have a problem focusing, welcome to the club. We live (and work) in a world that demands this skill but isn’t designed to support long periods of focus.
That statement became even more true this year when millions of us started working from home. It’s hard enough to concentrate when you’re stuck in a cubicle next to Phyllis from sales and her offensive perfume that’s made from real pine …
… but it’s way worse when you’re locked in a two-bedroom apartment with a high-energy toddler. Throw in a well-intentioned-but-equally-stressed spouse and a rambunctious dog, and it’s chaos. Utter anarchy.
The work’s gotta get done, however. And it can be pretty stressful to maintain focus for 8 hours a day (or more) when distractions are pulling your attention in a million directions.
The thing is, distractions make it feel impossible to focus, but you have more control than you realize. There are plenty of tools that work for a lot of frazzled folks.
Some examples include the Pomodoro technique, which puts you on a rotating work-break schedule to prevent burnout; or a bullet journal, which is a mindfulness tool disguised as a notebook.
But there are SO many more, and they can help whether you’re at home, at the office, or anywhere else that you have access to a notebook. You can use these activities to run your life like a boss—no matter how crazy-hard it is to concentrate when it’s time to buckle down and get to work.
Check these out:
1. Try the Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique forces you to become intimately acquainted with how you spend your time (which can be a painful but necessary realization!).
Here’s how to put it to practice:
- Choose a task.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes. (Or 45, or 60.)
- Work until the timer goes off.
- Take a break for 5 minutes. (Or 10, or 15.)
- Every 4 cycles, take a longer break. (20 or 30 minutes.)
2. Learning how to focus better starts with a distraction list
Every time you want to do a new Google search or pick up your phone, ask yourself, “Is it necessary for what I’m working on right now?”
If the answer is “no,” then it goes on the distraction list.
This is a list where you brain-dump every random thought or question that pops into your head during focus time. Instead of taking 60 seconds (which turns into 5 minutes of reading and mindless link-following) to search your question or check your email, take 15 seconds to write it down on the list.
When you take a break from focusing, that’s the time to check your distraction list and start working on some of those tasks and reminders. This can help give you some perspective about how unimportant some distractions are once you beat the initial impulse to pay attention to them.
3. Practice mindfulness
Once you’re comfortable with it, mindfulness is a great tool for focusing on the present moment and the task at hand. It’s the practice of not bringing judgment or attention to your thoughts and emotions but instead noticing what’s happening at the moment.
One way you can do this is by practicing pranayama, or controlled breathing. Some types of pranayama for focus include:
- Even breath: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds. Exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Victorious breath: Relax the base of your throat and breathe low, slow, and audibly, like you’re Darth Vader. (We’re not kidding!) Inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds with Vader breath (no hold). Repeat 10 times.
- Interrupted breath: Inhale for 2 seconds; hold for 2 seconds. Inhale for 2 seconds; exhale for 4 seconds. After the first round, repeat it with Vader breath from the last step. Repeat 10 times.
When you practice only focusing on your breath, it’s much easier to become present and direct your attention mindfully, even when you’re not actively doing pranayama.
4. Take a meditation break
Meditating is the practice of slowing the flow of information and stopping the mind from wandering. Most meditation practices have you seated and focused on breathing (often like pranayama from the previous tip), but you can meditate while walking or moving, too.
What’s more important than whether you’re sitting or standing is that you:
- Choose a place that feels tranquil and safe to you, whether it’s your bed or a favorite walking trail.
- Set a do-able time limit (5 minutes is acceptable; 30 minutes may be too much unless you’re seasoned at meditating).
- Follow the sensation of your inhalations and exhalations.
- Notice your wandering mind and return your attention to your breathing sensations.
- Don't judge or engage in your thoughts; just let them pass.
- Notice how you feel in the moment after your meditation ends. Do you feel calmer or more grounded? What emotions or thoughts do you have?
Anyone can meditate with no instruction by following those 6 simple steps. It's important to meditate often for short periods if you want to increase your focus. Long sessions can be too frustrating to make much progress, especially if there are extended periods between them.
Keep your eyes on the prize with Sunday Scaries
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